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Written 422 B.C.E
Translated by E. P. Coleridge
AETHRA, mother of THESEUS
CHORUS OF ARGIVE MOTHERS
THESEUS, King of Athens
ADRASTUS, King of Argos
HERALD, of Creon, King of Thebes
EVADNE, wife of Capaneus
IPHIS, father of EVADNE
CHILDREN of the slain chieftains
Before the temple of Demeter at Eleusis. On the steps of the great altar is seated AETHRA. Around her, in the garb of suppliants, is the CHORUS OF ARGIVE MOTHERS. ADRASTUS lies on the ground before the altar, crushed in abject grief. The CHILDREN of the slain chieftains stand nearby. Around the altar are the attendants of the goddess.
O Demeter, guardian of this Eleusinian land, and ye servants
of the goddess who attend her fane, grant happiness to me and my son Theseus,
to the city of Athens and the country of Pittheus, wherein my father reared
me, Aethra, in a happy home, and gave me in marriage to Aegeus, Pandion's
son, according to the oracle of Loxias. This prayer I make, when I behold
these aged dames, who, leaving their homes in Argos, now throw themselves
with suppliant branches at my knees in their awful trouble; for around
the gates of Cadmus have they lost their seven noble sons, whom on a day
Adrastus, king of Argos, led thither, eager to secure for exiled Polyneices,
his son-in-law, a share in the heritage of Oedipus; so now their mothers
would bury in the grave the dead, whom the spear hath slain, but the victors
prevent them and will not allow them to take up the corpses, spurning Heaven's
laws. Here lies Adrastus on the ground with streaming eye, sharing with
them the burden of their prayer to me, and bemoaning the havoc of the sword
and the sorry fate of the warriors whom he led from their homes. And he
doth urge me use entreaty, to persuade my son to take up the dead and help
to bury them, either by winning words or force of arms, laying on my son
and on Athens this task alone. Now it chanced, that I had left my house
and come to offer sacrifice on behalf of the earth's crop at this shrine,
where first the fruitful corn showed its bristling shocks above the soil.
And here at the holy altars of the twain goddesses, Demeter and her daughter,
I wait, holding these sprays of foliage, a bond that bindeth not, in compassion
for these childless mothers, hoary with age, and from reverence for the
sacred fillets. To call Theseus hither is my herald to the city gone, that
he may rid the land of that which grieveth them, or loose these my suppliant
bonds, with pious observance of the gods' will; for such as are discreet
amongst women should in all cases invoke the aid of men.
The attendants of the goddess take up the lament.
At thy knees I fall, aged dame, and my old lips beseech thee; arise, rescue
from the slain my children's bodies, whose limbs, by death relaxed, are
left a prey to savage mountain beasts,
Beholding the bitter tears which spring to my eyes and my old wrinkled
skin torn by my hands; for what can I do else? who never laid out my children
dead within my halls, nor now behold their tombs heaped up with earth.
Thou too, honoured lady, once a son didst bear, crowning thy lord's marriage
with fond joy; then share, O share with me thy mother's feelings, in such
measure as my sad heart grieves for my own dead sons; and persuade thy
son, whose aid we implore, to go unto the river Ismenus, there to place
within my hapless arms the bodies of my children, slain in their prime
and left without a tomb.
Though not as piety enjoins, yet from sheer necessity I have come to the
fire-crowned altars of the gods, falling on my knees with instant supplication,
for my cause is just, and 'tis in thy power, blest as thou art in thy children,
to remove from me my woe; so in my sore distress I do beseech thee of my
misery place in my hands my son's dead body, that I may throw my arms about
his hapless limbs.
THESEUS and his retinue enter.
Behold a rivalry in sorrow! woe takes up the tale of woe; hark! thy servants
beat their breasts. Come ye who join the mourners' wail, come, O sympathetic
band, to join the dance, which Hades honours; let the pearly nail be stained
red, as it rends your cheeks, let your skin be streaked with gore; for
honours rendered to the dead are credit to the living.
Sorrow's charm doth drive me wild, insatiate, painful, endless, even as
the trickling stream that gushes from some steep rock's face; for 'tis
woman's way to fall a-weeping o'er the cruel calamity of children dead.
Ah me! would I could die and forget my anguish
What is this lamentation that I hear, this beating of the breast,
these dirges for the dead, with cries that echo from this shrine? How fluttering
fear disquiets me, lest haply my mother have gotted some mischance, in
quest of whom I come, for she hath been long absent from home. Ha! what
now? A strange sight challenges my speech; I see my aged mother sitting
at the altar and stranger dames are with her, who in various note proclaim
their woe; from aged eyes the piteous tear is starting to the ground, their
hair is shorn, their robes are not the robes of joy. What means it, mother?
'Tis thine to make it plain to me, mine to listen; yea, for I expect some
My son, these are the mothers of those chieftains seven, who
fell around the gates of Cadmus' town. With suppliant boughs they keep
me prisoner, as thou seest, in their midst.
And who is yonder man, that moaneth piteously in the gateway?
Adrastus, they inform me, king of Argos.
Are those his children, those boys who stand round him?
Not his, but the sons of the fallen slain.
Why are they come to us, with suppliant hand outstretched?
I know; but 'tis for them to tell their story, my son.
To thee, in thy mantle muffled, I address my inquiries; thy
head, let lamentation be, and speak; for naught can be achieved save through
the utterance of thy tongue.
Victorious prince of the Athenian realm, Theseus, to thee and to thy city
I, a suppliant, come.
What seekest thou? What need is thine?
Dost know how I did lead an expedition to its ruin?
Assuredly; thou didst not pass through Hellas, all in silence.
There I lost the pick of Argos' sons.
These are the results of that unhappy war.
I went and craved their bodies from Thebes.
Didst thou rely on heralds, Hermes' servants, in order to bury
I did; and even then their slayers said me nay.
Why, what say they to thy just request?
Say! Success makes them forget how to bear their fortune.
Art come to me then for counsel? or wherefore?
With the wish that thou, O Theseus, shouldst recover the sons
of the Argives.
Where is your Argos now? were its vauntings all in vain?
Defeat and ruin are our lot. To thee for aid we come.
Is this thy own private resolve, or the wish of all the city?
The sons of Danaus, one and all, implore thee to bury the dead.
Why didst lead thy seven armies against Thebes?
To confer that favour on the husbands of my daughters twain.
To which of the Argives didst thou give thy daughters in marriage?
I made no match for them with kinsmen of my family.
What! didst give Argive maids to foreign lords?
Yea, to Tydeus, and to Polyneices, who was Theban-born
What induced thee to select this alliance?
Dark riddles of Phoebus stole away my judgment.
What said Apollo to determine the maidens' marriage?
That I should give my daughters twain to a wild boar and a
How dost thou explain the message of the god?
One night came to my door two exiles.
The name of each declare: thou art speaking of both together.
They fought together, Tydeus with Polyneices.
Didst thou give thy daughters to them as to wild beasts?
Yea, for, as they fought, I likened them to those monsters
Why had they left the borders of their native land and come
Tydeus was exiled for the murder of a kinsman.
Wherefore had the son of Oedipus left Thebes?
By reason of his father's curse, not to spill his brother's
Wise no doubt that voluntary exile.
But those who stayed at home were for injuring the absent.
What! did brother rob brother of his inheritance?
To avenge this I set out; hence my ruin.
Didst consult seers, and gaze into the flame of burnt-offerings?
Ah me! thou pressest on the very point wherein I most did fail.
It seems thy going was not favoured by heaven.
Worse; I went in spite even of Amphiaraus.
And so heaven lightly turned its face from thee.
I was carried away by the clamour of younger men.
Thou didst favour courage instead of discretion.
True; and many a general owes defeat to that. O king of Athens,
bravest of the sons of Hellas, I blush to throw myself upon the ground
and clasp thy knees, I a grey-haired king, blest in days gone by; yet needs
must yield to my misfortunes. I pray thee save the dead; have pity on my
sorrows and on these, the mothers of the slain, whom hoary eld finds reft
of their sons; yet they endured to journey hither and tread a foreign soil
with aged tottering steps, bearing no embassy to Demeter's mysteries; only
seeking burial for their dead, which lot should have been theirs, e'en
burial by the hands of sons still in their prime. And 'tis wise in the
rich to see the poor man's poverty, and in the poor man to turn ambitious
eyes toward the rich, that so he may himself indulge a longing for possessions;
and they, whom fortune frowns not on, should gaze on misery's presentment;
likewise, who maketh songs should take a pleasure in their making; for
if it be not so with him, he will in no wise avail to gladden others, if
himself have sorrow in his home; nay, 'tis not even right to expect it.
Mayhap thou'lt say, "Why pass the land of Pelops o'er, and lay this toil
on Athens?" This am I bound to declare. Sparta is cruel, her customs variable;
the other states are small and weak. Thy city alone would be able to undertake
this labour; for it turns an eye on suffering, and hath in thee a young
and gallant king, for want whereof to lead their hosts states ere now have
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
I too, Theseus, urge the same plea to thee; have pity on my
Full oft have I argued out this subject with others. For there
are who say, there is more bad than good in human nature, to the which
I hold contrary view, that good o'er bad predominates in man, for if it
were not so, we should not exist. He hath my praise, whoe'er of gods brought
us to live by rule from chaos and from brutishness, first by implanting
reason, and next by giving us a tongue to declare our thoughts, so as to
know the meaning of what is said, bestowing fruitful crops, and drops of
rain from heaven to make them grow, wherewith to nourish earth's fruits
and to water her lap; and more than this, protection from the wintry storm,
and means to ward from us the sun-god's scorching heat; the art of sailing
o'er the sea, so that we might exchange with one another whatso our countries
lack. And where sight fails us and our knowledge is not sure, the seer
foretells by gazing on the flame, by reading signs in folds of entrails,
or by divination from the flight of birds. Are we not then to proud, when
heaven hath made such preparation for our life, not to be content therewith?
But our presumption seeks to lord it over heaven, and in the pride of our
hearts we think we are wiser than the gods. Methinks thou art even of this
number, a son of folly, seeing that thou, though obedient to Apollo's oracle
in giving thy daughters to strangers, as if gods really existed, yet hast
hurt thy house by mingling the stream of its pure line with muddy waters;
no! never should the wise man have joined the stock of just and unjust
in one, but should have gotten prosperous friends for his family. For the
deity, confusing their destinies, doth oft destroy by the sinner's fate
him who never sinned nor committed injustice. Thou didst lead all Argos
forth to battle, though seers proclaimed the will of heaven, and then in
scorn of them and in violent disregard of the gods hast ruined thy city,
led away by younger men, such as court distinction, and add war to war
unrighteously, destroying their fellow-citizens; one aspires to lead an
army; another fain would seize the reins of power and work his wanton will;
a third is bent on gain, careless of any ill the people thereby suffer.
For there are three ranks of citizens; the rich, a useless set, that ever
crave for more; the poor and destitute, fearful folk, that cherish envy
more than is right, and shoot out grievous stings against the men who have
aught, beguiled as they are by the eloquence of vicious leaders; while
the class that is midmost of the three preserveth cities, observing such
order as the state ordains. Shall I then become thy ally? What fair pretext
should I urge before my countrymen? Depart in peace! For why shouldst thou,
having been ill-advised thyself, seek to drag our fortune down?
He erred; but with the young men rests this error, while he
may well be pardoned.
I did not choose thee, king, to judge my affliction, but came
to thee to cure it; no! nor if in aught my fortunes prove me wrong, came
I to the to punish or correct them, but to seek thy help. But if thou wilt
not, must be content with thy decision; for how can I help it? Come, aged
dames, away! Yet leave behind you here the woven leaves of pale green foliage,
calling to witness heaven and earth, Demeter, that fire-bearing goddess,
and the sun-god's light, that our prayers to heaven availed us naught.
...who was Pelops' son, and we are of the land of Pelops and share with
thee the blood of ancestors. What art thou doing? wilt thou betray these
suppliant symbols, and banish from thy land these aged women without the
boon they should obtain? Do not so; e'en the wild beast finds a refuge
in the rock, the slave in the altars of the gods, and a state when tempest-tossed
cowers to its neighbour's shelter; for naught in this life of man is blest
unto its end.
Rise, hapless one, from the sacred floor of Persephone; rise, clasp
him by the knees and implore him, "O recover the bodies of our dead sons,
the children that I lost-ah, woe is me!-beneath the walls of Cadmus' town."
Ah me! ah me! Take me by the hand, poor aged sufferer that I am, support
and guide and raise me up. By thy beard, kind friend, glory of Hellas,
I do beseech thee, as I clasp thy knees and hands in my misery; O pity
me as I entreat for my sons with my tale of wretched woe, like some beggar;
nor let my sons lie there unburied in the land of Cadmus, glad prey for
beasts, whilst thou art in thy prime, I implore thee. See the teardrop
tremble in my eye, as thus I throw me at thy knees to win my children burial.
Mother mine, why weepest thou, drawing o'er thine eyes thy
veil? Is it because thou didst hear their piteous lamentations? To my own
heart it goes. Raise thy silvered head, weep not where thou sittest at
the holy altar of Demeter.
'Tis not for thee their sorrows to lament.
Ye hapless dames!
Thou art not of their company.
May I a scheme declare, my son, that shall add to thy glory
and the state's?
Yea, for oft even from women's lips issue wise counsels.
Yet the word, that lurks within my heart, makes me hesitate.
Shame! to hide from friends good counsel.
Nay then, I will not hold my peace to blame myself hereafter
for having now kept silence to my shame, nor will I forego my honourable
proposal, from the common fear that it is useless for women to give good
advice. First, my son, I exhort thee give good heed to heaven's will, lest
from slighting it thou suffer shipwreck; for in this one single point thou
failest, though well-advised in all else. Further, I would have patiently
endured, had it not been my duty to venture somewhat for injured folk;
and this, my son, it is that brings thee now thy honour, and causes me
no fear to urge that thou shouldst use thy power to make men of violence,
who prevent the dead from receiving their meed of burial and funeral rites,
perform this bounden duty, and check those who would confound the customs
of all Hellas; for this it is that holds men's states together,-strict
observance of the laws. And some, no doubt, will say, 'twas cowardice made
thee stand aloof in terror, when thou mightest have won for thy city a
crown of glory, and, though thou didst encounter a savage swine, labouring
for a sorry task, yet when the time came for thee to face the helmet and
pointed spear, and do thy best, thou wert found to be coward. Nay! do not
so if thou be son of mine. Dost see how fiercely thy country looks on its
revilers when they mock her for want of counsel? Yea, for in her toils
she groweth greater. But states, whose policy is dark and cautious, have
their sight darkened by their carefulness. My son, wilt thou not go succour
the dead and these poor women in their need? have no fears for thee, starting
as thou dost with right upon thy side; and although I see the prosperity
of Cadmus' folk, still am I confident they will throw a different die;
for the deity reverses all things again.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Ah! best of friends, right well hast thou pleaded for me and
for Adrastus, and hence my joy is doubled.
Mother, the words that I have spoken are his fair deserts,
and I have declared my opinion of the counsels that ruined him; yet do
I perceive the truth of thy warning to me, that it ill suits my character
to shun dangers. For by a long and glorious career have I displayed this
my habit among Hellenes, of ever punishing the wicked. Wherefore I cannot
refuse toil. For what will spiteful tongues say of me, when thou, my mother,
who more than all others fearest for my safety, bidst me undertake this
enterprise? Yea, I will go about this business and rescue the dead by words
persuasive; or, failing that, the spear forthwith shall decide this issue,
nor will heaven grudge me this. But I require the whole city's sanction
also, which my mere wish will ensure; still by communicating the proposal
to them I shall find the people better disposed. For them I made supreme,
when I set this city free, by giving all an equal vote. So I will take
Adrastus as a text for what I have to say and go to their assembly, and
when have won them to these views, I will return hither, after collecting
a picked band of young Athenians; and then remaining under arms I will
send a message to Creon, begging the bodies of the dead. But do ye, aged
ladies, remove from my mother your holy wreaths, that I may take her by
the hand and conduct her to the house of Aegeus; for a wretched son is
he who rewards not his parents by service; for, when he hath conferred
on them the best he hath, he in his turn from his own sons receives all
such service as he gave to them.
AETHRA leaves the altar and departs.
THESEUS addresses one of his own heralds. As he speaks, the HERALD from
King Creon of Thebes enters.
O Argos, home of steeds, my native land! ye have heard with your ears these
words, the king's pious will toward the gods in the sight of great Pelasgia
and throughout Argos.
May he reach the goal! yea, and triumph o'er my sorrows, rescuing the gory
corpse, the mother's idol and making the land of Inachus his friend by
For pious toil is a fair ornament to cities, and carries with it grace
that never wastes away. What will the city decide, I wonder? Will it conclude
a friendly truce with me, and shall we obtain burial for our sons?
Help, O help, city of Pallas, the mother's cause, that so they may not
pollute the laws of all mankind. Thou, I know, dost reverence right, and
to injustice dealest out defeat, a protection at all times to the afflicted.
Forasmuch as with this thy art thou hast ever served the state
and me by carrying my proclamations far and wide, so now cross Asopus and
the waters of Ismenus, and declare this message to the haughty king of
the Cadmeans: "Theseus, thy neighbour, one who well may win the boon he
craves, begs as a favour thy permission to bury the dead, winning to thyself
thereby the love of all the Erechtheidae." And if they will acquiesce,
come back again, but if they hearken not, thy second message runneth thus,
they may expect my warrior host; for at the sacred fount of Callichorus
my army camps in readiness and is being reviewed. Moreover, the city gladly
of its own accord undertook this enterprise, when it perceived my wish.
Ha! who comes hither to interrupt my speech? A Theban herald, so it seems,
though I am not sure thereof. Stay; haply he may save the thy trouble.
For by his coming he meets my purpose half-way.
Who is the despot of this land? To whom must I announce the
message of Creon, who rules o'er the land of Cadmus, since Eteocles was
slain by the hand of his brother Polyneices, at the sevenfold gates of
Sir stranger, thou hast made a false beginning to thy speech,
in seeking here a despot. For this city is not ruled by one man, but is
free. The people rule in succession year by year, allowing no preference
to wealth, but the poor man shares equally with the rich.
Thou givest me here an advantage, as it might be in a game
of draughts; for the city, whence I come, is ruled by one man only, not
by the mob; none there puffs up the citizens with specious words, and for
his own advantage twists them this way or that,-one moment dear to them
and lavish of his favours, the next a bane to all; and yet by fresh calumnies
of others he hides his former failures and escapes punishment. Besides,
how shall the people, if it cannot form true judgments, be able rightly
to direct the state? Nay, 'tis time, not haste, that affords a better understanding.
A poor hind, granted be he not all unschooled, would still be unable from
his toil to give his mind to politics. Verily the better sort count it
no healthy sign when the worthless man obtains a reputation by beguiling
with words the populace, though aforetime he was naught.
This herald is a clever fellow, a dabbler in the art of talk.
But since thou hast thus entered the lists with me, listen awhile, for
'twas thou didst challenge a discussion. Naught is more hostile to a city
than a despot; where he is, there are first no laws common to all, but
one man is tyrant, in whose keeping and in his alone the law resides, and
in that case equality is at an end. But when the laws are written down,
rich and poor alike have equal justice, and it is open to the weaker to
use the same language to the prosperous when he is reviled by him, and
the weaker prevails over the stronger if he have justice on his side. Freedom's
mark is also seen in this: "Who hath wholesome counsel to declare unto
the state?" And he who chooses to do so gains renown, while he, who hath
no wish, remains silent. What greater equality can there be in a city?
Again, where the people are absolute rulers of the land, they rejoice in
having reserve of youthful citizens, while a king counts this a hostile
element, and strives to slay the leading men, all such as he deems discreet,
for he feareth for his power. How then can a city remain stable, where
one cuts short all enterprise and mows down the young like meadow-flowers
in spring-time? What boots it to acquire wealth and livelihood for children,
merely to add to the tyrant's substance by one's toil? Why train up virgin
daughters virtuously in our homes to gratify a tyrant's whim, whenso he
will, and cause tears to those who rear them? May my life end if ever my
children are to be wedded by violence! This bolt I launch in answer to
thy words. Now say, why art thou come? what needest thou of this land?
Had not thy city sent thee, to thy cost hadst thou come with thy outrageous
utterances; for it is the herald's duty to tell the message he is bidden
and hie him back in haste. Henceforth let Creon send to my city some other
messenger less talkative than thee.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Look you! how insolent the villains are, when Fortune is kind
to them, just as if it would be well with them for ever.
Now will I speak. On these disputed points hold thou this view,
but the contrary. So I and all the people of Cadmus forbid thee to admit
Adrastus to this land, but if he is here, drive him forth in disregard
of the holy suppliant bough he bears, ere sinks yon blazing sun, and attempt
not violently to take up the dead, seeing thou hast naught to do with the
city of Argos. And if thou wilt hearken to me, thou shalt bring thy barque
of state into port unharmed by the billows; but if not, fierce shall the
surge of battle be, that we and our allies shall raise. Take good thought,
nor, angered at my words, because forsooth thou rulest thy city with freedom,
return a vaunting answer from thy feebler means. Hope is man's curse; many
a state hath it involved in strife, by leading them into excessive rage.
For whenso the city has to vote on the question of war, no man ever takes
his own death into account, but shifts this misfortune on to his neighbour;
but if death had been before their eyes when they were giving their votes,
Hellas would ne'er have rushed to her doom in mad desire for battle. And
yet each man amongst us knows which of the two to prefer, the good or ill,
and how much better peace is for mankind than war,-peace, the Muses' chiefest
friend, the foe of sorrow, whose joy is in glad throngs of children, and
its delight in prosperity. These are the blessings we cast away and wickedly
embark on war, man enslaving his weaker brother, and cities following suit.
Now thou art helping our foes even after death, trying to rescue and bury
those whom their own acts of insolence have ruined. Verily then it would
seem Capaneus was unjustly blasted by the thunderbolt and charred upon
the ladder he had raised against our gates, swearing he would sack our
town, whether the god would or no; nor should the yawning earth have snatched
away the seer, opening wide her mouth to take his chariot and its horses
in, nor should the other chieftains be stretched at our gates, their skeletons
to atoms crushed 'neath boulders. Either boast thy wit transcendeth that
of Zeus, or else allow that gods are right to slay the ungodly. The wise
should love their children first, next their parents and country, whose
fortunes it behoves them to increase rather than break down. Rashness in
a leader, as in a pilot, causeth shipwreck; who knoweth when to be quiet
is a wise man. Yea and this too is bravery, even forethought.
The punishment Zeus hath inflicted was surely enough; there
was no need to heap this wanton insult on us.
Peace, Adrastus! say no more; set not thy words before mine,
for 'tis not to thee this fellow is come with his message, but to me, and
I must answer him. Thy first assertion will I answer first: I am not aware
that Creon is my lord and master, or that his power outweigheth mine, that
so he should compel Athens to act on this wise; nay! for then would the
tide of time have to flow backward, if we are to be ordered, as he thinks.
'Tis not I who choose this war, seeing that I did not even join these warriors
to go unto the land of Cadmus; but still I claim to bury the fallen dead,
not injuring any state nor yet introducing murderous strife, but preserving
the law of all Hellas. What is not well in this? If ye suffered aught from
the Argives-lo! they are dead; ye took a splendid vengeance on your foes
and covered them with shame, and now your right is at an end. Let the dead
now be buried in the earth, and each element return to the place from whence
it came to the body, the breath to the air, the body to the ground; for
in no wise did we get it for our own, but to live our life in, and after
that its mother earth must take it back again. Dost think 'tis Argos thou
art injuring in refusing burial to the dead? Nay! all Hellas shares herein,
if a man rob the dead of their due and keep them from the tomb; for, if
this law be enacted, it will strike dismay into the stoutest hearts. And
art thou come to cast dire threats at me while thy own folk are afraid
of giving burial to the dead? What is your fear? Think you they will undermine
your land in their graves, or that they will beget children in the womb
of earth, from whom shall rise an avenger? A silly waste of words, in truth
it was, to show your fear of paltry groundless terrors. Go, triflers, learn
the lesson of human misery; our life is made up of struggles; some men
there be that find their fortune soon, others have to wait, while some
at once are blest. Fortune lives a dainty life; to her the wretched pays
his court and homage to win her smile; her likewise doth the prosperous
man extol, for fear the favouring gale may leave him. These lessons should
we take to heart, to bear with moderation, free from wrath, our wrongs,
and do naught to hurt a whole city. What then? Let us, who will the pious
deed perform, bury the corpses of the slain. Else is the issue clear; I
will go and bury them by force. For never shall it be proclaimed through
Hellas that heaven's ancient law was set at naught, when it devolved on
me and the city of Pandion.
Be of good cheer; for if thou preserve the light of justice,
thou shalt escape many a charge that men might urge.
Wilt thou that I sum up in brief all thou wouldst say?
Say what thou wilt; for thou art not silent as it is.
Thou shalt never take the sons of Argos from our land.
Hear, then, my answer too to that, if so thou wilt.
I will hear thee; not that I wish it, but I must give thee
I will bury the dead, when from Asopus' land I have removed
First must thou adventure somewhat in the front of war.
Many an enterprise and of a different kind have I ere this
Wert thou then begotten of thy sire to cope with every foe?
Ay, with all wanton villains; virtue I punish not.
To meddle is aye thy wont and thy city's too.
Hence her enterprise on many a field hath won her many blessings.
Come then, that the warriors of the dragon-crop may catch thee
in our city.
What furious warrior-host could spring from dragon's seed?
Thou shalt learn that to thy cost. As yet thou art young and
Thy boastful speech stirs not my heart at all to rage. Yet
get thee gone from my land, taking with thee the idle words thou broughtest;
for we are making no advance.
The THEBAN HERALD withdraws.
'Tis time for all to start, each stout footman, and whoso mounts the car;
'tis time the bit, dripping with foam, should urge the charger on toward
the land of Cadmus. For I will march in person to the seven gates thereof
with the sharp sword in my hand, and be myself my herald. But thee, Adrastus,
I bid stay, nor blend with mine thy fortunes, for I will take my own good
star to lead my host, a chieftain famed in famous deeds of arms. One thing
alone I need, the favour of all gods that reverence right, for the presence
of these things insures victory. For their valour availeth men naught,
unless they have the god's goodwill.
THESEUS and his retinue depart. The following lines between the SEMI-CHORUSES
are chanted responsively.
Unhappy mothers of those hapless chiefs! How wildly in my heart
pale fear stirs up alarm!
What is this new cry thou utterest?
I fear the issue of the strife, whereto the hosts of Pallas
Dost speak of issues of the sword, or interchange of words?
That last were gain indeed; but if the carnage of battle, fighting,
and the noise of beaten breasts again be heard in the land, what, alas!
will be said of me, who am the cause thereof?
Yet may fate again bring low the brilliant victor; 'tis this
brave thought that twines about my heart.
Thou speak'st of the gods as if they were just.
For who but they allot whate'er betides?
I see much at variance in their dealings with men.
The former fear hath warped thy judgment. Vengeance calls vengeance
forth; slaughter calls for slaughter, but the gods give respite from affliction,
holding in their own hands each thing's allotted end.
Would I could reach yon plains with turrets crowned, leaving
Callichorus, fountain of the goddess!
O that some god would give me wings to fly to the city of rivers
So might'st thou see and know the fortunes of thy friends.
What fate, what issue there awaits the valiant monarch of this
Once more do we invoke the gods we called upon before; yea,
in our fear this is our first and chiefest trust.
O Zeus, father to the child the heifer-mother bore in days
long past, that daughter of Inachus!
O be gracious, I pray, and champion this city!
'Tis thy own darling, thy own settler in the city of Argos
that I am striving from outrage to rescue for the funeral pyre.
A MESSENGER enters.
Ladies, I bring you tidings of great joy, myself escaped-for
I was taken prisoner in the battle which cost those chieftains seven their
lives near Dirce's fount-to bear the news of Theseus' victory. But I will
save thee tedious questioning; I was the servant of Capaneus, whom Zeus
with scorching bolt to ashes burnt.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Friend of friends, fair thy news of thy own return, nor less
the news about Theseus; and if the host of Athens, too, is safe, welcome
will all thy message be.
'Tis safe, and all hath happened as I would it had befallen
Adrastus and his Argives, whom from Inachus he led, to march against the
city of the Cadmeans.
How did the son of Aegeus and his fellow-warriors raise their
trophy to Zeus? Tell us, for thou wert there and canst gladden us who were
Bright shone the sun, one levelled line of light, upon the
world, as by Electra's gate I stood to watch, from a turret with a far
outlook. And lo! I saw the host in three divisions, deploying its mail-clad
warriors on the high ground by the banks of Ismenus; this last I heard;
and with them was the king himself, famous son of Aegeus; his own men,
natives of old Cecropia, were ranged upon the right; while on the left,
hard by the fountain of Ares, were the dwellers by the sea, harnessed spearmen
they; on either wing were posted cavalry, in equal numbers, and chariots
were stationed in the shelter of Amphion's holy tomb. Meantime, the folk
of Cadmus set themselves before the walls, placing in the rear the bodies
for which they fought. Horse to horse, and car to car stood ranged. Then
did the herald of Theseus cry aloud to all: "Be still, ye folk! hush, ye
ranks of Cadmus, hearken! we are come to fetch the bodies of the slain,
wishing to bury them in observance of the universal law of Hellas; no wish
have we to lengthen out the slaughter." Not a word would Creon let his
herald answer back, but there he stood in silence under arms. Then did
the drivers of the four-horse cars begin the fray; on, past each other
they drave their chariots, bringing the warriors at their sides up into
line. Some fought with swords, some wheeled the horses back to the fray
again for those they drove. Now when Phorbas, who captained the cavalry
of the Erechtheidae, saw the thronging chariots, he and they who had the
charge of the Theban horse met hand to hand, and by turns were victors
and vanquished. The many horrors happening there I saw, not merely heard
about, for I was at the spot where the chariots and their riders met and
fought, but which to tell of first I know not,-the clouds of dust that
mounted to the sky, the warriors tangled in the reins and dragged this
way and that, the streams of crimson gore, when men fell dead, or when,
from shattered chariot-seats, they tumbled headlong to the ground, and,
amid the splinters of their cars, gave up the ghost. But Creon, when he
marked our cavalry's success on one wing, caught up a shield and rushed
into the fray, ere that despondency should seize his men; but not for that
did Theseus recoil in fear; no! snatching up at once his glittering harnes
he hied him on. And the twain, clashing their shields together as they
met in the midst of the assembled host, were dealing death and courting
it, shouting loudly each to his fellow the battle-cry: "Slay, and with
thy spear strike home against the sons of Erechtheus." Fierce foes to cope
with were the warriors whom the dragon's teeth to manhood reared; so fierce,
they broke our left wing, albeit theirs was routed by our right and put
to flight, so that the struggle was evenly balanced. Here again our chief
deserved all praise, for this success was not the only one he gained; no!
next he sought that part of his army which was wavering; and loud he called
to them, that the earth rang again, "My sons, if ye cannot restrain the
earth-born warriors' stubborn spear, the cause of Pallas is lost." His
word inspired new courage in all the Danaid host. Therewith himself did
seize a fearsome mace, weapon of Epidaurian warfare, and swung it to and
fro, and with that club, as with a sickle, he shore off necks and heads
and helmets thereupon. Scarce even then they turned themselves to fly.
I cried aloud for joy, and danced and clapped my hands; while to the gates
they ran. Throughout the town echoed the shrieks of young and old, as they
crowded the temples in terror. But Theseus, when he might have come inside
the walls, held back his men, for he had not come, said he, to sack the
town, but to ask for the bodies of the dead. Such the general men should
choose, one who shows his bravery in danger, yet hates the pride of those
that in their hour of fortune lose the bliss they might have enjoyed, through
seeking to scale the ladder's topmost step.
Now do I believe in the gods after seeing this unexpected day,
and feel my woes are lighter now that these have paid their penalty.
O Zeus, why do men assert the wisdom of the wretched human
race? On thee we all depend, and all we do is only what thou listest. We
thought our Argos irresistible, ourselves a young and lusty host, and so
when Eteocles was for making terms, in spite of his fair offer we would
not accept them, and so we perished. Then in their turn those foolish folk
of Cadmus, to fortune raised, like some beggar with his newly-gotten wealth,
waxed wanton, and, waxing so, were ruined in their turn. Ye foolish sons
of men! who strain your bow like men who shoot beyond their mark, and only
by suffering many evils as ye deserve, though deaf to friends, yet yield
to circumstances; ye cities likewise, though ye might by parley end your
ills, yet ye choose the sword instead of reason to settle all disputes.
But wherefore these reflections? This I fain would learn, the way thou
didst escape; and after that I will ask thee of the rest.
During the uproar which prevailed in the city owing to the
battle, I passed the gates, just as the host had entered them.
Are ye bringing the bodies, for the which the strife arose?
Ay, each of the seven chiefs who led their famous hosts.
What sayest thou? the rest who fell-say, where are they?
They have found burial in the dells of Cithaeron.
On this or that side of the mount? And who did bury them?
Theseus buried them 'neath the shadow of Eleutherae's cliff.
Where didst thou leave the dead he hath not buried?
Not far away; earnest haste makes every goal look close.
No doubt in sorrow slaves would gather them from the carnage.
Slaves! not one of them was set to do this
(A speech belonging to ADRASTUS has been lost.)
Thou wouldst say so, hadst thou been there to see his loving
tendance of the dead.
Did he himself wash the bloody wounds of the hapless youths?
Ay, and strewed their biers and wrapped them in their shrouds.
An awful burden this, involving some disgrace.
Why, what disgrace to men are their fellows' sorrows?
Ah me! how much rather had I died with them!
'Tis vain to weep and move to tears these women.
Methinks 'tis they who give the lesson. Enough of that! My
hands lift at meeting of the dead, and pour forth a tearful dirge to Hades,
calling on my friends, whose loss I mourn in wretched solitude; for this
one thing, when once 'tis spent, man cannot recover, the breath of life,
though he knoweth ways to get his wealth again.
THESEUS and his soldiers enter, carrying the corpses of the slain chieftains.
ADRASTUS and the CHORUS chant the lament responsively.
Joy is here and sorrow too,-for the state fair fame, and for our captains
double meed of honour. Bitter for me it is to see the limbs of my dead
sons, and yet a welcome sight withal, because I shall behold the unexpected
day after sorrow's cup was full.
Would that Father Time had kept me unwed from my youth up e'en till now
when I am old! What need had I of children? Methinks I should not have
suffered overmuch, had I never borne the marriage-yoke; but now I have
my sorrow full in view, the loss of children dear.
Lo! I see the bodies of the fallen youths. Woe is me! would I could
join these children in their death and descend to Hades with them!
Mothers, raise the wail for the dead departed; cry in answer
when ye hear my note of woe.
My sons, my sons! O bitter words for loving mothers to address
to you! To thee, my lifeless child, I call.
Ah me, my sufferings!
Alas! We have endured, alas!-
Sorrows most grievous.
O citizens of Argos! do ye not behold my fate?
They see thee, and me the hapless mother, reft of her children.
Bring near the blood-boltered corpses of those hapless chiefs,
foully slain by foes unworthy, with whom lay the decision of the contest.
Let me embrace and hold my children to my bosom in my enfolding
There, there! thou hast-
Sorrows heavy enough to bear.
Thy groans mingle with those of their parents.
O'er both of us thou dost lament.
Would God the Theban ranks had laid me dead in the dust!
Oh that I had ne'er been wedded to a husband!
Ah! hapless mothers, behold this sea of troubles!
Our nails have ploughed our cheeks in furrows, and o'er our
heads have we strewn ashes.
Ah me! ah me! Oh that earth's floor would swallow me, or the
whirlwind snatch me away, or Zeus's flaming bolt descend upon my head!
Bitter the marriages thou didst witness, bitter the oracle
of Phoebus! The curse of Oedipus, fraught with sorrow, after desolating
his house, is come on thee.
I meant to question thee when thou wert venting thy lamentations
to the host, but I will let it pass; yet, though I dropped the matter then
and left it alone, I now do ask Adrastus, "Of what lineage sprang those
youths, to shine so bright in chivalry?" Tell it to our younger citizens
of thy fuller wisdom, for thou art skilled to know. Myself beheld their
daring deeds, too high for words to tell, whereby they thought to capture
Thebes. One question will I spare thee, lest I provoke thy laughter; the
foe that each of them encountered in the fray, the spear from which each
received his death-wound. These be idle tales alike for those who hear
or him who speaks, that any man amid the fray, when clouds of darts are
hurtling before his eyes, should declare for certain who each champion
is. I could not ask such questions, nor yet believe those who dare assert
the like; for when a man is face to face with the foe, he scarce can see
even that which 'tis his bounden duty to observe.
Hearken then. For in giving this task to me thou findest a
willing eulogist of friends, whose praise I would declare in all truth
and sincerity. Dost see yon corpse by Zeus's bolt transfixed? That is Capaneus;
though he had ample wealth, yet was he the last to boast of his prosperity;
nor would he ever vaunt himself above a poorer neighbour, but shunned the
man whose sumptuous board had puffed him up too high and made him scorn
mere competence, for he held that virtue lies not in greedy gluttony, but
that moderate means suffice. True friend was he, alike to present or to
absent friends the same; of such the number is not great. His was guileless
character, a courteous address, that left no promise unperformed either
towards his own household or his fellow-citizens. The next I name is Eteoclus;
a master he of other kinds of excellence; young, nor richly dowered with
store, yet high in honour in the Argive land. And though his friends oft
offered gifts of gold, he would not have it in his house, to make his character
its slave by taking wealth's yoke upon him. Not his city, but those that
sinned against her did he hate, for a city is no wise to be blamed if it
get an evil name by reason of an evil governor. Such another was Hippomedon,
third of all this band; from his very boyhood he refrained from turning
towards the allurements of the Muses, to lead life of ease; his home was
in the fields, and gladly would he school his nature to hardships with
a view to manliness, aye hasting to the chase, rejoicing in his steeds
or straining of his bow, because he would make himself of use unto his
state. Next behold the huntress Atalanta's son, Parthenopaeus, a youth
of peerless beauty; from Arcady he came even to the streams of Inachus,
and in Argos spent his boyhood. There, when he grew to man's estate, first,
as is the duty of strangers settled in another land, he showed no pique
or jealousy against the state, became no quibbler, chiefest source of annoyance
citizen or stranger can give, but took his stand amid the host, and fought
for Argos as he were her own son, glad at heart whenso the city prospered,
deeply grieved if e'er reverses came; many a lover though he had midst
men and maids, yet was he careful to avoid offence. Of Tydeus next the
lofty praise I will express in brief; no brilliant spokesman he, but a
clever craftsman in the art of war, with many a shrewd device; inferior
in judgment to his brother Meleager, yet through his warrior skill lending
his name to equal praise, for he had found in arms a perfect science; his
was an ambitious nature, a spirit rich in store of deeds, with words less
fully dowered. From this account then wonder not, Theseus, that they dared
to die before the towers; for noble nurture carries honour with it, and
every man, when once he hath practised virtue, scorns the name of villain.
Courage may be learnt, for even a babe doth learn to speak and hear things
it cannot comprehend; and whatso'er a child hath learnt, this it is his
wont to treasure up till he is old. So train up your children in a virtuous
Alas! my son, to sorrow I bare thee and carried thee within my womb, enduring
the pangs of travail; but now Hades takes the fruit of all my hapless toil,
and I that had a son am left, ah me! with none to nurse my age.
As for the noble son of Oecleus, him, while yet he lived, the
gods snatched hence to the bowels of the earth, and his chariot too, manifestly
blessing him; while I myself may truthfully tell the praises of the son
of Oedipus, that is, Polyneices, for he was my guest-friend ere he left
the town of Cadmus and crossed to Argos in voluntary exile. But dost thou
know what I would have thee do in this?
I know naught save this,-to yield obedience to thy hests.
As for yon Capaneus, stricken by the bolt of Zeus-
Wilt bury him apart as a consecrated corpse?
Even so; but all the rest on one funeral pyre.
Where wilt thou set the tomb apart for him?
Here near this temple have I builded him a sepulchre.
Thy thralls forthwith must undertake this toil.
Myself will look to those others; let the biers advance.
Approach your sons, unhappy mothers.
This thy proposal, Adrastus, is anything but good.
Must not the mothers touch their sons?
It would kill them to see how they are altered.
'Tis bitter, truly, to see the dead even at the moment of death.
Why then wilt thou add fresh grief to them?
Thou art right. Ye needs must patiently abide, for the words
of Theseus are good. But when we have committed them unto the flames, ye
shall collect their bones. O wretched sons of men! Why do ye get you weapons
and bring slaughter on one another? Cease therefrom, give o'er your toiling,
and in mutual peace keep safe your cities. Short is the span of life, so
'twere best to run its course as lightly as we may, from trouble free.
The corpses, followed by the CHILDREN of the slain chieftains, are carried
off to the pyre which is kindled within the sight of the persons on the
EVADNE is seen on a rock which overhangs the burning pyre. She is dressed
as though for a festival.
No more a happy mother I, with children blest; no more I share, among Argive
women, who have sons, their happy lot; nor any more will Artemis in the
hour of travail kindly greet these childless mothers. Most dreary is my
life, and like some wandering cloud drift before the howling blast.
The seven noblest sons in Argos once we had, we seven hapless mothers;
but now my sons are dead, I have no child, and on me steals old age in
piteous wise, nor 'mongst the dead nor 'mongst the living do I count myself,
having as it were a lot apart from these.
Tears alone are left me; in my house sad memories of my son are
stored; mournful tresses shorn from his head, chaplets that he wore, libations
for the dead departed, and songs, but not such as golden-haired Apollo
welcometh; and when I wake to weep, my tears will ever drench the folds
of my robe upon my bosom. Ah! there I see the sepulchre ready e'en now
for Capaneus, his consecrated tomb, and the votive offerings Theseus gives
unto the dead outside the shrine, and nigh yon lightning-smitten chief
I see his noble bride, Evadne, daughter of King Iphis. Wherefore stands
she on the towering rock, which o'ertops this temple, advancing along yon
What light, what radiancy did the sun-god's car dart forth, and the moon
athwart the firmament, while round her in the gloom swift stars careered,
in the day that the city of Argos raised the stately chant of joy at my
wedding, in honour of my marriage with mail-clad Capaneus? Now from my
home in frantic haste with frenzied mind rush to join thee, seeking to
share with thee the fire's bright flame and the self-same tomb, to rid
me of my weary life in Hades' halls, and of the pains of life; yea, for
'tis the sweetest end to share the death of those we love, if only fate
will sanction it.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Behold yon pyre, which thou art overlooking, nigh thereto,
set apart for Zeus! There is thy husband's body, vanquished by the blazing
Life's goal I now behold from my station here; may fortune aid me in my
headlong leap from this rock in honour's cause, down into the fire below.
to mix my ashes in the ruddy blaze with my husband's, to lay me side by
side with him, there in the couch of Persephone; for ne'er will to save
my life, prove untrue to thee where thou liest in thy grave. Away with
life and marriage too! Oh! may my children live to see the dawn of a fairer,
happier wedding-day in Argos! May loyalty inspire the husband's heart,
his nature fusing with his wife's!
Lo! the aged Iphis, thy father, draweth nigh to hear thy startling
speech, which yet he knows not and will grieve to learn.
Unhappy child! lo! I am come, a poor old man, with twofold
sorrow in my house to mourn, that I may carry to his native land the corpse
of my son Eteoclus, slain by the Theban spear, and further in quest of
my daughter who rushed headlong from the house, for she was the wife of
Capaneus and longed with him to die. Ere this she was well guarded in my
house, but, when I took the watch away in the present troubles, she escaped.
But I feel sure that she is here; tell me if ye have seen her.
Why question them? Lo, here upon the rock, father, o'er the
pyre of Capaneus, like some bird I hover lightly, in my wretchedness.
What wind hath blown thee hither, child? Whither thy journey?
Why didst thou pass the threshold of my house and seek this land?
It would but anger thee to hear what I intend, and so I fain
would keep thee ignorant, my father.
What hath not thy own father a right to know?
Thou wouldst not wisely judge my purpose.
Why dost thou deck thyself in that apparel?
A purport strange this robe conveys, father.
Thou hast no look of mourning for thy lord.
No, the reason why I thus am decked is strange, maybe.
Dost thou in such garb appear before a funeral-pyre?
Yea, for hither it is I come to take the meed of victory.
"Victory!" What victory? This would I learn of thee.
A victory o'er all women on whom the sun looks down.
In Athena's handiwork or in prudent counsel?
In bravery; for I will lay me down and die with my lord.
What dost thou say? What is this silly riddle thou propoundest?
To yonder pyre where lies dead Capaneus, I will leap down.
My daughter, speak not thus before the multitude!
The very thing I wish, that every Argive should learn it.
Nay, I will ne'er consent to let thee do this deed.
'Tis all one; thou shalt never catch me in thy grasp. Lo! I
cast me down, no joy to thee, but to myself and to my husband blazing on
the pyre with me.
She leaps into the pyre.
O lady, thou hast done a fearful deed!
Ah me! I am undone, ye dames of Argos!
Alack, alack! a cruel blow is this to thee, but thou must yet witness,
poor wretch, the full horror of this deed.
A more unhappy wretch than me ye could not find.
Woe for thee, unhappy man! Thou, old sir, hast been made partaker in the
fortune of Oedipus, thou and my poor city too.
Ah, why are mortal men denied this boon, to live their youth
twice o'er, and twice in turn to reach old age? If aught goes wrong within
our homes, we set it right by judgment more maturely formed, but our life
we may not so correct. Now if we had a second spell of youth and age, this
double term of life would let us then correct each previous slip. For I,
seeing others blest with children, longed to have them too, and found my
ruin in that wish. Whereas if I had had present experience, and by a father's
light had learnt how cruel a thing it is to be bereft of children, never
should have fallen on such evil days as these,-I who did beget a brave
young son, proud parent that I was, and after all am now bereft of him.
Enough of this. What remains for such a hapless wretch as me? Shall I to
my home, there to see its utter desolation and the blank within my life?
or shall to the halls of that dead Capaneus?-halls I smiled to see in days
gone by, when yet my daughter was alive. But she is lost and gone, she
that would ever draw down my cheek to her lips, and take my head between
her hands; for naught is there more sweet unto an aged sire than a daughter's
love; our sons are made of sterner stuff, but less winning are their caresses.
Oh! take me to my house at once, in darkness hide me there, to waste and
fret this aged frame with fasting! What shall it avail me to touch my daughter's
bones? Old age, resistless foe, how do I loathe thy presence! Them too
I hate, whoso desire to lengthen out the span of life, seeking to turn
the tide of death aside by philtres, drugs, and magic spells,-folk that
death should take away to leave the young their place, when they no more
can benefit the world.
IPHIS departs. A procession enters from the direction of the pyre, led
by the CHILDREN of the slain chieftains, who carry the ashes of their fathers
in funeral urns. The following lines between the CHORUS and the CHILDREN
are chanted responsively.
Woe, woe! Behold your dead sons' bones are brought hither;
take them, servants of your weak old mistress, for in me is no strength
left by reason of my mourning for my sons; time's comrade long have I been,
and many a tear for many a sorrow have I shed. For what sharper pang wilt
thou ever find for mortals than the sight of children dead?
Poor mother mine, behold I bring my father's bones gathered
from the fire, a burden grief has rendered heavy, though this tiny urn
contains my all.
Ah me! ah me! Why bear thy tearful load to the fond mother
of the dead, a handful of ashes in the stead of those who erst were men
of mark in Mycenae?
Woe worth the hour! woe worth the day! Reft of my hapless sire,
a wretched orphan shall I inherit a desolate house, torn from my father's
Woe is thee! Where is now the toil I spent upon my sons? what
thank have I for nightly watch? Where the mother's nursing care? the sleepless
vigils mine eyes have kept? the loving kiss upon my children's brow?
Thy sons are dead and gone. Poor mother! dead and gone; the
boundless air now wraps them round.
Turned to ashes by the flame, they have winged their flight
Father, thou hearest thy children's lamentation; say, shall
I e'er, as warrior dight, avenge thy slaughter?
God grant it, O my child
Some day, if god so will, shall the avenging of my father be
my task; not yet this sorrow sleeps.
Alas! Fortune's sorrows are enough for me, I have enough of
Shall Asopus' laughing tide ever reflect my brazen arms as
I lead on my Argive troops?
To avenge thy fallen sire.
Methinks I see thee still before my eye, my father-
Printing a loving kiss upon thy cheek.
But thy words of exhortation are borne on the winds away.
Two mourners hath he left behind, thy mother and thee, bequeathing
to thee an endless legacy of grief for thy father.
The weight of grief I have to bear hath crushed me utterly.
Come, let me clasp the ashes of my son to my bosom.
I weep to hear that piteous word; 'it stabs me to the heart,
My child, thou art undone; no more shall I behold thee, thy
own fond mother's treasure.
Adrastus, and ye dames from Argos sprung, ye see these children
bearing in their hands the bodies of their valiant sires whom I redeemed;
to thee I give these gifts, I and Athens. And ye must bear in mind the
memory of this favour, marking well the treatment ye have had of me. And
to these children I repeat the self-same words, that they may honour this
city, to children's children ever handing on the kindness ye received from
us. Be Zeus the witness, with the gods in heaven, of the treatment we vouchsafed
you ere you left us.
Theseus, well we know all the kindness thou hast conferred
upon the land of Argos in her need, and ours shall be a gratitude that
never waxeth old, for your generous treatment makes us debtors for a like
What yet remains, wherein I can serve you?
Fare thee well, for such is thy desert and such thy city's
Even so. Mayst thou too have the self-same fortune!
ATHENA appears from above.
Hearken, Theseus, to the words that I Athena utter, telling
thee thy duty, which, if thou perform it, will serve thy city. Give not
these bones to the children to carry to the land of Argos, letting them
go so lightly; nay, take first an oath of them that they will requite thee
and thy city for your efforts. This oath must Adrastus swear, for as their
king it is his right to take the oath for the whole realm of Argos. And
this shall be the form thereof: "We Argives swear we never will against
this land lead on our mail-clad troops to war, and, if others come, we
will repel them." But if they violate their oath and come against the city,
pray that the land of Argos may be miserably destroyed. Now hearken while
I tell thee where thou must slay the victims. Thou hast within thy halls
a tripod with brazen feet, which Heracles, in days gone by, after he had
o'erthrown the foundations of Ilium and was starting on another enterprise,
enjoined the to set up at the Pythian shrine. O'er it cut the throats of
three sheep; then grave within the tripod's hollow belly the oath; this
done, deliver it to the god who watches over Delphi to keep, a witness
and memorial unto Hellas of the oath. And bury the sharp-edged knife, wherewith
thou shalt have laid the victims open and shed their blood, deep in the
bowels of the earth, hard by the pyres where the seven chieftains burn;
for its appearance shall strike them with dismay, if e'er against thy town
they come, and shall cause them to return with sorrow. When thou hast done
all this, dismiss the dead from thy land. And to the god resign as sacred
land the spot where their bodies were purified by fire, there by the meeting
of the triple roads that lead unto the Isthmus. Thus much to thee, Theseus,
address; next to the sons of Argos I speak; when ye are grown to men's
estate, the town beside Ismenus shall ye sack, avenging the slaughter of
your dead sires; thou too, Aegialeus, shalt take thy father's place and
in thy youth command the host, and with thee Tydeus' son marching from
Aetolia,-him whom his father named Diomedes. Soon as the beards your cheeks
o'ershadow must ye lead an armed Danaid host against the battlements of
Thebes with sevenfold gates. For to their sorrow shall ye come like lion's
whelps in full-grown might to sack their city. No otherwise is it to be;
and ye shall be a theme for minstrels' songs in days to come, known through
Hellas as "the After-born"; so famous shall your expedition be, thanks
Queen Athena, I will hearken to thy bidding; for thou it is
dost set me up, so that I go not astray. And I will bind this monarch by
an oath; do thou but guide my steps aright. For if thou art friendly to
our state, we shall henceforth live secure.
Let us go, Adrastus, and take the oath to this monarch and his state; for