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Written 430 B.C.E
Translated by R. C. Jebb
HYLLUS, son of HERACLES and DEIANEIRA
LICHAS, the herald of HERACLES
AN OLD MAN
CHORUS OF TRACHINIAN MAIDENS
At Trachis, before the house of HERACLES. Enter DEIANEIRA from the house, accompanied by the NURSE.
There is a saying among men, put forth of old, that thou canst
not rightly judge whether a mortal's lot is good or evil, ere he die. But
I, even before I have passed to the world of death, know well that my life
is sorrowful and bitter; I, who in the house of my father Oeneus, while
yet I dwelt at Pleuron, had such fear of bridals as never vexed any maiden
of Aetolia. For my wooer was a river-god, Achelous, who in three shapes
was ever asking me from my sire,- coming now as a bull in bodily form,
now as serpent with sheeny coils, now with trunk of man and front of ox,
while from a shaggy beard the streams of fountain-water flowed abroad.
With the fear of such a suitor before mine eyes, I was always praying in
my wretchedness that I might die, or ever I should come near to such a
But at last, to my joy, came the glorious son of Zeus and Alcmena;
who dosed with him in combat, and delivered me. How the fight was waged,
I cannot clearly tell, I know not; if there be any one who watched that
sight without terror, such might speak: I, as I sat there, was distraught
with dread, lest beauty should bring me sorrow at the last. But finally
the Zeus of battles ordained well,- if well indeed it be: for since I have
been joined to Heracles as his chosen bride, fear after fear hath haunted
me on his account; one night brings a trouble, and the next night, in turn,
drives it out. And then children were born to us; whom he has seen only
as the husbandman sees his distant field, which he visits at seedtime,
and once again at harvest. Such was the life that kept him journeying to
and fro, in the service of a certain master.
But now, when he hath risen above those trials,- now it is that
my anguish is sorest. Ever since he slew the valiant Iphitus, we have been
dwelling here in Trachis, exiles from our home, and the guests of stranger;
but where he is, no one knows; I only know that he is gone, and hath pierced
my heart with cruel pangs for him. I am almost sure that some evil hath
befallen him; it is no short space that hath passed, but ten long months,
and then five more,- and still no message from him. Yes, there has been
some dread mischance;- witness that tablet which he left with me ere he
went forth: oft do I pray to the gods that I may not have received it for
Deianeira, my mistress, many a time have I marked thy bitter
tears and lamentations, as thou bewailedst the going forth of Heracles;
but now,- if it be meet to school the free-born with the counsels of a
slave, and if I must say what behoves thee,- why, when thou art so rich
in sons, dost thou send no one of them to seek thy lord;- Hyllus, before
all, who might well go on that errand, if he cared that there should be
tidings of his father's welfare? Lo! there he comes, speeding towards the
house with timely step; if, then, thou deemest that I speak in season,
thou canst use at once my counsel, and the man.
HYLLUS comes in from the side.
My child, my son, wise words may fall, it seems, from humble
lips; this woman is a slave, but hath spoken in the spirit of the free.
How, mother? Tell me, if it may be told.
It brings thee shame, she saith, that, when thy father hath
been so long a stranger, thou hast not sought to learn where he is.
Nay, I know,- if rumour can be trusted.
And in what region, my child, doth rumour place him?
Last year, they say, through all the months, he toiled as bondman
to Lydian woman.
If he bore that, then no tidings can surprise.
Well, he has been delivered from that, as I hear.
Where, then, is he reported to be now,- alive or dead?
He is waging or planning a war, they say, upon Euboea, the
realm of Eurytus.
Knowest thou, my son, that he hath left with me sure oracles
touching that land?
What are they, mother? I know not whereof thou speakest.
That either he shall meet his death, or, having achieved this
task, shall have rest thenceforth, for all his days to
So, my child, when his fate is thus trembling in the scale, wilt
thou not go to succour him? For we are saved, if he find safety, or we
perish with him.
Ay, I will go, my mother; and, had I known the import of these
prophecies, I had been there long since; but, as it was, my father's wonted
fortune suffered me not to feel fear for him, or to be anxious overmuch.
Now that I have the knowledge, I will spare no pains to learn the whole
truth in this matter.
Go, then, my son; be the seeker ne'er so late, he is rewarded
if he learn tidings of joy.
HYLLUS departs as the CHORUS OF TRACHINIAN MAIDENS enters. They are
free-born young women of Trachis who are friends and confidantes of DEIANEIRA.
She remains during their opening choral song.
Thou whom Night brings forth at the moment when she is despoiled of her
starry crown, and lays to rest in thy splendour, tell me, pray thee, O
Sun-god, tell me where abides Alcmena's son? Thou glorious lord of flashing
light, say, is he threading the straits of the sea, or hath he found an
abode on either continent? Speak, thou who seest as none else can see!
For Deianeira, as I hear, hath ever an aching heart; she, the battle-prize
of old, is now like some bird lorn of its mate; she can never lull her
yearning, nor stay her tears; haunted by a sleepless fear for her absent
lord, she pines on her anxious, widowed couch, miserable in her foreboding
As one may see billow after billow driven over the wide deep by the tireless
south-wind or the north, so the trouble of his life, stormy as the Cretan
sea, now whirls back the son of Cadmus, now lifts him to honour. But some
god ever saves him from the house of death, and suffers him not to fail.
Lady, I praise not this thy mood; with all reverence will I speak, yet
in reproof. Thou dost not well, I say, to kill fair hope by fretting; remember
that the son of Cronus himself, the all-disposing king, hath not appointed
a painless lot for mortals. Sorrow and joy come round to all, as the Bear
moves in his circling paths.
Yea, starry night abides not with men, nor tribulation, nor wealth; in
a moment it is gone from us, and another hath his turn of gladness, and
of bereavement. So would I wish thee also, the Queen, to keep that prospect
ever in thy thoughts; for when hath Zeus been found so careless of his
Ye have heard of my trouble, I think, and that hath brought
you here; but the anguish which consumes my heart- ye are strangers to
that; and never may ye learn it by suffering! Yes, the tender plant grows
in those sheltered regions of its own! and the Sun-god's heat vexes it
not, nor rain, nor any wind; but it rejoices in its sweet, untroubled being,
til such time as the maiden is called a wife, and finds her portion of
anxious thoughts in the night, brooding on danger to husband or to children.
Such an one could understand the burden of my cares; she could judge them
by her own.
Well, I have had many a sorrow to weep for ere now; but I am going
to speak of one more grievous than them all.
When Heracles my lord was going from home on his last journey,
he left in the house an ancient tablet, inscribed with tokens which he
had never brought himself to explain to me before, many as were the ordeals
to which he had gone forth. He had always departed as if to conquer, not
to die. But now, as if he were a doomed man, he told me what portion of
his substance I was to take for my dower, and how he would have his sons
share their father's land amongst them. And he fixed the time; saying that,
when a year and three months should have passed since he had left the country,
then he was fated to die; or, if he should have survived that term, to
live thenceforth an untroubled life.
Such, he said, was the doom ordained by the gods to be accomplished
in the toils of Heracles; as the ancient oak at Dodona had spoken of yore,
by the mouth of the two Peleiades. And this is the precise moment when
the fulfilment of that word becomes due; so that I start up from sweet
slumber, my friends, stricken with terror at the thought that I must remain
widowed of the noblest among men.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Hush- no more ill-omened words; I see a man approaching, who
wears a wreath, as if for joyous tidings.
A MESSENGER enters.
Queen Deianeira, I shall be the first of messengers to free
thee from fear. Know that Alcmena's son lives and triumphs, and from battle
brings the first-fruits to the gods of this land.
What news is this, old man, that thou hast told me?
That thy lord, admired of all, will soon come to thy house,
restored to thee in his victorious might.
What citizen or stranger hath told thee this?
In the meadow, summer haunt of oxen, Lichas the herald is proclaiming
it to many: from him I heard it, and flew hither, that I might be the first
to give thee these tidings, and so might reap some guerdon from thee, and
win thy grace.
And why is he not here, if he brings good news?
His task, lady, is no easy one; all the Malian folk have thronged
around him with questions, and he cannot move forward: each and all are
bent on learning what they desire, and will not release him until they
are satisfied. Thus their eagerness detains him against his will; but thou
shalt presently see him face to face.
O Zeus, who rulest the meads of Oeta, sacred from the scythe,
at last, though late, thou hast given us joy! Uplift your voices, ye women
within the house and ye beyond our gates, since now we are gladdened by
the light of this message, that hath risen on us beyond my hope!
LEADER OF ONE SEMI-CHORUS
Let the maidens raise a joyous strain for the house, with songs of triumph
at the hearth; and, amidst them, let the shout of the men go up with one
accord for Apollo of the bright quiver, our Defender! And at the same time,
ye maidens, lift up a paean, cry aloud to his sister, the Ortygian Artemis,
smiter of deer, goddess of the twofold torch, and to the Nymphs her neighbours!
LEADER OF OTHER SEMI-CHORUS
My spirit soars; I will not reject the wooing of the flute.-
O thou sovereign of my soul! Lo, the ivy's spell begins to work upon me!
Euoe!- even now it moves me to whirl in the swift dance of Bachanals!
Praise, praise unto the Healer!
LEADER OF WHOLE CHORUS
See, dear lady, see! Behold, these tidings are taking shape
before thy gaze.
I see it, dear maidens; my watching eyes had not failed to
note yon company.
Enter LICHAS, followed by Captive Maidens. Conspicuous among them is
-All hail to the herald, whose coming hath been so long delayed!- if indeed
thou bringest aught that can give joy.
We are happy in our return, and happy in thy greeting, lady,
which befits the deed achieved; for when a man hath fair fortune, he needs
must win good welcome.
O best of friends, tell me first what first I would know,-
shall I receive Heracles alive?
I, certainly, left him alive and well,- in vigorous health,
unburdened by disease.
Where, tell me- at home, or on foreign soil?
There is a headland of Euboea, where to Cenaean Zeus he consecrates
altars, and the tribute of fruitful ground.
In payment of a vow, or at the bidding of an oracle?
For a vow, made when he was seeking to conquer and despoil
the country of these women who are before thee.
And these- who are they, I pray thee, and whose daughters?
They deserve pity, unless their plight deceives me.
These are captives whom he chose out for himself and for the
gods, when he sacked the city of Eurytus.
Was it the war against that city which kept him away so long,
beyond all forecast, past all count of days?
Not so: the greater part of the time he was detained in Lydia,-
no free man, as he declares, but sold into bondage. No offence should attend
on the word, lady, when the deed is found to be of Zeus. So he passed a
whole year, as he himself avows, in thraldom to Omphale the barbarian.
And so stung was he by that reproach, he bound himself by a solemn oath
that he would one day enslave, with wife and child, the man who had brought
that calamity upon him. Nor did he speak the word in vain; but, when he
bad been purged, gathered an alien host, and went against the city of Eurytus.
That man, he said, alone of mortals, had a share in causing his misfortune.
For when Heracles, an old friend, came to his house and hearth, Eurytus
heaped on him the taunts of a bitter tongue and spiteful soul,- saying,
'Thou hast unerring arrows in thy hands, and yet my sons surpass thee in
the trial of archery'; 'Thou art a slave,' he cried, 'a free man's broken
thrall': and at a banquet, when his guest was full of wine, he thrust him
from his doors.
Wroth thereat, when afterward Iphitus came to the hill of Tiryns,
in search for horses that had strayed, Heracles seized a moment when the
man's wandering thoughts went not with his wandering gaze, and hurled him
from a tower-like summit. But in anger at that deed, Zeus our lord, Olympian
sire of all, sent him forth into bondage, and spared not, because, this
once, he had taken a life by guile. Had he wreaked his vengeance openly,
Zeus would surely have pardoned him the righteous triumph; for the gods,
too, love not insolence.
So those men, who waxed so proud with bitter speech, are themselves
in the mansions of the dead, all of them, and their city is enslaved; while
the women whom thou beholdest, fallen from happiness to misery, come here
to thee; for such was thy lord's command, which I, his faithful servant,
perform. He himself, thou mayest be sure,- so soon as he shall have offered
holy sacrifice for his victory to Zeus from whom he sprang,- will be with
thee. After all the fair tidings that have been told, this, indeed, is
the sweetest word to hear.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Now, O Queen, thy joy is assured; part is with thee, and thou
hast promise of the rest.
Yea, have I not the fullest reason to rejoice at these tidings
of my lord's happy fortune? To such fortune, such joy must needs respond.
And yet a prudent mind can see room for misgiving lest he who prospers
should one day suffer reverse. A strange pity hath come over me, friends,
at the sight of these ill-fated exiles, homeless and fatherless in a foreign
land; once the daughters, perchance, of free-born sires, but now doomed
to the life of slaves. O Zeus, who turnest the tide of battle, never may
I see child of mine thus visited by thy hand; nay, if such visitation is
to be, may it not fall while Deianeira lives! Such dread do I feel, beholding
Ah, hapless girl, say, who art thou? A maiden, or a mother? To judge by
thine aspect, an innocent maiden, and of a noble race. Lichas, whose daughter
is this stranger? Who is her mother, who her sire? Speak, I pity her more
than all the rest, when I behold her; as she alone shows due feeling for
How should I know? Why should'st thou ask me? Perchance the
off, spring of not the meanest in yonder land.
Can she be of royal race? Had Eurytus a daughter?
I know not; indeed, I asked not many questions.
And thou hast not heard her name from any of her companions?
No, indeed, I went through my task in silence.
Unhappy girl, let me, at least, hear it from thine own mouth.
It is indeed distressing not to know thy name.
IOLE maintains her silence.
It will be unlike her former behaviour, then, I can tell thee,
if she opens her lips: for she hath not uttered one word, but hath ever
been travailing with the burden of her sorrow, and weeping bitterly, poor
girl, since she left her wind-swept home. Such a state is grievous for
herself, but claims our forbearance.
Then let her be left in peace, and pass under our roof as she
wishes; her present woes must not be crowned with fresh pains at my hands;
she hath enough already.-Now let us all go in, that thou mayest start speedily
on thy journey, while I make all things ready in the house.
LICHAS leads the captives into the house. DEIANEIRA starts to follow
them, but the MESSENGER, who has been present during the entire scene,
detains her. He speaks as he moves nearer to her.
Ay, but first tarry here a brief space, that thou mayest learn,
apart from yonder folk, whom thou art taking to thy hearth, and mayest
gain the needful knowledge of things which have not been told to thee.
Of these I am in full possession.
What means this? Why wouldest thou stay my departure?
Pause and listen. My former story was worth thy hearing, and
so will this one be, methinks.
Shall I call those others back? Or wilt thou speak before me
and these maidens?
To thee and these I can speak freely; never mind the others.
Well, they are gone;- so thy story can proceed.
Yonder man was not speaking the straight-forward truth in aught
that he has just told. He has given false tidings now, or else his former
report was dishonest.
How sayest thou? Explain thy whole drift clearly; thus far,
thy words are riddles to me.
I heard this man declare, before many witnesses, that for this
maiden's sake Heracles overthrew Eurytus and the proud towers of Oechalia;
Love, alone of the gods, wrought on him to do those deeds of arms,- not
the toilsome servitude to Omphale in Lydia, nor the death to which Iphitus
was hurled. But now the herald has thrust Love out of sight, and tells
Well, when he could not persuade her sire to give him the maiden
for his paramour, he devised some petty complaint as a pretext, and made
war upon her land,- that in which, as he said, this Eurytus bore sway,-
and slew the prince her father, and sacked her city. And now, as thou seest,
he comes sending her to this house not in careless fashion, lady, nor like
slave:-no, dream not of that,- it is not likely, if his heart is kindled
I resolved, therefore, O Queen, to tell thee all that I had heard
from yonder man. Many others were listening to it, as I was, in the public
place where the Trachinians were assembled; and they can convict him. If
my words are unwelcome, I am grieved; but nevertheless I have spoken out
Ah me unhappy! In what plight do I stand? What secret bane
have received beneath my roof? Hapless that I am! Is she nameless, then,
as her convoy sware?
Nay, illustrious by name as by birth; she is the daughter of
Eurytus, and was once called Iole; she of whose parentage Lichas could
say nothing, because, forsooth, he asked no questions.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Accursed, above other evil-doers, be the man whom deeds of
Ah, maidens, what am I to do? These latest tidings have bewildered
Go and inquire from Lichas; perchance he will tell the truth,
if thou constrain him to answer.
Well, I will go; thy counsel is not amiss.
And I, shall I wait here? Or what is thy pleasure?
Remain;- here he comes from the house of his own accord, without
summons from me.
Lady, what message shall I bear to Heracles? Give me thy commands,
for, as thou seest, I am going.
How hastily thou art rushing away, when thy visit had been
so long delayed,- before we have had time for further talk.
Nay, if there be aught that thou would'st ask, I am at thy
Wilt thou indeed give me the honest truth?
Yes, be great Zeus my witness,- in anything that I know,
Who is the woman, then, whom thou hast brought?
She is Euboean; but of what birth, I cannot say.
Sirrah, look at me:- to whom art thou speaking, think'st thou?
And thou- what dost thou mean by such a question?
Deign to answer me, if thou comprehendest.
To the royal Deianeira, unless mine eyes deceive me,- daughter
of Oeneus, wife of Heracles, and my queen.
The very word that I wished to hear from thee:- thou sayest
that she is thy queen?
Yes, as in duty bound.
Well, then, what art thou prepared to suffer, if found guilty
of failing in that duty?
Failing in duty? What dark saying is this?
'Tis none; the darkest words are thine own.
I will go, I was foolish to hear thee so long.
No, not till thou hast answered a brief question.
Ask what thou wilt; thou art not taciturn.
That captive, whom thou hast brought home- thou knowest whom
Yes; but why dost thou ask?
Well, saidst thou not that thy prisoner- she, on whom thy gaze
now turns so vacantly- was Iole, daughter of Eurytus?
Said it to whom? Who and where is the man that will be thy
witness to hearing this from me?
To many of our own folk thou saidst it: in the public gathering
of Trachinians, a great crowd heard thus much from thee.
Ay- said they heard-but 'tis one thing to report a fancy, and
another to make the story good.
A fancy! Didst thou not say on thine oath that thou wast bringing
her us a bride for Heracles?
I? bringing a bride?- In the name of the gods, dear mistress,
tell me who this stranger may be?
One who heard from thine own lips that the conquest of the
whole city was due to love for this girl: the Lydian woman was not its
destroyer, but the passion which this maid has kindled.
Lady, let this fellow withdraw: to prate with the brainsick
befits not sane man.
Nay, I implore thee by Zeus whose lightnings go forth over
the high glens of Oeta, do not cheat me of the truth! For she to whom thou
wilt speak is not ungenerous, nor hath she yet to learn that the human
heart is inconstant to its joys. They are not wise, then, who stand forth
to buffet against Love; for Love rules the gods as he will, and me; and
why not another woman, such as I am? So I am mad indeed, if I blame my
husband, because that distemper hath seized him; or this woman, his partner
in a thing which is no shame to them, and no wrong to me. Impossible! No;
if he taught thee to speak falsely, 'tis not a noble lesson that thou art
learning; or if thou art thine own teacher in this, thou wilt be found
cruel when it is thy wish to prove kind. Nay, tell me the whole truth.
To a free-born man, the name of liar cleaves as a deadly brand. If thy
hope is to escape detection, that, too, is vain; there are many to whom
thou hast spoken, who will tell me.
And if thou art afraid, thy fear is mistaken. Not to learn the
truth,-that, indeed, would pain me; but to know it- what is there terrible
in that? Hath not Heracles wedded others ere now,- ay, more than living
man,- and no one of them hath bad harsh word or taunt from me; nor shall
this girl, though her whole being should be absorbed in her passion; for
indeed I felt a profound pity when I beheld her, because her beauty hath
wrecked her life, and she, hapless one, all innocent, hath brought her
fatherland to ruin and to bondage.
Well, those things must go with wind and stream.- To thee I say,-deceive
whom thou wilt, but ever speak the truth to me.
Hearken to her good counsel, and hereafter thou shalt have
no cause to complain of this lady; our thanks, too, will be thine.
Nay, then, dear mistress,- since I see that thou thinkest as
mortals should think, and canst allow for weakness,- I will tell thee the
whole truth, and hide it not. Yes, it is even as yon man saith. This girl
inspired that overmastering love which long ago smote through the soul
of Heracles; for this girl's sake the desolate Oechalia, her home, was
made the prey of his spear. And he,- it is just to him to say so,- never
denied this,- never told me to conceal it. But I, lady, fearing to wound
thy heart by such tidings, have sinned, if thou count this in any sort
Now, however, that thou knowest the whole story, for both your
sakes,- for his, and not less for thine own,- bear with the woman, and
be content that the words which thou hast spoken regarding her should bind
thee still. For he, whose strength is victorious in all else, hath been
utterly vanquished by his passion for this girl.
Indeed, mine own thoughts move me to act thus. Trust me, I
will not add a new affliction to my burdens by waging a fruitless fight
against the gods.
Exit MESSENGER, as LICHAS and DEIANEIRA go into the
But let us go into the house, that thou mayest receive my messages;
and, since gifts should be meetly recompensed with gifts,- that thou mayest
take these also. It is not right that thou shouldest go back with empty
hands, after coming with such a goodly train.
DEIANEIRA enters from the house alone, carrying in her arms a casket
containing a robe.
Great and mighty is the victory which the Cyprian queen ever bears away.
I stay not now to speak of the gods; I spare to tell how she beguiled the
son of Cronus, and Hades, the lord of darkness, or Poseidon, shaker of
But, when this bride was to be won, who were the valiant rivals
that entered the contest for her hand? Who went forth to the ordeal of
battle, to the fierce blows and the blinding dust?
One was a mighty river-god, the dread form of a horned and four-legged
bull, Achelous, from Oeniadae: the other came from Thebe, dear to Bacchus,
with curved bow, and spears, and brandished club, the son of Zeus: who
then met in combat, fain to win a bride: and the Cyprian goddess of nuptial
joy was there with them, sole umpire of their strife.
Then was there clatter of fists and clang of bow, and the noise of bull's
horns therewith; then were there close-locked grapplings, and deadly blows
from the forehead, and loud deep cries from both.
Meanwhile, she, in her delicate beauty, sat on the side of a hill
that could be seen afar, awaiting the husband that should be
So the battle rages, as I have told; but the fair bride who is
the prize of the strife abides the end in piteous anguish. And suddenly
she is parted from her mother, as when a heifer is taken from its dam.
Dear friends, while our visitor is saying his farewell to the
captive girls in the house, I have stolen forth to you,- partly to tell
you what these hands have devised, and partly to crave your sympathy with
A maiden,- or, methinks, no longer a maiden, but a mistress,- hath
found her way into my house, as a freight comes to a mariner,- a merchandise
to make shipwreck of my peace. And now we twain are to share the same marriage-bed,
the same embrace. Such is the reward that Heracles hath sent me,- he whom
I called true and loyal,- for guarding his home through all that weary
time. I have no thought of anger against him, often as he is vexed with
this distemper. But then to live with her, sharing the same union- what
woman could endure it? For I see that the flower of her age is blossoming,
while mine is fading; and the eyes of men love to cull the bloom of youth,
but they turn aside from the old. This, then, is my fear,- lest Heracles,
in name my spouse, should be the younger's mate.
But, as I said, anger ill beseems a woman of understanding. I will
tell you, friends, the way by which I hope to find deliverance and relief.
I had a gift, given to me long ago by a monster of olden time, aid stored
in an urn of bronze; a gift which, while yet a girl, I took up from the
shaggy-breasted Nessus,- from his life-blood, as he lay dying; Nessus,
who used to carry men in his arms across the deep waters of the Evenus,
using no oar to waft them, nor sail of ship.
I, too, was carried on his shoulders,- when, by my father's sending,
first went forth with Heracles as his wife; and when I was in mid-stream,
he touched me with wanton hands. I shrieked; the son of Zeus turned quickly
round, and shot a feathered arrow; it whizzed through his breast to the
lungs; and, in his mortal faintness, thus much the Centaur
'Child of aged Oeneus, thou shalt have at least this profit of
my ferrying,- if thou wilt hearken,-because thou wast the last whom I conveyed.
If thou gatherest with thy hands the blood clotted round my wound, at the
place where the Hydra, Lerna's monstrous growth, hath tinged the arrow
with black gall,- this shall be to thee a charm for the soul of Heracles,
so that he shall never look upon any woman to love her more than
I bethought me of this, my friends- for, after his death, I had
kept it carefully locked up in a secret place; and I have anointed this
robe, doing everything to it as he enjoined while he lived. The work is
finished. May deeds of wicked daring be ever far from my thoughts, and
from my knowledge,- as I abhor the women who attempt them! But if in any
wise I may prevail against this girl by love-spells and charms used on
Heracles, the means to that end are ready;-unless, indeed, I seem to be
acting rashly: if so, I will desist forthwith.
Nay, if these measures give any ground of confidence, we think
that thy design is not amiss.
Well, the ground stands thus,- there is a fair promise; but
I have not yet essayed the proof.
Nay, knowledge must come through action; thou canst have no
test which is not fanciful, save by trial.
Well, we shall know presently:- for there I see the man already
at the doors; and he will soon be going.- Only may my secret be well kept
by you! While thy deeds are hidden, even though they be not seemly, thou
wilt never be brought to shame.
LICHAS enters from the house.
What are thy commands? Give me my charge, daughter of Oeneus;
for already I have tarried over long.
Indeed, I have just been seeing to this for thee, Lichas, while
thou wast speaking to the stranger maidens in the house;- that thou shouldest
take for me this long robe, woven by mine own hand, a gift to mine absent
And when thou givest it, charge him that he, and no other, shall
be the first to wear it; that it shall not be seen by the light of the
sun, nor by the sacred precinct, nor by the fire at the hearth, until he
stand forth, conspicuous before all eyes, and show it to the gods on a
day when bulls are slain.
For thus had I vowed,- that if I should ever see or hear that he
had come safely home, I would duly clothe him in this robe, and so present
him to the gods, newly radiant at their altar in new
As proof, thou shalt carry a token, which he will quickly recognise
within the circle of this seal.
Now go thy way; and, first, remember the rule that messengers should
not be meddlers; next, so bear thee that my thanks may be joined to his
doubling the grace which thou shalt win.
Nay, if I ply this herald-craft of Hermes with any sureness,
I will never trip in doing thine errand: I will not fail to deliver this
casket as it is, and to add thy words in attestation of thy gift.
Thou mayest be going now; for thou knowest well how things
are with us in the house.
I know, and will report, that all hath prospered.
And then thou hast seen the greeting given to the stranger
maiden-thou knowest how I welcomed her?
So that my heart was filled with wondering joy.
What more, then, is there for thee to tell? I am afraid that
it would be too soon to speak of the longing on my part, before we know
if I am longed for there.
LICHAS departs with the casket and DEIANEIRA retires into the
DEIANEIRA comes out of the house in agitation.
O ye who dwell by the warm springs between haven and crag, and by Oeta's
heights; O dwellers by the land-locked waters of the Malian sea, on the
shore sacred to the virgin-goddess of the golden shafts, where the Greeks
meet in famous council at the Gates;
Soon shall the glorious voice of the flute go up for you again, resounding
with no harsh strain of grief, but with such music as the lyre maketh to
the gods! For the son whom Alcmena bore to Zeus is hastening homeward,
with the trophies of all prowess.
He was lost utterly to our land, a wanderer over sea, while we waited through
twelve long months, and knew nothing; and his loving wife, sad dweller
with sad thoughts, was ever pining amid her tears. But now the War-god,
roused to fury, hath delivered her from the days of her mourning.
May he come, may he come! Pause not the many-oared ship that carries him,
till he shall have reached this town, leaving the island altar where, as
rumour saith, he is sacrificing! Thence may he come, full of desire, steeped
in love by the specious device of the robe, on which Persuasion hath spread
her sovereign charm!
Friends, how I fear that I may have gone too far in all that
I have been doing just now!
What hath happened, Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus?
I know not; but feel a misgiving that I shall presently be
found to have wrought a great mischief, the issue of a fair hope.
It is nothing, surely, that concerns thy gift to Heracles?
Yea, even so. And henceforth I would say to all, act not with
zeal, if ye act without light.
Tell us the cause of thy fear, if it may be told.
A thing hath come to pass, my friends, such that, if I declare
it, ye will hear a marvel whereof none could have dreamed.
That with which I was lately anointing the festal robe,- a white
tuft of fleecy sheep's wool,- hath disappeared,- not consumed by anything
in the house, but self-devoured and self-destroyed, as it crumbled down
from the surface of a stone. But I must tell the story More at length,
that thou mayest know exactly how this thing befell.
I neglected no part of the precepts which the savage Centaur gave
me, when the bitter barb was rankling in his side: they were in my memory,
like the graven words which no hand may wash from a tablet of bronze. Now
these were his orders, and I obeyed them:-to keep this unguent in secret
place, always remote from fire and from the sun's warm ray, until I should
apply it, newly spread, where I wished. So had I done. And now, when the
moment for action had come, I performed the anointing privily in the house,
with a tuft of soft wool which I had plucked from a sheep of our home-flock;
then I folded up my gift, and laid it, unvisited by sunlight, within its
casket, as ye saw.
But as I was going back into the house, I beheld a thing too wondrous
for words, and passing the wit of man to understand. I happened to have
thrown the shred of wool, with which I bad been preparing the robe, into
the full blaze of the sunshine. As it grew warm, it shrivelled all away,
and quickly crumbled to powder on the ground, like nothing so much as the
dust shed from a saw's teeth where men work timber. In such a state it
lies as it fell. And from the earth, where it was strewn, clots of foam
seethed up, as when the rich juice of the blue fruit from the vine of Bacchus
is poured upon the ground.
So I know not, hapless one, whither to turn my thoughts; I only
see that I have done a fearful deed. Why or wherefore should the monster,
in his death-throes, have shown good will to me, on whose account he was
dying? Impossible! No, he was cajoling me, in order to slay the man who
had smitten him: and I gain the knowledge of this too late, when it avails
no more. Yes, I alone- unless my foreboding prove false- I, wretched one,
must destroy him! For I know that the arrow which made the wound did scathe
even to the god Cheiron; and it kills all beasts that it touches. And since
'tis this same black venom in the blood that hath passed out through the
wound of Nessus, must it not kill my lord also? I ween it
Howbeit, I am resolved that, if he is to fall, at the same time
I also shall be swept from life; for no woman could bear to live with an
evil name, if she rejoices that her nature is not evil.
Mischief must needs be feared; but it is not well to doom our
hope before the event.
Unwise counsels leave no room even for a hope which can lend
Yet towards those who have erred unwittingly, men's anger is
softened; and so it should be towards thee.
Nay, such words are not for one who has borne a part in the
ill deed, but only for him who has no trouble at his own door.
'Twere well to refrain from further speech, unless thou would'st
tell aught to thine own son; for he is at hand, who went erewhile to seek
O mother, would that one of three things had befallen thee!
Would that thou wert dead,- or, if living, no mother of mine,- or that
some new and better spirit had passed into thy bosom.
Ah, my son, what cause have I given thee to abhor me?
I tell thee that thy husband- yea, my sire-bath been done to
death by thee this day
Oh, what word hath passed thy lips, my child!
A word that shall not fail of fulfilment; for who may undo
that which bath come to pass?
What saidst thou, my son? Who is thy warranty for charging
me with a deed so terrible?
I have seen my father's grievous fate with mine own eyes; I
speak not from hearsay.
And where didst thou find him,- where didst thou stand at his
If thou art to hear it, then must all be
DEIANEIRA moves towards the house.
After sacking the famous town of Eurytus, he went his way with the
trophies and first-fruits of victory. There is a sea-washed headland of
Euboea, Cape Cenaeum, where he dedicated altars and a sacred grove to the
Zeus of his fathers; and there I first beheld him, with the joy of yearning
He was about to celebrate a great sacrifice, when his own herald,
Lichas, came to him from home, bearing thy gift, the deadly robe; which
he put on, according to thy precept; and then began his offering with twelve
bulls, free from blemish, the firstlings of the spoil; but altogether he
brought a hundred victims, great or small, to the altar.
At first, hapless one, he prayed with serene soul, rejoicing in
his comely garb. But when the blood-fed flame began to blaze from the holy
offerings and from the resinous pine, a sweat broke forth upon his flesh,
and the tunic clung to his sides, at every joint, close-glued, as if by
a craftsman's hand; there came a biting pain that racked his bones; and
then the venom, as of some deadly, cruel viper, began to devour
Thereupon he shouted for the unhappy Lichas,- in no wise to blame
for thy crime,- asking what treason had moved him to bring that robe; but
he, all-unknowing, hapless one, said that he had brought the gift from
thee alone, as it had been sent. When his master heard it, as a piercing
spasm clutched his lungs, he caught him by the foot, where the ankle turns
in the socket, and hurled him at a surf-beaten rock in the sea; and he
made the white brain to ooze from the hair, as the skull was dashed to
splinters, and blood scattered therewith.
But all the people lifted up a cry of awe-struck grief, seeing
that one was frenzied, and the other slain; and no one dared to come before
the man. For the pain dragged him to earth, or made him leap into the air,
with yells and shrieks, till the cliffs rang around, steep headlands of
Locris, and Euboean capes.
But when he was spent with oft throwing himself on the ground in
his anguish, and oft making loud lament,- cursing his fatal marriage with
thee, the vile one, and his alliance with Oeneus,- saying how he had found
in it the ruin of his life,- then from out of the shrouding altar-smoke,
he lifted up his wildly-rolling eyes, and saw me in the great crowd, weeping.
He turned his gaze on me, and called me: 'O son, draw near; do not fly
from my trouble, even though thou must share my death. Come, bear me forth,
and set me, if thou canst, in a place where no man shall see me; or, if
thy pity forbids that, at least convey me with all speed out of this land,
and let me not die where I am.'
That command sufficed; we laid him in mid-ship, and brought him-but
hardly brought him- to this shore, moaning in his torments. And ye shall
presently behold him, alive, or lately dead.
Such, mother, are the designs and deeds against my sire whereof
thou hast been found guilty. May avenging justice and the Erinys visit
thee for them! Yes, if it be right, that is my prayer: and right it is,-
for I have seen thee trample on the right, by slaying the noblest man in
all the world, whose like thou shalt see nevermore!
Why dost thou depart in silence? Knowest thou not that such silence pleads
for thine accuser?
DEIANEIRA goes in the house.
Let her depart. A fair wind speed her far from my sight! Why
should the name of mother bring her a semblance of respect, when she is
all unlike a mother in her deeds? No, let her go,- farewell to her; and
may such joy as she gives my sire become her own!
Exit HYLLUS, into the house.
See, maidens, how suddenly the divine word of the old prophecy hath come
upon us, which said that, when the twelfth year should have run through
its full tale of months, it should end the series of toils for the true-born
son of Zeus! And that promise is wafted surely to its fulfilment. For how
shall he who beholds not the light have toilsome servitude any more beyond
If a cloud of death is around him, and the doom wrought by the Centaur's
craft is stinging his sides, where cleaves the venom which Thanatos begat
and the gleaming serpent nourished, how can he look upon tomorrow's sun,-
when that appalling Hydra-shape holds him in its grip, and those murderous
goads, prepared by the wily words of black-haired Nessus, have started
into fury, vexing him with tumultuous pain?
Of such things this hapless lady had no foreboding; but she saw great mischief
swiftly coming on her home from the new marriage. Her own hand applied
the remedy; but for the issues of a stranger's counsel, given at a fatal
meeting,- for these, I ween, she makes despairing lament, shedding the
tender dew of plenteous tears. And the coming fate foreshadows a great
misfortune, contrived by guile.
Our streaming tears break forth: alas, a plague is upon him more piteous
than any suffering that foemen ever brought upon that glorious
Ah, thou dark steel of the spear foremost in battle, by whose might
yonder bride was lately borne so swiftly from Oechalia's heights! But the
Cyprian goddess, ministering in silence, hath been plainly proved the doer
of these deeds.
LEADER OF ONE SEMI-CHORUS
Is it fancy, or do I hear some cry of grief just passing through
the house? What is this?
LEADER OF OTHER SEMI-CHORUS
No uncertain sound, but a wail of anguish from within: the
house hath some new trouble.
LEADER OF WHOLE CHORUS
And mark how sadly, with what a cloud upon her brow, that aged
woman approaches, to give us tidings.
Enter NURSE, from the house.
Ah, my daughters, great, indeed, were the sorrows that we were
to reap from the gift sent to Heracles!
Aged woman, what new mischance hast thou to tell?
Deianeira hath departed on the last of all her journeys, departed
without stirring foot.
Thou speakest not of death?
My tale is told.
Dead, hapless one?
Again thou hearest it.
Hapless, lost one! Say, what was the manner of her death?
Oh, a cruel deed was there!
Speak, woman, how hath she met her doom?
By her own hand hath she died.
What fury, what pangs of frenzy have cut her off by the edge
of a dire weapon? How contrived she this death, following death,- all wrought
by her alone?
By the stroke of the sword that makes sorrow.
Sawest thou that violent deed, poor helpless one?
I saw it; yea, I was standing near.
Whence came it? How was it done? Oh, speak
'Twas the work of her own mind and her own hand.
What dost thou tell us?
The sure truth.
The first-born, the first-born of that new bride is a dread
Erinys for this house!
Too true; and, hadst thou been an eye-witness of the action,
verily thy pity would have been yet deeper.
And could a woman's hand dare to do such deeds?
Yea, with dread daring; thou shalt hear, and then thou wilt
bear me witness.
When she came alone into the house, and saw her son preparing a
deep litter in the court, that he might go back with it to meet his sire,
then she hid herself where none might see; and, falling before the altars,
she wailed aloud that they were left desolate; and, when she touched any-household
thing that she had been wont to use, poor lady, in the past, her tears
would flow; or when, roaming hither and thither through the house, she
beheld the form of any well-loved servant, she wept, hapless one, at that
sight, crying aloud upon her own fate, and that of the household which
would thenceforth be in the power of others.
But when she ceased from this, suddenly I beheld her rush into
the chamber of Heracles. From a secret place of espial, I watched her;
and saw her spreading coverings on the couch of her lord. When she had
done this, she sprang thereon, and sat in the middle of the bed; her tears
burst forth in burning streams, and thus she spake: 'Ah, bridal bed and
bridal chamber mine, farewell now and for ever; never more shall ye receive
me to rest upon this couch.' She said no more, but with a vehement hand
loosed her robe, where the gold-wrought brooch lay above her breast, baring
all her left side and arm. Then I ran with all my strength, and warned
her son of her intent. But lo, in the space between my going and our return,
she had driven a two-edged sword through her side to the
At that sight, her son uttered a great cry; for he knew, alas,
that in his anger he had driven her to that deed; and he had learned, too
late, from the servants in the house that she had acted without knowledge,
by the prompting of the Centaur. And now the youth, in his misery, bewailed
her with all passionate lament; he knelt, and showered kisses on her lips;
he threw himself at her side upon the ground, bitterly crying that he had
rashly smitten her with a slander,- weeping that he must now live bereaved
of both alike,- of mother and of sire.
Such are the fortunes of this house. Rash indeed, is he who reckons
on the morrow, or haply on days beyond it; for to-morrow is not, until
to-day is safely past.
Enter HYLLUS and an OLD MAN, with attendants,bearing HERACLES upon a
Which woe shall I bewail first, which misery is the greater? Alas, 'tis
hard for me to tell.
One sorrow may be seen in the house; for one we wait with foreboding: and
suspense hath a kinship with pain.
Oh that some strong breeze might come with wafting power unto our hearth,
to bear me far from this land, lest I die of terror, when look but once
upon the mighty son of Zeus!
For they say that he is approaching the house in torments from
which there is no deliverance, a wonder of unutterable woe.
Ah, it was not far off, but close to us, that woe of which my lament gave
warning, like the nightingale's piercing note!
Men of an alien race are coming yonder. And how, then, are they
bringing him? In sorrow, as for some loved one, they move on their mournful,
Alas, he is brought in silence! What are we to think; that he is
dead, or sleeping?
Woe is me for thee, my father, woe is me for thee, wretched
that I am! Whither shall I turn? What can I do? Ah me!
Hush, my son! Rouse not the cruel pain that infuriates thy sire! He lives,
though prostrated. Oh, put a stern restraint upon thy lips!
How sayest thou, old man- is he alive?
Thou must not awake the slumberer! Thou must not rouse and revive the dread
frenzy that visits him, my son!
Nay, I am crushed with this weight of misery- there is madness
in my heart!
O Zeus, to what land have I come? Who are these among whom I lie, tortured
with unending agonies? Wretched, wretched that I am! Oh, that dire pest
is gnawing me once more!
Knew I not how much better it was that thou shouldest keep silence, instead
of scaring slumber from his brain and eyes?
Nay, I cannot be patient when I behold this misery.
O thou Cenaean rock whereon mine altars rose, what a cruel
reward hast thou won me for those fair offerings,- be Zeus my witness!
Ah, to what ruin hast thou brought me, to what ruin! Would that I had never
beheld thee for thy sorrow! Then had I never come face to face with this
fiery madness, which no spell can soothe! Where is the charmer, where is
the cunning healer, save Zeus alone, that shall lull this plague to rest?
I should marvel, if he ever came within my ken!
Leave me, hapless one, to my rest- leave me to my last rest!
Where art thou touching me? Whither wouldst thou turn me? Thou wilt kill
me, thou wilt kill me! If there be any pang that slumbers, thou hast aroused
It hath seized me,- oh, the pest comes again!- Whence are ye, most
ungrateful of all the Greeks? I wore out my troublous days in ridding Greece
of pests, on the deep and in all forests; and now, when I am stricken,
will no man succour me with merciful fire of sword?
Oh, will no one come and sever the head, at one fierce stroke, from this
wretched body? Woe, woe is me!
Son of Heracles, this task exceeds my strength,- help thou,-
for strength is at thy command, too largely to need my aid in his relief.
My hands are helping; but no resource, in myself or from another,
avails me to make his life forget its anguish:- such is the doom appointed
O my son, where art thou? Raise me,- take hold of me,- thus thus! Alas,
Again, again the cruel pest leaps forth to rend me, the fierce plague with
which none may cope!
O Pallas, Pallas, it tortures me again! Alas, my son, pity thy
sire,- draw a blameless sword, and smite beneath my collar-bone, and heal
this pain wherewith thy godless mother hath made me wild! So may I see
her fall,- thus, even thus, as she hath destroyed me!
Sweet Hades, brother of Zeus, give me rest, give me rest,- end my woe by
a swiftly-sped doom!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
I shudder, friends, to hear these sorrows of our lord; what
a man is here, and what torments afflict him!
Ah, fierce full oft, and grievous not in name alone, have been
the labours of these hands, the burdens borne upon these shoulders! But
no toil ever laid on me by the wife of Zeus or by the hateful Eurystheus
was like unto this thing which the daughter of Oeneus, fair and false,
hath fastened upon my back,- this woven net of the Furies, in which I perish!
Glued to my sides, it hath eaten my flesh to the inmost parts; it is ever
with me, sucking the channels of my breath; already it hath drained my
fresh lifeblood, and my whole body is wasted, a captive to these unutterable
Not the warrior on the battle-field, not the Giants' earth-born
host, nor the might of savage beasts, hath ever done unto me thus,- not
Hellas, nor the land of the alien, nor any land to which I have come as
a deliverer: no, a woman, a weak woman, born not to the strength of man,
all alone hath vanquished me, without stroke of sword
Son, show thyself my son indeed, and do not honour a mother's name
above a sire's: bring forth the woman that bare thee, and give her with
thine own hands into my hand, that I may know of a truth which sight grieves
thee most,- my tortured frame, or hers, when she suffers her righteous
Go, my son, shrink not- and show thy pity for me, whom many might
deem pitiful,- for me, moaning and weeping like a girl;- and the man lives
not who can say that he ever saw me do thus before; no, without complaining
I still went whither mine evil fortune led. But now, alas, the strong man
hath been found a woman.
Approach, stand near thy sire, and see what a fate it is that hath
brought me to this pass; for I will lift the veil. Behold! Look, all of
you, on this miserable body; see how wretched, how piteous is my
Ah, woe is me!
The burning throe of torment is there anew, it darts through my sides-
I must wrestle once more with that cruel, devouring
O thou lord of the dark realm, receive me! Smite me, O fire of
Zeus! Hurl down thy thunderbolt, O King, send it, O father, upon my head!
For again the pest is consuming me; it hath blazed forth, it hath started
into fury! O hands, my hands, O shoulders and breast and trusty arms, ye,
now in this plight, are the same whose force of old subdued the dweller
in Nemea, the scourge of herdsmen, the lion, a creature that no man might
approach or confront; ye tamed the Lernaean Hydra, and that monstrous host
of double form, man joined to steed, a race with whom none may commune,
violent, lawless, of surpassing might; ye tamed the Erymanthian beast,
and the three-headed whelp of Hades underground, a resistless terror, offspring
of the dread Echidna; ye tamed the dragon that guarded the golden fruit
in the utmost places of the earth.
These toils and countless others have I proved, nor hath any man
vaunted a triumph over my prowess. But now, with joints unhinged and with
flesh torn to shreds, I have become the miserable prey of an unseen destroyer,-
I, who am called the son of noblest mother,- I, whose reputed sire is Zeus,
lord of the starry sky.
But ye may be sure of one thing:- though I am as nought, though
I cannot move a step, yet she who hath done this deed shall feel my heavy
hand even now: let her but come, and she shall learn to proclaim this message
unto all, that in my death, as in my life, I chastised the wicked!
Ah, hapless Greece, what mourning do I forsee for her, if she
must lose this man
Father, since thy pause permits an answer, hear me, afflicted
though thou art. I will ask thee for no more than is my due. Accept my
counsels, in a calmer mood than that to which this anger stings thee: else
thou canst not learn how vain is thy desire for vengeance, and how causeless
Say what thou wilt, and cease; in this my pain I understand
nought of all thy riddling words.
I come to tell thee of my mother,- how it is now with her,
and how she sinned unwittingly.
Villain! What- hast thou dared to breathe her name again in
my hearing,- the name of the mother who hath slain thy sire?
Yea, such is her state that silence is unmeet.
Unmeet, truly, in view of her past crimes.
And also of her deeds this day,- as thou wilt own.
Speak,- but give heed that thou be not found a traitor.
These are my tidings. She is dead, lately slain.
By whose hand? A wondrous message, from a prophet of ill-omened
By her own hand, and no stranger's.
Alas, ere she died by mine, as she deserved!
Even thy wrath would be turned, couldst thou hear all.
A strange preamble; but unfold thy meaning.
The sum is this;- she erred, with a good intent.
Is it a good deed, thou wretch, to have slain thy sire?
Nay, she thought to use a love-charm for thy heart, when she
saw the new bride in the house; but missed her aim.
And what Trachinian deals in spells so potent?
Nessus the Centaur persuaded her of old to inflame thy desire
with such a charm.
Alas, alas, miserable that I am! Woe is me, I am lost,- undone,
undone! No more for me the light of day! Alas, now I see in what a plight
stand! Go, my son,- for thy father's end hath come,- summon, I pray thee,
all thy brethren; summon, too, the hapless Alcmena, in vain the bride of
Zeus,- that ye may learn from my dying lips what oracles know.
Nay, thy mother is not here; as it chances, she hath her abode
at Tiryns by the sea. Some of thy children she hath taken to live with
her there, and others, thou wilt find, are dwelling in Thebe's town. But
we who are with thee, my father, will render all service that is needed,
at thy bidding.
Hear, then, thy task: now is the time to show what stuff is
in thee, who art called my son.
It was foreshown to me by my Sire of old that I should perish by
no creature that had the breath of life, but by one that had passed to
dwell with Hades. So I have been slain by this savage Centaur, the living
by the dead, even as the divine will had been foretold.
And I will show thee how later oracles tally therewith, confirming
the old prophecy. I wrote them down in the grove of the Selli, dwellers
on the hills, whose couch is on the ground; they were given by my Father's
oak of many tongues; which said that, at the time which liveth and now
is, my release from the toils laid upon me should be accomplished. And
I looked for prosperous days; but the meaning, it seems, was only that
should die; for toil comes no more to the dead.
Since, then, my son, those words are clearly finding their fulfilment,
thou, on thy part, must lend me thine aid. Thou must not delay, and so
provoke me to bitter speech: thou must consent and help with a good grace,
as one who hath learned that best of laws, obedience to a sire.
Yea, father,- though I fear the issue to which our talk hath
brought me,- I will do thy good pleasure.
First of all, lay thy right hand in mine.
For what purpose dost thou insist upon his pledge?
Give thy hand at once- disobey me not!
Lo, there it is: thou shalt not be gainsaid.
Now, swear by the head of Zeus my sire!
To do what deed? May this also be told?
To perform for me the task that I shall enjoin.
I swear it, with Zeus for witness of the oath.
And pray that, if thou break this oath, thou mayest suffer.
I shall not suffer, for I shall keep it:- yet so I pray.
Well, thou knowest the summit of Oeta, sacred to Zeus?
Ay; I have often stood at his altar on that height.
Thither, then, thou must carry me up with thine own hands,
aided by what friends thou wilt; thou shalt lop many a branch from the
deep-rooted oak, and hew many a faggot also from the sturdy stock of the
wild-olive; thou shalt lay my body thereupon, and kindle it with flaming
And let no tear of mourning be seen there; no, do this without
lament and without weeping, if thou art indeed my son. But if thou do it
not, even from the world below my curse and my wrath shall wait on thee
Alas, my father, what hast thou spoken? How hast thou dealt
I have spoken that which thou must perform; if thou wilt not,
then get thee some other sire, and be called my son no more!
Woe, woe is me! What a deed dost thou require of me, my father,-that
I should become thy murderer, guilty of thy blood!
Not so, in truth, but healer of my sufferings, sole physician
of my pain!
And how, by enkindling thy body, shall I heal it?
Nay, if that thought dismay thee, at least perform the rest.
The service of carrying thee shall not be refused.
And the heaping of the pyre, as I have bidden?
Yea, save that I will not touch it with mine own hand. All
else will I do, and thou shalt have no hindrance on my part.
Well, so much shall be enough.- But add one small boon to thy
Be the boon never so large, it shall be granted.
Knowest thou, then, the girl whose sire was Eurytus?
It is of Iole that thou speakest, if I mistake not.
Even so. This, in brief, is the charge that I give thee, my
son. When am dead, if thou wouldest show a pious remembrance of thine oath
unto thy father, disobey me not, but take this woman to be thy wife. Let
no other espouse her who hath lain at my side, but do thou, O my son, make
that marriage-bond thine own. Consent: after loyalty in great matters,
to rebel in less is to cancel the grace that bad been won.
Ah me, it is not well to be angry with a sick man: but who
could bear to see him in such a mind?
Thy words show no desire to do my bidding.
What! When she alone is to blame for my mother's death, and
for thy present plight besides? Lives there the man who would make such
choice, unless he were maddened by avenging fiends?
Better were it, father, that I too should die, rather than live
united to the worst of our foes!
He will render no reverence, it seems, to my dying prayer.-
Nay, be sure that the curse of the gods will attend thee for disobedience
to my voice.
Ah, thou wilt soon show, methinks, how distempered thou art!
Yea, for thou art breaking the slumber of my plague.
Hapless that I am! What perplexities surround me!
Yea, since thou deignest not to hear thy sire.
But must I learn, then, to be impious, my father?
'Tis not impiety, if thou shalt gladden my heart.
Dost thou command me, then, to do this deed, as a clear duty?
I command thee,- the gods bear me witness!