Iphigenia in Tauris
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Iphigenia in Tauris
Written 414-412 B.C.E
Translated by Robert Potter
IPHIGENIA, daughter of Agamemnon
ORESTES, brother of IPHIGENIA
PYLADES, friend Of ORESTES
THOAS, King of the Taurians
CHORUS OF GREEK WOMEN, captives, attendants on IPHIGENIA in the
Before the great temple of Diana of the Taurians. A blood- stained altar is prominently in view. IPHIGENIA, clad as a priestess, enters from the temple.
To Pisa, by the fleetest coursers borne,
She goes into the temple. ORESTES and PYLADES enter
Comes Pelops, son of Tantalus, and weds
The virgin daughter of Oenomaus:
From her sprung Atreus; Menelaus from him,
And Agamemnon; I from him derive
My birth, his Iphigenia, by his queen,
Daughter of Tyndarus. Where frequent winds
Swell the vex'd Euripus with eddying blasts,
And roll the darkening waves, my father slew me,
A victim to Diana, so he thought,
For Helen's sake, its bay where Aulis winds,
To fame well known; for there his thousand ships,
The armament of Greece, the imperial chief
Convened, desirous that his Greeks should snatch
The glorious crown of victory from Troy,
And punish the base insult to the bed
Of Helen, vengeance grateful to the soul
Of Menelaus. But 'gainst his ships the sea
Long barr'd, and not one favouring breeze to swell
His flagging sails, the hallow'd flames the chief
Consults, and Calchas thus disclosed the fates:-
"Imperial leader of the Grecian host,
Hence shalt thou not unmoor thy vessels, ere
Diana as a victim shall receive
Thy daughter Iphigenia: what the year
Most beauteous should produce, thou to the queen
Dispensing light didst vow to sacrifice:
A daughter Clytemnestra in thy house
Then bore (the peerless grace of beauty thus
To me assigning); her must thou devote
The victim." Then Ulysses by his arts,
Me, to Achilles as design'd a bride,
Won from my mother. My unhappy fate
To Aulis brought me; on the altar there
High was I placed, and o'er me gleam'd the sword,
Aiming the fatal wound: but from the stroke
Diana snatch'd me, in exchange a hind
Giving the Grecians; through the lucid air
Me she conveyed to Tauris, here to dwell,
Where o'er barbarians a barbaric king
Holds his rude sway, named Thoas, whose swift foot
Equals the rapid wing: me he appoints
The priestess of this temple, where such rites
Are pleasing to Diana, that the name
Alone claims honour; for I sacrifice
(Such, ere I came, the custom of the state)
Whatever Grecian to this savage shore
Is driven: the previous rites are mine; the deed
Of blood, too horrid to be told, devolves
On others in the temple: but the rest,
In reverence to the goddess, I forbear.
But the strange visions which the night now past
Brought with it, to the air, if that may soothe
My troubled thought, I will relate. I seem'd,
As I lay sleeping, from this land removed,
To dwell at Argos, resting on my couch
Mid the apartments of the virgin train.
Sudden the firm earth shook: I fled, and stood
Without; the battlements I saw, and all
The rocking roof fall from its lofty height
In ruins to the ground: of all the house,
My father's house, one pillar, as I thought,
Alone was left, which from its cornice waved
A length of auburn locks, and human voice
Assumed: the bloody office, which is mine
To strangers here, respecting, I to death,
Sprinkling the lustral drops, devoted it
With many tears. My dream I thus expound:-
Orestes, whom I hallow'd by my rites,
Is dead: for sons are pillars of the house;
They, whom my lustral lavers sprinkle, die.
I cannot to my friends apply my dream,
For Strophius, when I perish'd, had no son.
Now, to my brother, absent though he be,
Libations will I offer: this, at least,
With the attendants given me by the king,
Virgins of Greece, I can: but what the cause
They yet attend me not within the house,
The temple of the goddess, where I dwell?
Keep careful watch, lest some one come this way.
I watch, and turn mine eye to every part.
And dost thou, Pylades, imagine this
The temple of the goddess, which we seek,
Our sails from Argos sweeping o'er the main?
Orestes, such my thought, and must be thine.
And this the altar wet with Grecian blood?
Crimson'd with gore behold its sculptured wreaths.
See, from the battlements what trophies hang!
The spoils of strangers that have here been slain.
Behooves us then to watch with careful eye.
O Phoebus, by thy oracles again
Why hast thou led me to these toils? E'er since,
In vengeance for my father's blood, I slew
My mother, ceaseless by the Furies driven,
Vagrant, an outcast, many a bending course
My feet have trod: to thee I came, of the
Inquired this whirling frenzy by what means,
And by what means my labours I might end.
Thy voice commanded me to speed my course
To this wild coast of Tauris, where a shrine
Thy sister hath, Diana; thence to take
The statue of the goddess, which from heaven
(So say the natives) to this temple fell:
This image, or by fraud or fortune won,
The dangerous toil achieved, to place the prize
In the Athenian land: no more was said;
But that, performing this, I should obtain
Rest from my toils. Obedient to thy words,
On this unknown, inhospitable coast
Am I arrived. Now, Pylades (for thou
Art my associate in this dangerous task,)
Of thee I ask, What shall we do? for high
The walls, thou seest, which fence the temple round.
Shall we ascend their height? But how escape
Observing eyes? Or burst the brazen bars?
Of these we nothing know: in the attempt
To force the gates, or meditating means
To enter, if detected, we shall die.
Shall we then, ere we die, by flight regain
The ship in which we hither plough'd the sea?
Of flight we brook no thought, nor such hath
Our wont; nor may the god's commanding voice
Be disobey'd; but from the temple now
Retiring, in some cave, which the black sea
Beats with its billows, we may lie conceal'd
At distance from our bark, lest some, whose eyes
May note it, bear the tidings to the king,
And we be seized by force. But when the eye
Of night comes darkling on, then must we dare,
And take the polish'd image from the shrine,
Attempting all things: and the vacant space
Between the triglyphs (mark it well) enough
Is open to admit us; by that way
Attempt we to descend: in toils the brave
Are daring; of no worth the abject soul.
This length of sea we plough'd not, from this
They go out. IPHIGENIA and the CHORUS enter from the
Nothing effected, to return: but well
Hast thou advised; the god must be obey'd.
Retire we then where we may lie conceal'd;
For never from the god will come the cause,
That what his sacred voice commands should fall
Effectless. We must dare. No toil to youth
Excuse, which justifies inaction, brings.
You, who your savage dwellings hold
Nigh this inhospitable main,
'Gainst clashing rocks with fury roll'd,
From all but hallow'd words abstain.
Virgin queen, Latona's grace, joying in the mountain
To thy court, thy rich domain,
To thy beauteous-pillar'd fane
Where our wondering eyes behold
Battlements that blaze with gold,
Thus my virgin steps I bend,
Holy, the holy to attend;
Servant, virgin queen, to thee;
Power, who bear'st life's golden key,
Far from Greece for steeds renown'd,
From her walls with towers crown'd,
From the beauteous-planted meads
Where his train Eurotas leads,
Visiting the loved retreats,
Once my father's royal seats.
I come. What cares disturb thy rest?
Why hast thou brought me to the shrine?
Doth some fresh grief afflict thy breast?
Why bring me to this seat divine?
Thou daughter of that chief, whose powers
Plough'd with a thousand keels the strand
And ranged in arms shook Troy's proud towers
Beneath the Atreidae's great command!
O ye attendant train,
How is my heart oppress'd with wo!
What notes, save notes of grief, can flow,
A harsh and unmelodious strain?
My soul domestic ills oppress with dread,
And bid me mourn a brother dead.
What visions did my sleeping sense appall
In the past dark and midnight hour!
'Tis ruin, ruin all.
My father's houses-it is no more:
No more is his illustrious line.
What dreadful deeds hath Argos known!
One only brother, Fate, was mine;
And dost thou rend him from me? Is he gone
To Pluto's dreary realms below?
For him, as dead, with pious care
This goblet I prepare;
And on the bosom of the earth shall flow
Streams from the heifer mountain-bred,
The grape's rich juice, and, mix'd with these,
The labour of the yellow bees,
Libations soothing to the dead.
Give me the oblation: let me hold
The foaming goblet's hallow'd gold.
O thou, the earth beneath,
Who didst from Agamemnon spring;
To thee, deprived of vital breath,
I these libations bring.
Accept them: to thy honour'd tomb,
Never, ah! never shall I come;
Never these golden tresses bear,
To place them there, there shed the tear;
For from my country far, a hind
There deem'd as slain, my wild abode I find.
To thee thy faithful train
The Asiatic hymn will raise,
A doleful, a barbaric strain,
Responsive to thy lays,
And steep in tears the mournful song,-
Notes, which to the dead belong;
Dismal notes, attuned to woe
By Pluto in the realms below:
No sprightly air shall we employ
To cheer the soul, and wake the sense of joy.
The Atreidae are no more;
Extinct their sceptre's golden light;
My father's house from its proud height
Is fallen: its ruins I deplore.
Who of her kings at Argos holds his reign,
Her kings once bless'd? But Sorrow's train
Rolls on impetuous for the rapid steeds
Which o'er the strand with Pelops fly.
From what atrocious deeds
Starts the sun back, his sacred eye
Of brightness, loathing, turn'd aside?
And fatal to their house arose,
From the rich ram, Thessalia's golden pride,
Slaughter on slaughter, woes on woes:
Thence, from the dead ages past,
Vengeance came rushing on its prey,
And swept the race of Tantalus away.
Fatal to thee its ruthless haste;
To me too fatal, from the hour
My mother wedded, from the night
She gave me to life's opening light,
Nursed by affliction's cruel power.
Early to me, the Fates unkind,
To know what sorrow is assign'd:
Me Leda's daughter, hapless dame,
First blooming offspring of her bed
(A father's conduct here I blame,)
A joyless victim bred;
When o'er the strand of Aulis, in the pride
Of beauty kindling flames of love,
High on my splendid car I move,
Betrothed to Thetis' son a bride:
Ah, hapless bride, to all the train
Of Grecian fair preferr'd in vain!
But now, a stranger on this strand,
'Gainst which the wild waves beat,
I hold my dreary, joyless seat,
Far distant from my native land,
Nor nuptial bed is mine, nor child, nor friend.
At Argos now no more I raise
The festal song in Juno's praise;
Nor o'er the loom sweet-sounding bend,
As the creative shuttle flies;
Give forms of Titans fierce to rise;
And, dreadful with her purple spear,
Image Athenian Pallas there:
But on this barbarous shore
The unhappy stranger's fate I moan,
The ruthless altar stain'd with gore,
His deep and dying groan;
And, for each tear that weeps his woes,
From me a tear of pity flows.
Of these the sad remembrance now must sleep:
A brother dead, ah me! I weep:
At Argos him, by fate oppress'd,
I left an infant at the breast,
A beauteous bud, whose opening charms
Then blossom'd in his mother's arms;
Orestes, born to high command,
The imperial sceptre of the Argive land.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Leaving the sea-wash'd shore a herdsman
A HERDSMAN enters.
Speeding, with some fresh tidings to thee fraught.
Daughter of Agamemnon, and bright gem
Of Clytemnestra, hear strange things from me.
And what of terror doth thy tale import?
Two youths, swift-rowing 'twixt the clashing
Of our wild sea, are landed on the beach,
A grateful offering at Diana's shrine,
And victims to the goddess. Haste, prepare
The sacred lavers, and the previous rites.
Whence are the strangers? from what country named?
From Greece: this only, nothing more, I know.
Didst thou not hear what names the strangers bear?
One by the other was call'd Pylades.
How is the stranger, his companion, named?
This none of us can tell: we heard it not.
How saw you them? how seized them? by what chance?
Mid the rude cliffs that o'er the Euxine hang-
And what concern have herdsmen with the sea?
To wash our herds in the salt wave we came.
To what I ask'd return: how seized you them?
Tell me the manner; this I wish to know:
For slow the victims come, nor hath some while
The altar of the goddess, as was wont,
Been crimson'd with the streams of Grecian blood.
Our herds, which in the forest feed, we
Amid the tide that rushes to the shore,
'Twixt the Symplegades: it was the place,
Where in the rifted rock the chafing surge
Hath hallow'd a rude cave, the haunt of those
Whose quest is purple. Of our number there
A herdsman saw two youths, and back return'd
With soft and silent step; then pointing, said,
"Do you not see them? These are deities
That sit there." One, who with religious awe
Revered the gods, with hands uplifted pray'd,
His eyes fix'd on them,-"Son of the sea-nymph
Leucothoe, guardian of the labouring bark,
Our lord Palaemon, be propitious to us!
Or sit you on our shores, bright sons of Jove,
Castor and Pollux? Or the glorious boast
Of Nereus, father of the noble choir
Of fifty Nereids?" One, whose untaught mind
Audacious folly harden'd 'gainst the sense
Of holy awe, scoff'd at his prayers, and said,-
"These are wreck'd mariners, that take their seat
In the cleft rock through fear, as they have heard
Our prescribed rite, that here we sacrifice
The stranger." To the greater part he seem'd
Well to have spoken, and we judged it meet
To seize the victims, by our country's law
Due to the goddess. Of the stranger youths,
One at this instant started from the rock:
Awhile he stood, and wildly toss'd his head,
And groan'd, his loose arms trembling all their
Convulsed with madness; and a hunter loud
Then cried,-"Dost thou behold her, Pylades?
Dost thou not see this dragon fierce from hell
Rushing to kill me, and against me rousing
Her horrid vipers? See this other here,
Emitting fire and slaughter from her vests,
Sails on her wings, my mother in her arms
Bearing, to hurl this mass of rock upon me!
Ah, she will kill me! Whither shall I fly?"
His visage might we see no more the same,
And his voice varied; now the roar of bulls,
The howl of dogs now uttering, mimic sounds
Sent by the maddening Furies, as they say.
Together thronging, as of death assured,
We sit in silence; but he drew his sword,
And, like a lion rushing mid our herds,
Plunged in their sides the weapon, weening thus
To drive the Furies, till the briny wave
Foam'd with their blood. But when among our herds
We saw this havoc made, we all 'gan rouse
To arms, and blew our sounding shells to alarm
The neighbouring peasants; for we thought in fight
Rude herdsmen to these youthful strangers, train'd
To arms, ill match'd; and forthwith to our aid
Flock'd numbers. But, his frenzy of its force
Abating, on the earth the stranger falls,
Foam bursting from his mouth: but when he saw
The advantage, each adventured on and hurl'd
What might annoy him fallen: the other youth
Wiped off the foam, took of his person care,
His fine-wrought robe spread over him; with heed
The flying stones observing, warded of
The wounds, and each kind office to his friend
Attentively perform'd. His sense return'd;
The stranger started up, and soon perceived
The tide of foes that roll'd impetuous on,
The danger and distress that closed them round.
He heaved a sigh; an unremitting storm
Of stones we pour'd, and each incited each:
Then we his dreadful exhortation heard:-
"Pylades, we shall die; but let us die
With glory: draw thy sword, and follow me."
But when we saw the enemies advance
With brandish'd swords, the steep heights crown'd with
We fell in flight: but others, if one flies,
Press on them; if again they drive these back,
What before fled turns, with a storm of stones
Assaulting them; but, what exceeds belief,
Hurl'd by a thousand hands, not one could hit
The victims of the goddess: scarce at length,
Not by brave daring seized we them, but round
We closed upon them, and their swords with stones
Beat, wily, from their hands; for on their knees
They through fatigue had sunk upon the ground:
We bare them to the monarch of this land:
He view'd them, and without delay to the
Sent them devoted to the cleansing vase,
And to the altar. Victims such as these,
O virgin, wish to find; for if such youths
Thou offer, for thy slaughter Greece will pay,
Her wrongs to thee at Aulis well avenged.
These things are wonderful, which thou hast
Of him, whoe'er he be, the youth from Greece
Arrived on this inhospitable shore.
'Tis well: go thou, and bring the strangers
The HERDSMAN departs.
What here is to be done shall be our care.
O my unhappy heart! before this hour
She enters the temple.
To strangers thou wast gentle, always touch'd
With pity, and with tears their tears repaid,
When Grecians, natives of my country, came
Into my hands: but from the dreams, which prompt
To deeds ungentle, showing that no more
Orestes views the sun's fair light, whoe'er
Ye are that hither come, me will you find
Relentless now. This is the truth, my friends:
My heart is rent; and never will the wretch,
Who feels affliction's cruel tortures, bear
Good-will to those that are more fortunate.
Never came gale from Jove, nor flying bark,
Which 'twixt the dangerous rocks of the Euxine sea
Brought Helen hither, who my ruin wrought,
Nor Menelaus; that on them my foul wrongs
I might repay, and with an Aulis here
Requite the Aulis there, where I was seized,
And, as a heifer, by the Grecians slain:
My father too, who gave me birth, was priest.
Ah me! the sad remembrance of those ills
Yet lives: how often did I stroke thy cheek,
And, hanging on thy knees, address thee thus:-
"Alas, my father! I by thee am led
A bride to bridal rites unbless'd and base:
Them, while by thee I bleed, my mother hymns,
And the Argive dames, with hymeneal strains,
And with the jocund pipe the house resounds:
But at the altar I by thee am slain;
For Pluto was the Achilles, not the son
Of Peleus, whom to me thou didst announce
The affianced bridegroom, and by guile didst bring
To bloody nuptials in the rolling car."
But, o'er mine eyes the veil's fine texture spread,
This brother in my hands who now is lost,
I clasp'd not, though his sister; did not press
My lips to his, through virgin modesty,
As going to the house of Peleus: then
Each fond embrace I to another time
Deferr'd, as soon to Argos to return.
If, O unhappy brother, thou art dead,
From what a state, thy father's envied height
Of glory, loved Orestes, art thou torn!-
These false rules of the goddess much I blame:
Whoe'er of mortals is with slaughter stain'd,
Or hath at childbirth given assisting hands,
Or chanced to touch aught dead, she as impure
Drives from her altars; yet herself delights
In human victims bleeding at her shrine.
Ne'er did Latona from the embrace of Jove
Bring forth such inconsistence: I then deem
The feast of Tantalus, where gods were guests,
Unworthy of belief, as that they fed
On his son's flesh delighted; and I think
These people, who themselves have a wild joy
In shedding human blood, their savage guilt
Charge on the goddess: for this truth I hold;
None of the gods is evil, or doth wrong.
IPHIGENIA enters from the temple.
Ye rocks, ye dashing rocks, whose brow
Frowns o'er the darken'd deeps below;
Whose wild, inhospitable wave,
From Argos flying and her native spring,
The virgin once was known to brave,
Tormented with the brize's maddening sting,
From Europe when the rude sea o'er
She pass'd to Asia's adverse shore;
Who are these hapless youths, that dare to land,
Leaving those soft, irriguous meads,
Where, his green margin fringed with reeds,
Eurotas rolls his ample tide,
Or Dirce's hallow'd waters glide,
And touch this barbarous, stranger-hating strand,
The altars where a virgin dews,
And blood the pillar'd shrine imbrues?
Did they with oars impetuous sweep
(Rank answering rank) the foamy deep,
And wing their bark with flying sails,
To raise their humble fortune their desire;
Eager to catch the rising gales,
Their bosoms with the love of gain on fire?
For sweet is hope to man's fond breast;
The hope of gain, insatiate guest,
Though on her oft attends Misfortune's train;
For daring man she tempts to brave
The dangers of the boisterous wave,
And leads him heedless of his fate
Through many a distant barbarous state.
Vain his opinions, his pursuits are vain!
Boundless o'er some her power is shown,
But some her temperate influence own.
How did they pass the dangerous rocks
Clashing with rude, tremendous shocks?
How pass the savage-howling shore,
Where once the unhappy Phineus held his reign,
And sleep affrighted flies its roar,
Steering their rough course o'er this boisterous
Form'd in a ring, beneath whose waves
The Nereid train in high arch'd caves
Weave the light dance, and raise the sprightly song,
While, whispering in their swelling sails,
Soft Zephyrs breathe, or southern gales
Piping amid their tackling play,
As their bark ploughs its watery way
Those hoary cliffs, the haunts of birds, along,
To that wild strand, the rapid race
Where once Achilles deign'd to grace?
O that from Troy some chance would bear
Leda's loved daughter, fatal fair
(The royal virgin's vows are mine)
That her bright tresses roll'd in crimson dew,
Her warm blood flowing at this shrine
The altar of the goddess might imbrue;
And Vengeance, righteous to repay
Her former mischiefs, seize her prey!
But with what rapture should I hear his voice,
If one this shore should reach from Greece,
And bid the toils of slavery cease!
Or might I in the hour of rest
With pleasing dreams of Greece be bless'd;
So in my house, my native land rejoice;
In sleep enjoy the pleasing strain
For happiness restored again
But the two youths, their hands fast bound in
The late-seized victims to the goddess, come.
Silence, my friends; for, destined at the shrine
To bleed, the Grecian strangers near approach;
And no false tidings did the herdsman bring.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Goddess revered, if grateful to thy soul
Guards lead in ORESTES and PYLADES, bound.
This state presents such sacrifice, accept
The victims, which the custom of this land
Gives thee, but deem'd unholy by the Greeks.
No more; that to the goddess each due rite
The guards release ORESTES and PYLADES.
Be well perform'd shall be my care. Unchain
The strangers' hands; that, hallow'd as they are,
They may no more be bound.
Go you, prepare
Within the temple what the rites require.
Unhappy youths, what mother brought you forth,
Your father who? Your sister, if perchance
Ye have a sister, of what youths deprived?
For brother she shall have no more. Who knows
Whom such misfortunes may attend? For dark
What the gods will creeps on; and none can tell
The ills to come: this fortune from the sight
Obscures. But, O unhappy strangers, say,
Whence came you? Sail'd you long since for this
But long will be your absence from your homes,
For ever, in the dreary realms below.
Lady, whoe'er thou art, why for these things
Dost thou lament? why mourn for ills, which soon
Will fall on us? Him I esteem unwise,
Who, when he sees death near, tries to o'ercome
Its terrors with bewailings, without hope
Of safety: ill he adds to ill, and makes
His folly known, yet dies. We must give way
To fortune; therefore mourn not thou for us:
We know, we are acquainted with your rites.
Which of you by the name of Pylades
Is call'd? This first it is my wish to know.
If aught of pleasure that may give thee, he.
A native of what Grecian state, declare.
What profit knowing this wouldst thou obtain?
And are you brothers, of one mother born?
Brothers by friendship, lady, not by birth.
To thee what name was by thy father given?
With just cause I Unhappy might be call'd.
I ask not that; to fortune that ascribe.
Dying unknown, rude scoffs I shall avoid.
Wilt thou refuse? Why are thy thoughts so high?
My body thou mayst kill, but not my name.
Wilt thou not say a native of what state?
The question naught avails, since I must die.
What hinders thee from granting me this grace?
The illustrious Argos I my country boast.
By the gods, stranger, is thy birth from thence?
My birth is from Mycenae, once the bless'd.
Dost thou an exile fly, or by what fate?
Of my free will, in part not free, I fly.
Wilt thou then tell me what I wish to know?
Whate'er is foreign to my private griefs.
To my dear wish from Argos art thou come.
Not to my wish; but if to thine, enjoy it.
Troy, whose fame spreads so wide, perchance thou know'st.
O that I ne'er had known her, ev'n in dreams!
They say she is no more, by war destroy'd.
It is so: you have heard no false reports.
Is Helena with Menelaus return'd?
She is; and one I love her coming rues.
Where is she? Me too she of old hath wrong'd.
At Sparta with her former lord she dwells.
By Greece, and not by me alone abhorr'd!
I from her nuptials have my share of grief.
And are the Greeks, as Fame reports, return'd?
How briefly all things dost thou ask at once!
This favour, ere thou die, I wish to obtain.
Ask, then: since such thy wish, I will inform thee.
Calchas, a prophet,-came he back from Troy?
He perish'd at Mycenae such the fame.
Goddess revered! But doth Ulysses live?
He lives, they say, but is not yet return'd.
Perish the wretch, nor see his country more!
Wish him not ill, for all with him is ill.
But doth the son of sea-born Thetis live?
He lives not: vain his nuptial rites at Aulis.
That all was fraud, as those who felt it say.
But who art thou, inquiring thus of Greece?
I am from thence, in early youth undone.
Thou hast a right to inquire what there hath pass'd.
What know'st thou of the chief, men call the bless'd?
Who? Of the bless'd was not the chief I knew.
The royal Agamemnon, son of Atreus.
Of him I know not, lady; cease to ask.
Nay, by the gods, tell me, and cheer my soul.
He's dead, the unhappy chief: no single ill.
Dead! By what adverse fate? O wretched me!
Why mourn for this? How doth it touch thy breast?
The glories of his former state I mourn.
Dreadfully murdered by a woman's hand.
How wretched she that slew him, he thus slain!
Now then forbear: of him inquire no more.
This only: lives the unhappy monarch's wife?
She, lady, is no more, slain by her son.
Alas, the ruin'd house! What his intent?
To avenge on her his noble father slain.
An ill, but righteous deed, how justly done!
Though righteous, by the gods be is not bless'd.
Hath Agamemnon other offspring left?
He left one virgin daughter, named Electra.
Of her that died a victim is aught said?
This only, dead, she sees the light no more.
Unhappy she! the father too who slew her!
For a bad woman she unseemly died.
At Argos lives the murdered father's son?
Nowhere he lives, poor wretch! and everywhere.
False dreams, farewell; for nothing you import.
Nor are those gods, that have the name of
Less false than fleeting dreams. In things divine,
And in things human, great confusion reigns.
One thing is left; that, not unwise of soul,
Obedient to the prophet's voice he perish'd;
For that he perish'd, they who know report.
What shall we know, what of our parents
If yet they live or not, who can inform us?
Hear me: this converse prompts a thought, which
Promise of good, ye youths of Greece, to you,
To these, and me: thus may it well be done,
If, willing to my purpose, all assent.
Wilt thou, if I shall save thee, go for me
A messenger to Argos, to my friends
Charged with a letter, which a captive wrote,
Who pitied me, nor murderous thought my hand,
But that he died beneath the law, these rites
The goddess deeming just? for from that hour
I have not found who might to Argos bear
Himself my message, back with life return'd,
Or send to any of my friends my letter.
Thou, therefore, since it seems thou dost not bear
Ill-will to me, and dost Mycenae know,
And those I wish to address, be safe, and live,
No base reward for a light letter, life
Receiving; and let him, since thus the state
Requires, without thee to the goddess bleed.
Virgin unknown, well hast thou said in all
Save this, that to the goddess he should bleed
A victim; that were heavy grief indeed.
I steer'd the vessel to these ills; he sail'd
Attendant on my toils: to gain thy grace
By his destruction, and withdraw myself
From sufferings, were unjust: thus let it be:
Give him the letter; to fulfil thy wish,
To Argos he will bear it: me let him
Who claims that office, slay: base is his soul,
Who in calamities involves his friends,
And saves himself; this is a friend, whose life,
Dear to me as my own, I would preserve.
Excellent spirit! from some noble root
It shows thee sprung, and to thy friends a friend
Sincere; of those that share my blood if one
Remains, such may he be! for I am not
Without a brother, strangers, from my sight
Though distant now. Since then thy wish is such,
Him will I send to Argos; he shall bear
My letter; thou shalt die; for this desire
Hath strong possession of thy noble soul.
Who then shall do the dreadful deed, and slay me?
I: to atone the goddess is my charge.
A charge unenvied, virgin, and unbless'd.
Necessity constrains: I must obey.
Wilt thou, a woman, plunge the sword in men?
No: but thy locks to sprinkle round is mine.
Whose then, if I may ask, the bloody deed?
To some within the temple this belongs.
What tomb is destined to receive my corse?
The hallow'd fire within, and a dark cave.
O, that a sister's hand might wrap these limbs!
Vain wish, unhappy youth, whoe'er thou art,
She enters the temple.
Hast thou conceived; for from this barbarous land
Far is her dwelling. Yet, of what my power
Permits (since thou from Argos draw'st thy birth,)
No grace will I omit: for in the tomb
I will place much of ornament, and pour
The dulcet labour of the yellow bee,
From mountain flowers extracted, on thy pyre.
But I will go, and from the temple bring
The letter; yet 'gainst me no hostile thought
Conceive. You, that attend here, guard them well,
But without chains. To one, whom most I love
Of all my friends, to Argos I shall send
Tidings perchance unlook'd for; and this letter,
Declaring those whom he thought dead alive,
Shall bear him an assured and solid joy.
Thee, o'er whose limbs the bloody drops shall soon
Be from the lavers sprinkled, I lament.
This asks no pity, strangers: but farewell.
Thee for thy happy fate we reverence, youth
Who to thy country shall again return.
To friends unwish'd, who leave their friends to die.
Painful dismission! Which shall I esteem
Most lost, alas, alas! which most undone?
For doubts my wavering judgment yet divide,
If chief for thee my sighs should swell, or thee.
By the gods, Pylades, is thy mind touch'd
In manner like as mine?
I cannot tell;
Nor to thy question have I to reply.
Who is this virgin? With what zeal for Greece
Made she inquiries of us what the toils
At Troy, if yet the Grecians were return'd,
And Calchas, from the flight of birds who form'd
Presages of the future. And she named
Achilles: with what tenderness bewail'd
The unhappy Agamemnon! Of his wife
She ask'd me,-of his children: thence her race
This unknown virgin draws, an Argive; else
Ne'er would she send this letter, nor have wish'd
To know these things, as if she bore a share
(If Argos flourish) in its prosperous state.
Such were my thoughts
but thou hast given them words, Preventing me
of every circumstance,
Save one: the fate of kings all know, whose state
Holds aught of rank. But pass to other thoughts.
What? Share them; so thou best mayst be inform'd.
That thou shouldst die, and I behold this
Were base: with thee I sail'd, with thee to die
Becomes me; else shall I obtain the name
Of a vile coward through the Argive state,
And the deep vales of Phocis. Most will think
(For most think ill) that by betraying the
I saved myself, home to return alone;
Or haply that I slew thee, and thy death
Contrived, that in the ruin of thy house
Thy empire I might grasp, to me devolved
As wedded to thy sister, now sole heir.
These things I fear, and hold them infamous.
Behooves me then with thee to die, with the
To bleed a victim, on the pyre with thine
To give my body to the flames; for this
Becomes me as thy friend. who dreads reproach.
Speak more auspicious words: 'tis mine to
Ills that are mine; and single when the wo,
I would not bear it double. What thou say'st
Is vile and infamous, would light on me,
Should I cause thee to die, who in my toils
Hast borne a share: to me, who from the gods
Suffer afflictions which I suffer, death
Is not unwelcome: thou art happy, thine
An unpolluted and a prosperous house;
Mine impious and unbless'd: if thou art saved,
And from my sister (whom I gave to thee,
Betroth'd thy bride) art bless'd with sons, my name
May yet remain, nor all my father's house
In total ruin sink. Go then, and live:
Dwell in the mansion of thy ancestors:
And when thou comest to Greece, to Argos famed
For warrior-steeds, by this right hand I charge
Raise a sepulchral mound, and on it place
A monument to me; and to my tomb
Her tears, her tresses let my sister give;
And say, that by an Argive woman's hand
I perish'd, to the altar's bloody rites
A hallow'd victim. Never let thy soul
Betray my sister, for thou seest her state,
Of friends how destitute, her father's house
How desolate. Farewell. Of all my friends,
Thee have I found most friendly, from my youth
Train'd up with me, in all my sylvan sports
Thou dear associate, and through many toils
Thou faithful partner of my miseries.
Me Phoebus, though a prophet, hath deceived,
And, meditating guile, hath driven me far
From Greece, of former oracles ashamed;
To him resign'd, obedient to his words,
I slew my mother, and my meed is death.
Yes, I will raise thy tomb: thy sister's
I never will betray, unhappy youth,
For I will hold thee dearer when thou art dead,
Than while thou livest; nor hath yet the voice
Of Phoebus quite destroy'd thee, though thou stand
To sometimes mighty but sometimes mighty woes
Yield mighty changes, so when Fortune wills.
Forbear: the words of Phoebus naught avail
IPHIGENIA enters from the temple. She is carrying a
For, passing from the shrine, the virgin comes.
to the guards
Go you away, and in the shrine prepare
The guards go into the temple.
What those, who o'er the rites preside, require.
Here, strangers, is the letter folded close:
What I would further, hear. The mind of man
In dangers, and again, from fear relieved,
Of safety when assured, is not the same:
I therefore fear lest he, who should convey
To Argos this epistle, when return'd
Safe to his native country, will neglect
My letter, as a thing of little worth.
What wouldst thou then? What is thy anxious thought?
This: let him give an oath that he will
To Argos this epistle to those friends,
To whom it is my ardent wish to send it.
And wilt thou in return give him thy oath?
That I will do, or will not do, say what.
To send him from this barbarous shore alive.
That's just: how should he bear my letter else?
But will the monarch to these things assent?
By me induced. Him I will see embark'd.
Swear then; and thou propose the righteous oath.
This, let him say, he to my friends will give.
Well, to thy friends this letter I will give.
Thee will I send safe through the darkening rocks.
What god dost thou invoke to attest thy oath?
Diana, at whose shrine high charge I hold.
And I heaven's potent king, the awful Jove.
But if thou slight thy oath, and do me wrong?
Never may I return. But if thou fail,
And save me not?
Then never, while I live,
May I revisit my loved Argos more!
One thing, not mention'd, thy attention claims.
If honour owes it, this will touch us both.
Let me in this be pardon'd, if the bark
Be lost, and with it in the surging waves
Thy letter perish, and I naked gain
The shore; no longer binding be the oath.
Know'st thou what I will do? For various
Arise to those that plough the dangerous deep.
What in this letter is contain'd, what here
Is written, all I will repeat to thee,
That thou mayst bear my message to my friends.
'Gainst danger thus I guard: if thou preserve
The letter, that though silent will declare
My purport; if it perish in the sea,
Saving thyself, my words too thou wilt save.
Well hast thou said touching the gods and
Say then to whom at Argos shall I bear
This letter? What relate as heard from thee?
This message to Orestes, to the son
Of Agamemnon, bear:-She, who was slain
At Aulis, Iphigenia, sends thee this:
She lives, but not to those who then were there.
Where is she? From the dead return'd to life?
She whom thou seest: but interrupt me not.
To Argos, O my brother, ere I die,
Bear me from this barbaric land, and far
Remove me from this altar's bloody rites,
At which to slay the stranger is my charge.-
What shall I say? Where are we, Pylades?
Or on thy house for vengeance will I call,
Orestes. Twice repeated, learn the name.
In my cause why invoke the gods?
Nothing: proceed: my thoughts were wandering
Strange things of thee unask'd I soon shall learn.
Tell him the goddess saved me, in exchange
A hind presenting, which my father slew
A victim, deeming that he plunged his sword
Deep in my breast: me in this land she placed.
Thou hast my charge: and this my letter speaks.
O, thou hast bound me with an easy oath:
PYLADES hands the letter to ORESTES.
What I have sworn with honest purpose, long
Defer I not, but thus discharge mine oath.
To thee a letter from thy sister, lo,
I bear, Orestes; and I give it thee.
I do receive it, but forbear to unclose its foldings, greater
pleasure first to enjoy
Than words can give. My sister, O most dear,
Astonish'd ev'n to disbelief, I throw
Mine arms around thee with a fond embrace,
In transport at the wondrous things I hear.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Stranger, thou dost not well with hands
Thus to pollute the priestess of the shrine,
Grasping her garments hallow'd from the touch.
My sister, my dear sister, from one sire,
From Agamemnon sprung, turn not away,
Holding thy brother thus beyond all hope.
My brother! Thou my brother! Wilt thou not
Unsay these words? At Argos far he dwells.
Thy brother, O unhappy! is not there.
Thee did the Spartan Tyndarus bring forth?
And from the son of Pelops' son I sprung,
What say'st thou? Canst thou give me proof of this?
I can: ask something of my father's house.
Nay, it is thine to speak, mine to attend.
First let me mention things which I have
Electra speak: to thee is known the strife
Which fierce 'twixt Atreus and Thyestes rose.
Yes, I have heard it; for the golden ram,-
In the rich texture didst thou not inweave it?
O thou most dear! Thou windest near my heart.
And image in the web the averted sun?
In the fine threads that figure did I work.
For Aulis did thy mother bathe thy limbs?
I know it, to unlucky spousals led.
Why to thy mother didst thou send thy locks?
Devoted for my body to the tomb.
What I myself have seen I now as proofs
Will mention. In thy father's house, hung high
Within thy virgin chambers, the old spear
Of Pelops, which he brandish'd when he slew
Oenomaus, and won his beauteous bride,
The virgin Hippodamia, Pisa's boast.
O thou most dear (for thou art he,) most
Acknowledged, thee, Orestes, do I hold,
From Argos, from thy country distant far?
And hold I thee, my sister, long deem'd
Grief mix'd with joy, and tears, not taught by woe
To rise, stand melting in thy eyes and mine.
Thee yet an infant in thy nurse's arms
I left, a babe I left thee in the house.
Thou art more happy, O my soul, than speech
Knows to express. What shall I say? 'tis all
Surpassing wonder and the power of words.
May we together from this hour be bless'd!
An unexpected pleasure, O my friends,
Have I received; yet fear I from my hands
Lest to the air it fly. O sacred hearths
Raised by the Cyclops! O my country, loved
Mycenae! Now that thou didst give me birth,
T thank thee; now I thank thee, that my youth
Thou trainedst, since my brother thou has train'd,
A beam of light, the glory of his house.
We in our race are happy; but our life,
My sister, by misfortunes is unhappy.
I was, I know, unhappy, when the sword
My father, frantic, pointed at my neck.
Ah me! methinks ev'n now I see thee there.
When to Achilles, brother, not a bride,
I to the sacrifice by guile was led,
And tears and groans the altar compass'd round.
Alas, the lavers there!
I mourn'd the deed
My father dared; unlike a father's love;
Cruel, unlike a father's love, to me.
Ill deeds succeed to ill: if thou hadst
Thy brother, by some god impell'd, what griefs
Must have been thine at such a dreadful deed!
Dreadful my brother, O how dreadful! scarce
Hast thou escaped a foul, unhallow'd death,
Slain by my hands. But how will these things end?
What Fortune will assist me? What safe means
Shall I devise to send thee from this state,
From slaughter, to thy native land, to Argos,
Ere with thy blood the cruel sword be stain'd?
This to devise, O my unhappy soul!
This to devise is thine. Wilt thou by land,
Thy bark deserted, speed thy flight on foot?
Perils await thee mid these barbarous tribes,
Through pathless wilds; and 'twixt the clashing
Narrow the passage for the flying bark,
And long. Unhappy, ah, unhappy me!
What god, what mortal, what unlook'd-for chance
Will expedite our dangerous way, and show
Two sprung from Atreus a release from ills?
What having seen and heard I shall relate,
Is marvellous, and passes fabling tales.
When after absence long, Orestes, friend
Meets friend, embraces will express their joy.
Behooves us now, bidding farewell to grief,
And heedful to obtain the glorious name
Of safety, from this barbarous land to fly.
The wise, of fortune not regardless, seize
The occasion, and to happiness advance.
Well hast thou said; and Fortune here, I
Will aid us; to the firm and strenuous mind
More potent works the influence divine.
Nothing shall check, nothing restrain my
First will I question thee what fortune waits
Electra: this to know would yield me joy.
pointing to Pylades
she dwells, and happy is her life,
Whence then is he? and from what father sprung?
From Phocis: Strophius is his father named.
By Atreus' daughter to my blood allied?
Nearly allied: my only faithful friend.
He was not then, me when my father slew.
Childless was Strophius for some length of time.
O thou, the husband of my sister, hail
More than relation, my preserver too.
But to thy mother why that dreadful deed?
Of that no more: to avenge my father's death.
But for what cause did she her husband slay?
Of her inquire not: thou wouldst blush to hear.
The eyes of Argos now are raised to thee.
There Menelaus is lord; I, outcast, fly.
Hath he then wrong'd his brother's ruin'd house?
Not so: the Furies fright me from the land.
The madness this, which seized thee on the shore?
I was not first beheld unhappy there.
Stern powers! they haunt thee for thy mother's blood.
And ruthless make me champ the bloody bit.
Why to this region has thou steer'd thy course?
Commanded by Apollo's voice, I come.
With what intent? if that may be disclosed.
I will inform thee, though to length of
This leads. When vengeance from my hands o'ertook
My mother's deeds-foul deeds, which let me pass
In silence-by the Furies' fierce assaults
To flight I was impell'd: to Athens then
Apollo sent me, that, my cause there heard,
I might appease the vengeful powers, whose names
May not be utter'd: the tribunal there
Is holy, which for Mars, when stain'd with blood,
Jove in old times establish'd. There arrived,
None willingly received me, by the gods
As one abhorr'd; and they, who felt the touch
Of shame, the hospitable board alone
Yielded; and though one common roof beneath,
Their silence showing they disdain'd to hold
Converse with me, I took from them apart
A lone repast; to each was placed a bowl
Of the same measure; this they filled with wine,
And bathed their spirits in delight. Unmeet
I deem'd it to express offence at those
Who entertain'd me, but in silence grieved,
Showing a cheer as though I mark'd it not,
And sigh'd for that I shed my mother's blood.
A feast, I hear, at Athens is ordain'd
From this my evil plight, ev'n yet observed,
In which the equal-measured bowl then used
Is by that people held in honour high.
But when to the tribunal on the mount
Of Mars I came, one stand I took, and one
The eldest of the Furies opposite:
The cause was heard touching my mother's blood,
And Phoebus saved me by his evidence:
Equal, by Pallas number'd, were the votes
And I from doom of blood victorious freed
Such of the Furies as there sat, appeased
By the just sentence, nigh the court resolved
To fix their seat; but others, whom the law
Appeased not, with relentless tortures still
Pursued me, till I reach'd the hallow'd soil
Of Phoebus: stretch'd before his shrine, I swore
Foodless to waste my wretched life away,
Unless the god, by whom I was undone,
Would save me: from the golden tripod burst
The voice divine, and sent me to this shore,
Commanding me to bear the image hence,
Which fell from Jove, and in the Athenian land
To fix it. What the oracular voice assign'd
My safety, do thou aid: if we obtain
The statue of the goddess, I no more
With madness shall be tortured, but this arm
Shall place thee in my bark, which ploughs the waves
With many an oar, and to Mycenae safe
Bear thee again. Show then a sister's love,
O thou most dear; preserve thy father's house,
Preserve me too; for me destruction waits,
And all the race of Pelops, if we bear not
This heaven-descended image from the shrine.
The anger of the gods hath raged severe,
And plunged the race of Tantalus in woes.
Ere thy arrival here, a fond desire
To be again at Argos, and to see
Thee, my loved brother, fill'd my soul. Thy wish
Is my warm wish, to free thee from thy toils,
And from its ruins raise my father's house;
Nor harbour I 'gainst him, that slew me, thought
Of harsh resentment: from thy blood my hands
Would I keep pure, thy house I would preserve.
But from the goddess how may this be hid?
The tyrant too I fear, when he shall find
The statue on its marble base no more.
What then from death will save me? What excuse
Shall I devise? Yet by one daring deed
Might these things be achieved: couldst thou bear
The image, me too in thy gallant bark
Placing secure, how glorious were the attempt!
Me if thou join not with thee, I am lost
Indeed; but thou, with prudent measures form'd,
Return. I fly no danger, not ev'n death,
Be death required, to save thee: no: the man
Dying is mourn'd, as to his house a loss;
But woman's weakness is of light esteem.
I would not be the murderer of my mother,
And of thee too; sufficient is her blood.
No; I will share thy fortune, live with thee,
Or with thee die: to Argos I will lead thee,
If here I perish not; or dying, here
Remain with thee. But what my mind suggests,
Hear: if Diana were averse to this,
How could the voice of Phoebus from his shrine
Declare that to the state of Pallas hence
The statue of the goddess I should bear,
And see thy face? All this, together weigh'd,
Gives hope of fair success, and our return.
But how effect it, that we neither die,
And what we wish achieve? For our return
On this depends: this claims deliberate thought.
Have we not means to work the tyrant's death?
For strangers full of peril were the attempt.
Thee would it save and me, it must be dared.
I could not: yet thy promptness I approve.
What if thou lodge me in the shrine conceal'd?
That in the shades of night we may escape?
Night is a friend to frauds, the light to truth.
Within are sacred guards; we 'scape not them.
Ruin then waits us: how can we be saved?
I think I have some new and safe device.
What is it? Let me know: impart thy thought,
Thy sufferings for my purpose I will use,-
To form devices quick is woman's wit.
And say, thy mother slain, thou fledd'st from Argos.
If to aught good, avail thee of my ills.
Unmeet then at this shrine to offer thee.
What cause alleged? I reach not thine intent.
As now impure: when hallow'd, I will slay thee.
How is the image thus more promptly gain'd?
Thee I will hallow in the ocean waves.
The statue we would gain is in the temple.
That, by thy touch polluted, I would cleanse.
Where? On the watery margin of the main?
Where thy tall bark secured with cables rides.
And who shall bear the image in his hands?
Myself; profaned by any touch, but mine.
What of this blood shall on my friend be charged?
His hands, it shall be said, like thine are stain'd.
In secret this, or to the king disclosed?
With his assent; I cannot hide it from him.
My bark with ready oars attends thee near.
That all be well appointed, be thy charge.
One thing alone remains; that these conceal
Our purpose: but address them, teach thy tongue
Persuasive words: a woman hath the power
To melt the heart to pity: thus perchance
All things may to our warmest wish succeed.
Ye train of females, to my soul most dear,
On you mine eyes are turn'd, on you depends
My fate; with prosperous fortune to be bless'd,
Or to be nothing, to my country lost,
Of a dear kinsman and a much-loved brother
Deprived. This plea I first would urge, that we
Are women, and have hearts by nature form'd
To love each other, of our mutual trusts
Most firm preservers. Touching our design,
Be silent, and assist our flight: naught claims
More honour than the faithful tongue. You see
How the same fortune links us three, most dear
Each to the other, to revisit safe
Our country, or to die. If I am saved,
That thou mayst share my fortune, I to Greece
Will bring thee safe: but thee by this right hand,
Thee I conjure, and thee; by this loved cheek
Thee, by thy knees, by all that in your house
Is dearest to you, father, mother, child,
If you have children. What do you reply?
Which of you speaks assent? Or which dissents?
But be you all assenting: for my plea
If you approve not, ruin falls on me,
And my unhappy brother too must die.
Be confident, loved lady and consult
Only thy safety: all thou givest in charge,
Be witness, mighty Jove, I will conceal.
O, for this generous promise be you bless'd.
To ORESTES and PYLADES
To enter now the temple be thy part,
ORESTES, PYLADES, and IPHIGENIA enter the temple.
And thine: for soon the monarch of the land
Will come, inquiring if the strangers yet
Have bow'd their necks as victims at the shrine.
Goddess revered, who in the dreadful bay
Of Aulis from my father's slaughtering hand
Didst save me; save me now, and these: through thee,
Else will the voice of Phoebus be no more
Held true by mortals. From this barbarous land
To Athens go propitious: here to dwell
Beseems thee not; thine be a polish'd state!
O bird, that round each craggy height
Projecting o'er the sea below,
Wheelest thy mel