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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.
DEIANEIRA 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 bed.
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 my sorrow.
NURSE 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.)
DEIANEIRA 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
HYLLUS How, mother? Tell me, if it may be told.
DEIANEIRA It brings thee shame, she saith, that, when thy father
hath been so long a stranger, thou hast not sought to learn where
HYLLUS Nay, I know,- if rumour can be trusted.
DEIANEIRA And in what region, my child, doth rumour place him?
HYLLUS Last year, they say, through all the months, he toiled as
bondman to Lydian woman.
DEIANEIRA If he bore that, then no tidings can surprise.
HYLLUS Well, he has been delivered from that, as I hear.
DEIANEIRA Where, then, is he reported to be now,- alive or dead?
HYLLUS He is waging or planning a war, they say, upon Euboea, the
realm of Eurytus.
DEIANEIRA Knowest thou, my son, that he hath left with me sure oracles
touching that land?
HYLLUS What are they, mother? I know not whereof thou speakest.
DEIANEIRA That either he shall meet his death, or, having achieved
this task, shall have rest thenceforth, for all his days to come.
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.
HYLLUS 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.
DEIANEIRA 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
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
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 of mischance.
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 children?
DEIANEIRA 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
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
MESSENGER 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.
DEIANEIRA What news is this, old man, that thou hast told me?
MESSENGER That thy lord, admired of all, will soon come to thy house,
restored to thee in his victorious might.
DEIANEIRA What citizen or stranger hath told thee this?
MESSENGER 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.
DEIANEIRA And why is he not here, if he brings good news?
MESSENGER 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.
DEIANEIRA 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
LEADER OF ONE SEMI-CHORUS (singing) 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!
CHORUS Praise, praise unto the Healer!
LEADER OF WHOLE CHORUS See, dear lady, see! Behold, these tidings
are taking shape before thy gaze.
DEIANEIRA 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 IOLE.) -All hail to the herald, whose coming
hath been so long delayed!- if indeed thou bringest aught that can
LICHAS 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.
DEIANEIRA O best of friends, tell me first what first I would know,-
shall I receive Heracles alive?
LICHAS I, certainly, left him alive and well,- in vigorous health,
unburdened by disease.
DEIANEIRA Where, tell me- at home, or on foreign soil?
LICHAS There is a headland of Euboea, where to Cenaean Zeus he consecrates
altars, and the tribute of fruitful ground.
DEIANEIRA In payment of a vow, or at the bidding of an oracle?
LICHAS For a vow, made when he was seeking to conquer and despoil
the country of these women who are before thee.
DEIANEIRA And these- who are they, I pray thee, and whose daughters?
They deserve pity, unless their plight deceives me.
LICHAS These are captives whom he chose out for himself and for the
gods, when he sacked the city of Eurytus.
DEIANEIRA Was it the war against that city which kept him away so
long, beyond all forecast, past all count of days?
LICHAS 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.
DEIANEIRA 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 these. (To IOLE)
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 her plight.
LICHAS How should I know? Why should'st thou ask me? Perchance the
off, spring of not the meanest in yonder land.
DEIANEIRA Can she be of royal race? Had Eurytus a daughter?
LICHAS I know not; indeed, I asked not many questions.
DEIANEIRA And thou hast not heard her name from any of her companions?
LICHAS No, indeed, I went through my task in silence.
DEIANEIRA Unhappy girl, let me, at least, hear it from thine own
mouth. It is indeed distressing not to know thy name. (IOLE maintains
LICHAS 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.
DEIANEIRA 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.)
MESSENGER 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.
DEIANEIRA What means this? Why wouldest thou stay my departure?
MESSENGER Pause and listen. My former story was worth thy hearing,
and so will this one be, methinks.
DEIANEIRA Shall I call those others back? Or wilt thou speak before
me and these maidens?
MESSENGER To thee and these I can speak freely; never mind the others.
DEIANEIRA Well, they are gone;- so thy story can proceed.
MESSENGER 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.
DEIANEIRA How sayest thou? Explain thy whole drift clearly; thus
far, thy words are riddles to me.
MESSENGER 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 different tale.
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 with desire.
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 the truth.
DEIANEIRA 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?
MESSENGER 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 treachery dishonour!
DEIANEIRA Ah, maidens, what am I to do? These latest tidings have
LEADER Go and inquire from Lichas; perchance he will tell the truth,
if thou constrain him to answer.
DEIANEIRA Well, I will go; thy counsel is not amiss.
MESSENGER And I, shall I wait here? Or what is thy pleasure?
DEIANEIRA Remain;- here he comes from the house of his own accord,
without summons from me. (Enter LICHAS)
LICHAS Lady, what message shall I bear to Heracles? Give me thy commands,
for, as thou seest, I am going.
DEIANEIRA How hastily thou art rushing away, when thy visit had been
so long delayed,- before we have had time for further talk.
LICHAS Nay, if there be aught that thou would'st ask, I am at thy
DEIANEIRA Wilt thou indeed give me the honest truth?
LICHAS Yes, be great Zeus my witness,- in anything that I know,
DEIANEIRA Who is the woman, then, whom thou hast brought?
LICHAS She is Euboean; but of what birth, I cannot say.
MESSENGER Sirrah, look at me:- to whom art thou speaking, think'st
LICHAS And thou- what dost thou mean by such a question?
MESSENGER Deign to answer me, if thou comprehendest.
LICHAS To the royal Deianeira, unless mine eyes deceive me,- daughter
of Oeneus, wife of Heracles, and my queen.
MESSENGER The very word that I wished to hear from thee:- thou sayest
that she is thy queen?
LICHAS Yes, as in duty bound.
MESSENGER Well, then, what art thou prepared to suffer, if found
guilty of failing in that duty?
LICHAS Failing in duty? What dark saying is this?
MESSENGER 'Tis none; the darkest words are thine own.
LICHAS I will go, I was foolish to hear thee so long.
MESSENGER No, not till thou hast answered a brief question.
LICHAS Ask what thou wilt; thou art not taciturn.
MESSENGER That captive, whom thou hast brought home- thou knowest
LICHAS Yes; but why dost thou ask?
MESSENGER Well, saidst thou not that thy prisoner- she, on whom thy
gaze now turns so vacantly- was Iole, daughter of Eurytus?
LICHAS Said it to whom? Who and where is the man that will be thy
witness to hearing this from me?
MESSENGER To many of our own folk thou saidst it: in the public gathering
of Trachinians, a great crowd heard thus much from thee.
LICHAS Ay- said they heard-but 'tis one thing to report a fancy,
and another to make the story good.
MESSENGER A fancy! Didst thou not say on thine oath that thou wast
bringing her us a bride for Heracles?
LICHAS I? bringing a bride?- In the name of the gods, dear mistress,
tell me who this stranger may be?
MESSENGER 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.
LICHAS Lady, let this fellow withdraw: to prate with the brainsick
befits not sane man.
DEIANEIRA 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
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.
LEADER Hearken to her good counsel, and hereafter thou shalt have
no cause to complain of this lady; our thanks, too, will be thine.
LICHAS 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 a sin.
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.
DEIANEIRA 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.
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. (Exit MESSENGER,
as LICHAS and DEIANEIRA go into the house.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe)
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 the earth.
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 hers.
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. (DEIANEIRA enters from the house alone, carrying in her arms
a casket containing a robe.)
DEIANEIRA 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 my sorrow.
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
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 thee.'
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.
LEADER Nay, if these measures give any ground of confidence, we think
that thy design is not amiss.
DEIANEIRA Well, the ground stands thus,- there is a fair promise;
but I have not yet essayed the proof.
LEADER Nay, knowledge must come through action; thou canst have no
test which is not fanciful, save by trial.
DEIANEIRA 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.)
LICHAS What are thy commands? Give me my charge, daughter of Oeneus;
for already I have tarried over long.
DEIANEIRA 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 lord.
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 garb.
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.
LICHAS 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.
DEIANEIRA Thou mayest be going now; for thou knowest well how things
are with us in the house.
LICHAS I know, and will report, that all hath prospered.
DEIANEIRA And then thou hast seen the greeting given to the stranger
maiden-thou knowest how I welcomed her?
LICHAS So that my heart was filled with wondering joy.
DEIANEIRA 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 house.)
CHORUS (Singing, strophe 1)
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! (DEIANEIRA comes
out of the house in agitation.)
DEIANEIRA Friends, how I fear that I may have gone too far in all
that I have been doing just now!
LEADER What hath happened, Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus?
DEIANEIRA 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.
LEADER It is nothing, surely, that concerns thy gift to Heracles?
DEIANEIRA Yea, even so. And henceforth I would say to all, act not
with zeal, if ye act without light.
LEADER Tell us the cause of thy fear, if it may be told.
DEIANEIRA 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
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 must.
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.
LEADER Mischief must needs be feared; but it is not well to doom
our hope before the event.
DEIANEIRA Unwise counsels leave no room even for a hope which can
LEADER Yet towards those who have erred unwittingly, men's anger
is softened; and so it should be towards thee.
DEIANEIRA 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.
LEADER '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 his sire. (Enter HYLLUS)
HYLLUS 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.
DEIANEIRA Ah, my son, what cause have I given thee to abhor me?
HYLLUS I tell thee that thy husband- yea, my sire-bath been done
to death by thee this day
DEIANEIRA Oh, what word hath passed thy lips, my child!
HYLLUS A word that shall not fail of fulfilment; for who may undo
that which bath come to pass?
DEIANEIRA What saidst thou, my son? Who is thy warranty for charging
me with a deed so terrible?
HYLLUS I have seen my father's grievous fate with mine own eyes;
I speak not from hearsay.
DEIANEIRA And where didst thou find him,- where didst thou stand
at his side?
HYLLUS If thou art to hear it, then must all be told.
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 love.
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
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 him.
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! (DEIANEIRA
moves towards the house.)
LEADER (to DEIANEIRA) Why dost thou depart in silence? Knowest thou
not that such silence pleads for thine accuser? (DEIANEIRA goes in
HYLLUS 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.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
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 the grave?
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.)
NURSE Ah, my daughters, great, indeed, were the sorrows that we were
to reap from the gift sent to Heracles!
LEADER Aged woman, what new mischance hast thou to tell?
NURSE Deianeira hath departed on the last of all her journeys, departed
without stirring foot.
LEADER Thou speakest not of death?
NURSE My tale is told.
LEADER Dead, hapless one?
NURSE Again thou hearest it.
CHORUS Hapless, lost one! Say, what was the manner of her death?
NURSE Oh, a cruel deed was there!
CHORUS Speak, woman, how hath she met her doom?
NURSE By her own hand hath she died.
CHORUS 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?
NURSE By the stroke of the sword that makes sorrow.
CHORUS Sawest thou that violent deed, poor helpless one?
NURSE I saw it; yea, I was standing near.
CHORUS Whence came it? How was it done? Oh, speak
NURSE 'Twas the work of her own mind and her own hand.
CHORUS What dost thou tell us?
NURSE The sure truth.
CHORUS The first-born, the first-born of that new bride is a dread
Erinys for this house!
NURSE Too true; and, hadst thou been an eye-witness of the action,
verily thy pity would have been yet deeper.
LEADER And could a woman's hand dare to do such deeds?
NURSE 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
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 heart.
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.
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
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? (Enter HYLLUS and an OLD MAN, with attendants,bearing
HERACLES upon a litter.)
HYLLUS 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!
OLD MAN (whispering) Hush, my son! Rouse not the cruel pain that
infuriates thy sire! He lives, though prostrated. Oh, put a stern
restraint upon thy lips!
HYLLUS How sayest thou, old man- is he alive?
OLD MAN (whispering) Thou must not awake the slumberer! Thou must
not rouse and revive the dread frenzy that visits him, my son!
HYLLUS Nay, I am crushed with this weight of misery- there is madness
in my heart!
HERACLES (awaking) 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!
OLD MAN (to HYLLUS) Knew I not how much better it was that thou
shouldest keep silence, instead of scaring slumber from his brain
HYLLUS Nay, I cannot be patient when I behold this misery.
HERACLES 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
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!
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!
OLD MAN Son of Heracles, this task exceeds my strength,- help thou,-
for strength is at thy command, too largely to need my aid in his
HYLLUS 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
HERACLES (strophe 3)
O my son, where art thou? Raise me,- take hold of me,- thus thus!
Alas, my destiny!
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!
HERACLES 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 bonds.
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 doom!
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 plague!
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
LEADER Ah, hapless Greece, what mourning do I forsee for her, if
she must lose this man
HYLLUS 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 thy resentment.
HERACLES Say what thou wilt, and cease; in this my pain I understand
nought of all thy riddling words.
HYLLUS I come to tell thee of my mother,- how it is now with her,
and how she sinned unwittingly.
HERACLES Villain! What- hast thou dared to breathe her name again
in my hearing,- the name of the mother who hath slain thy sire?
HYLLUS Yea, such is her state that silence is unmeet.
HERACLES Unmeet, truly, in view of her past crimes.
HYLLUS And also of her deeds this day,- as thou wilt own.
HERACLES Speak,- but give heed that thou be not found a traitor.
HYLLUS These are my tidings. She is dead, lately slain.
HERACLES By whose hand? A wondrous message, from a prophet of ill-omened
HYLLUS By her own hand, and no stranger's.
HERACLES Alas, ere she died by mine, as she deserved!
HYLLUS Even thy wrath would be turned, couldst thou hear all.
HERACLES A strange preamble; but unfold thy meaning.
HYLLUS The sum is this;- she erred, with a good intent.
HERACLES Is it a good deed, thou wretch, to have slain thy sire?
HYLLUS Nay, she thought to use a love-charm for thy heart, when she
saw the new bride in the house; but missed her aim.
HERACLES And what Trachinian deals in spells so potent?
HYLLUS Nessus the Centaur persuaded her of old to inflame thy desire
with such a charm.
HERACLES 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
HYLLUS 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.
HERACLES 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
HYLLUS Yea, father,- though I fear the issue to which our talk hath
brought me,- I will do thy good pleasure.
HERACLES First of all, lay thy right hand in mine.
HYLLUS For what purpose dost thou insist upon his pledge?
HERACLES Give thy hand at once- disobey me not!
HYLLUS Lo, there it is: thou shalt not be gainsaid.
HERACLES Now, swear by the head of Zeus my sire!
HYLLUS To do what deed? May this also be told?
HERACLES To perform for me the task that I shall enjoin.
HYLLUS I swear it, with Zeus for witness of the oath.
HERACLES And pray that, if thou break this oath, thou mayest suffer.
HYLLUS I shall not suffer, for I shall keep it:- yet so I pray.
HERACLES Well, thou knowest the summit of Oeta, sacred to Zeus?
HYLLUS Ay; I have often stood at his altar on that height.
HERACLES 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 pine-torch.
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 for ever.
HYLLUS Alas, my father, what hast thou spoken? How hast thou dealt
HERACLES 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!
HYLLUS Woe, woe is me! What a deed dost thou require of me, my father,-that
I should become thy murderer, guilty of thy blood!
HERACLES Not so, in truth, but healer of my sufferings, sole physician
of my pain!
HYLLUS And how, by enkindling thy body, shall I heal it?
HERACLES Nay, if that thought dismay thee, at least perform the rest.
HYLLUS The service of carrying thee shall not be refused.
HERACLES And the heaping of the pyre, as I have bidden?
HYLLUS 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.
HERACLES Well, so much shall be enough.- But add one small boon to
thy large benefits.
HYLLUS Be the boon never so large, it shall be granted.
HERACLES Knowest thou, then, the girl whose sire was Eurytus?
HYLLUS It is of Iole that thou speakest, if I mistake not.
HERACLES 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.
HYLLUS Ah me, it is not well to be angry with a sick man: but who
could bear to see him in such a mind?
HERACLES Thy words show no desire to do my bidding.
HYLLUS 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!
HERACLES 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.
HYLLUS Ah, thou wilt soon show, methinks, how distempered thou art!
HERACLES Yea, for thou art breaking the slumber of my plague.
HYLLUS Hapless that I am! What perplexities surround me!
HERACLES Yea, since thou deignest not to hear thy sire.
HYLLUS But must I learn, then, to be impious, my father?
HERACLES 'Tis not impiety, if thou shalt gladden my heart.
HYLLUS Dost thou command me, then, to do this deed, as a clear duty?
HERACLES I command thee,- the gods bear me witness!
HYLLUS Then will I do it, and refuse not,- calling upon the gods
to witness thy deed. I can never be condemned for loyalty to thee,
HERACLES Thou endest well; and to these words, my son, quickly add
the gracious deed, that thou mayest lay me on the pyre before any
pain returns to rend or sting me.
Come, make haste and lift me! This, in truth, is rest from troubles;
this is the end, the last end, of Heracles!
HYLLUS Nothing, indeed, hinders the fulfilment of thy wish, since
thy command constrains us, my father.
HERACLES (chanting) Come, then, ere thou arouse this plague, O my
stubborn soul, give me a curb as of steel on lips set like stone to
stone, and let no cry escape them; seeing that the deed which thou
art to do, though done perforce, is yet worthy of thy joy!
HYLLUS (chanting) Lift him, followers! And grant me full forgiveness
for this; but mark the great cruelty of the gods in the deeds that
are being done. They beget children, they are hailed as fathers, and
yet they can look upon such sufferings. (The attendants raise HERACLES
on the litter and move slowly off, as HYLLUS chants to the CHORUS
in the closing lines.) No man foresees the future; but the present
is fraught with mourning for us, and with shame for the powers above,
and verily with anguish beyond compare for him who endures this doom.
Maidens, come ye also, nor linger at the house; ye who have lately
seen a dread death, with sorrows manifold and strange: and in all
this there is nought but Zeus.
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Translation of "The Deeds of the Divine Augustus" by Augustus is
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