Agamemnon by Aeschylus (the Full Text)
AGAMEMNON CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY AGAMEMNON, son of Atreus and King of Argos and Mycenae; Commander-in-Chief of the Greek armies in the War against Troy. CLYTEMNESTRA, daughter of Tyndareus, sister of Helen; wife to Agamemnon. AIGISTHOS, son of Thyestes, cousin and blood-enemy to Agamemnon lover to Clytemnestra. CASSANDRA, daughter of Priam, King of Troy, a prophetess; now slave to Agamemnon. A WATCHMAN. A HERALD. CHORUS of Argive Elders, faithful to AGAMEMNON. CHARACTERS MENTIONED IN THE PLAY MENELAUS, brother to Agamemnon, husband of Helen, and King of Sparta.
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The two sons of Atreus are called the Atreidae. HELEN, _most beautiful of women; daughter of Tyndareus, wife to MENELAUS; beloved and carried off by Paris. _ PARIS, son of Priam, King of Troy, lover of Helen. Also called ALEXANDER. PRIAM, the aged King of Troy. The Greeks are also referred to as Achaians, Argives, Danaans; Troy is also called Ilion. The play was produced in the archonship if Philocles (458 B. C. ). The first prize was won by Aeschylus with the “Agamemnon”, “Libation-Bearers”, “Eumenides”, and the Satyr Play “Proteus”. THE AGAMEMNON
The Scene represents a space in front of the Palace of Agamemnon in Argos, with an Altar of Zeus in the centre and many other altars at the sides. On a high terrace of the roof stands a WATCHMAN. It is night. WATCHMAN. This waste of year-long vigil I have prayed God for some respite, watching elbow-stayed, As sleuthhounds watch, above the Atreidae’s hall, Till well I know yon midnight festival Of swarming stars, and them that lonely go, Bearers to man of summer and of snow, Great lords and shining, throned in heavenly fire. And still I await the sign, the beacon pyre That bears Troy’s capture on a voice of flame
Shouting o’erseas. So surely to her aim Cleaveth a woman’s heart, man-passioned! And when I turn me to my bed—my bed Dew-drenched and dark and stumbling, to which near Cometh no dream nor sleep, but alway Fear Breathes round it, warning, lest an eye once fain To close may close too well to wake again; Think I perchance to sing or troll a tune For medicine against sleep, the music soon Changes to sighing for the tale untold Of this house, not well mastered as of old. Howbeit, may God yet send us rest, and light The flame of good news flashed across the night. [He is silent, watching.
Suddenly at a distance in the night there is a glimmer of fire, increasing presently to a blaze. Ha! 0 kindler of the dark, O daylight birth Of dawn and dancing upon Argive earth For this great end! All hail! —What ho, within! What ho! Bear word to Agamemnon’s queen To rise, like dawn, and lift in answer strong To this glad lamp her women’s triumph-song, If verily, verily, Ilion’s citadel Is fallen, as yon beacons flaming tell. And I myself will tread the dance before All others; for my master’s dice I score Good, and mine own to-night three sixes plain. [Lights begin to show in the Palace. Oh, good or ill, my hand shall clasp again
My dear lord’s hand, returning! Beyond that I speak not. A great ox hath laid his weight Across my tongue. But these stone walls know well, If stones had speech, what tale were theirs to tell. For me, to him that knoweth I can yet Speak; if another questions I forget. [Exit into the Palace. The women’s “Ololuge” or triumph-cry, is heard within and then repeated again and again further off in the City. Handmaids and Attendants come from the Palace, bearing torches, with which they kindle incense on the altars. Among them comes CLYTEMNESTRA, who throws herself on her knees at the central Altar in an agony of prayer.
Presently from the further side of the open space appear the CHORUS of ELDERS and move gradually into position in front of the Palace. The day begins to dawn. CHORUS. Ten years since Ilion’s righteous foes, The Atreidae strong, Menelaus and eke Agamemnon arose, Two thrones, two sceptres, yoked of God; And a thousand galleys of Argos trod The seas for the righting of wrong; And wrath of battle about them cried, As vultures cry, Whose nest is plundered, and up they fly In anguish lonely, eddying wide, Great wings like oars in the waste of sky, Their task gone from them, no more to keep Watch o’er the vulture babes asleep.
But One there is who heareth on high Some Pan or Zeus, some lost Apollo— That keen bird-throated suffering cry Of the stranger wronged in God’s own sky; And sendeth down, for the law transgressed, The Wrath of the Feet that follow. So Zeus the Watcher of Friend and Friend, Zeus who Prevaileth, in after quest For One Beloved by Many Men On Paris sent the Atreidae twain; Yea, sent him dances before the end For his bridal cheer, Wrestlings heavy and limbs forespent For Greek and Trojan, the knee earth-bent, The bloody dust and the broken spear. He knoweth, that which is here is here, And that which Shall Be followeth near;
He seeketh God with a great desire, He heaps his gifts, he essays his pyre With torch below and with oil above, With tears, but never the wrath shall move Of the Altar cold that rejects his fire. We saw the Avengers go that day, And they left us here; for our flesh is old And serveth not; and these staves uphold A strength like the strength of a child at play. For the sap that springs in the young man’s hand And the valour of age, they have left the land. And the passing old, while the dead leaf blows And the old staff gropeth his three-foot way, Weak as a babe and alone he goes, A dream left wandering in the day. Coming near the Central Altar they see CLYTEMNESTRA, who is still rapt in prayer. But thou, O daughter of Tyndareus, Queen Clytemnestra, what need? What news? What tale or tiding hath stirred thy mood To send forth word upon all our ways For incensed worship? Of every god That guards the city, the deep, the high, Gods of the mart, gods of the sky, The altars blaze. One here, one there, To the skyey night the firebrands flare, Drunk with the soft and guileless spell Of balm of kings from the inmost cell. Tell, O Queen, and reject us not, All that can or that may be told, And healer be to this aching thought,
Which one time hovereth, evil-cold, And then from the fires thou kindlest Will Hope be kindled, and hungry Care Fall back for a little while, nor tear The heart that beateth below my breast. [CLYTEMNESTRA rises silently, as though unconscious of their presence, and goes into the House. The CHORUS take position and begin their first Stasimon, or Standingsong, CHORUS. (The sign seen on the way; Eagles tearing a hare with young. ) It is ours to tell of the Sign of the War-way given, To men more strong, (For a life that is kin unto ours yet breathes from heaven A spell, a Strength of Song:) How the twin-throned Might of Achaia, one Crown divided
Above all Greeks that are, With avenging hand and spear upon Troy was guided By the Bird of War. ‘Twas a King among birds to each of the Kings of the Sea, One Eagle black, one black but of fire-white tail, By the House, on the Spear-hand, in station that all might see; And they tore a hare, and the life in her womb that grew, Yea, the life unlived and the races unrun they slew. Sorrow, sing sorrow: but good prevail, prevail! (How Calchas read the sign; his Vision of the Future. ) And the War-seer wise, as he looked on the Atreid Yoke Twain-tempered, knew Those fierce hare-renders the lords of his host; and spoke,
Reading the omen true. “At the last, the last, this Hunt hunteth Ilion down, Yea, and before the wall Violent division the fulness of land and town Shall waste withal; If only God’s eye gloom not against our gates, And the great War-curb of Troy, fore-smitten, fail. For Pity lives, and those winged Hounds she hates, Which tore in the Trembler’s body the unborn beast. And Artemis abhorreth the eagles’ feast. ” Sorrow, sing sorrow: but good prevail, prevail! (He prays to Artemis to grant the fulfilment of the Sign, but, as his vision increases, he is afraid and calls on Paian, the Healer, to hold her back. ) Thou beautiful One, thou tender lover Of the dewy breath of the Lion’s child; Thou the delight, through den and cover, Of the young life at the breast of the wild, Yet, oh, fulfill, fulfill The sign of the Eagles’ Kill! Be the vision accepted, albeit horrible…. But I-e, I-e! Stay her, O Paian, stay! For lo, upon other evil her heart she setteth, Long wastes of wind, held ship and unventured sea, On, on, till another Shedding of Blood be wrought: They kill but feast not; they pray not; the law is broken; Strife in the flesh, and the bride she obeyeth not, And beyond, beyond, there abideth in wrath reawoken—
It plotteth, it haunteth the house, yea, it never forgetteth— Wrath for a child to be. ” So Calchas, reading the wayside eagles’ sign, Spake to the Kings, blessings and words of bale; And like his song be thine, Sorrow, sing sorrow: but good prevail, prevail! (Such religion belongs to old and barbarous gods, and brings no peace. I turn to Zeus, who has shown man how to Learn by Suffering. ) Zeus! Zeus, whate’er He be, If this name He love to hear This He shall be called of me. Searching earth and sea and air Refuge nowhere can I find Save Him only, if my mind Will cast off before it die The burden of this vanity.
One there was who reigned of old, Big with wrath to brave and blast, Lo, his name is no more told! And who followed met at last His Third-thrower, and is gone. Only they whose hearts have known Zeus, the Conqueror and the Friend, They shall win their vision’s end; Zeus the Guide, who made man turn Thought-ward, Zeus, who did ordain Man by Suffering shall Learn. So the heart of him, again Aching with remembered pain, Bleeds and sleepeth not, until Wisdom comes against his will. ‘Tis the gift of One by strife Lifted to the throne of life. (AGAMEMNON accepted the sign. Then came long delay, and storm while the fleet lay at Aulis. )
So that day the Elder Lord, Marshal of the Achaian ships, Strove not with the prophet’s word, Bowed him to his fate’s eclipse, When with empty jars and lips Parched and seas impassable Fate on that Greek army fell, Fronting Chalcis as it lay, By Aulis in the swirling bay. (Till at last Calchas answered that Artemis was wroth and demanded the death of AGAMEMNON’S daughter. The King’s doubt and grief. ) And winds, winds blew from Strymon River, Unharboured, starving, winds of waste endeavour, Man-blinding, pitiless to cord and bulwark, And the waste of days was made long, more long, Till the flower of Argos was aghast and withered;
Then through the storm rose the War-seer’s song, And told of medicine that should tame the tempest, But bow the Princes to a direr wrong. Then “Artemis” he whispered, he named the name; And the brother Kings they shook in the hearts of them, And smote on the earth their staves, and the tears came. But the King, the elder, hath found voice and spoken: “A heavy doom, sure, if God’s will were broken; But to slay mine own child, who my house delighteth, Is that not heavy? That her blood should flow On her father’s hand, hard beside an altar? My path is sorrow wheresoe’er I go. Shall Agamemnon fail his ships and people,
And the hosts of Hellas melt as melts the snow? They cry, they thirst, for a death that shall break the spell, For a Virgin’s blood: ’tis a rite of old, men tell. And they burn with longing. —O God may the end be well! ” (But ambition drove him, till he consented to the sin of slaying his daughter, Iphigenia, as a sacrifice. ) To the yoke of Must-Be he bowed him slowly, And a strange wind within his bosom tossed, A wind of dark thought, unclean, unholy; And he rose up, daring to the uttermost. For men are boldened by a Blindness, straying Toward base desire, which brings grief hereafter, Yea, and itself is grief;
So this man hardened to his own child’s slaying, As help to avenge him for a woman’s laughter And bring his ships relief! Her “Father, Father,” her sad cry that lingered, Her virgin heart’s breath they held all as naught, Those bronze-clad witnesses and battle-hungered; And there they prayed, and when the prayer was wrought He charged the young men to uplift and bind her, As ye lift a wild kid, high above the altar, Fierce-huddling forward, fallen, clinging sore To the robe that wrapt her; yea, he bids them hinder The sweet mouth’s utterance, the cries that falter, —His curse for evermore! — With violence and a curb’s voiceless wrath.
Her stole of saffron then to the ground she threw, And her eye with an arrow of pity found its path To each man’s heart that slew: A face in a picture, striving amazedly; The little maid who danced at her father’s board, The innocent voice man’s love came never nigh, Who joined to his her little paean-cry When the third cup was poured…. What came thereafter I saw not neither tell. But the craft of Calchas failed not. —’Tis written, He Who Suffereth Shall Learn; the law holdeth well. And that which is to be, Ye will know at last; why weep before the hour? For come it shall, as out of darkness dawn.
Only may good from all this evil flower; So prays this Heart of Argos, this frail tower Guarding the land alone. [As they cease, CLYTEMNESTRA comes from the Palace with Attendants. She has finished her prayer and sacrifice, and is now wrought up to face the meeting with her husband. The Leader approaches her. LEADER. Before thy state, O Queen, I bow mine eyes. ‘Tis written, when the man’s throne empty lies, The woman shall be honoured. —Hast thou heard Some tiding sure? Or is it Hope, hath stirred To fire these altars? Dearly though we seek To learn, ’tis thine to speak or not to speak. CLYTEMNESTRA.
Glad-voiced, the old saw telleth, comes this morn, The Star-child of a dancing midnight born, And beareth to thine ear a word of joy Beyond all hope: the Greek hath taken Troy. LEADER. How? Thy word flies past me, being incredible. CLYTEMNESTRA. Ilion is ours. No riddling tale I tell. LEADER. Such joy comes knocking at the gate of tears. CLYTEMNESTRA. Aye, ’tis a faithful heart that eye declares. LEADER. What warrant hast thou? Is there proof of this? CLYTEMNESTRA. There is; unless a God hath lied there is. LEADER. Some dream-shape came to thee in speaking guise? CLYTEMNESTRA. Who deemeth me a dupe of drowsing eyes? LEADER.
Some word within that hovereth without wings? CLYTEMNESTRA. Am I a child to hearken to such things? LEADER. Troy fallen? —But how long? When fell she, say? CLYTEMNESTRA. The very night that mothered this new day. LEADER. And who of heralds with such fury came? CLYTEMNESTRA. A Fire-god, from Mount Ida scattering flame. Whence starting, beacon after beacon burst In flaming message hitherward. Ida first Told Hermes’ Lemnian Rock, whose answering sign Was caught by towering Athos, the divine, With pines immense—yea, fishes of the night Swam skyward, drunken with that leaping light, Which swelled like some strange sun, till dim and far
Makistos’ watchmen marked a glimmering star; They, nowise loath nor idly slumber-won, Spring up to hurl the fiery message on, And a far light beyond the Euripus tells That word hath reached Messapion’s sentinels. They beaconed back, then onward with a high Heap of dead heather flaming to the sky. And onward still, not failing nor aswoon, Across the Asopus like a beaming moon The great word leapt, and on Kithairon’s height Uproused a new relay of racing light. His watchers knew the wandering flame, nor hid Their welcome, burning higher than was bid. Out over Lake Gorgopis then it floats, To Aigiplanctos, waking the wild goats,
Crying for “Fire, more Fire! ” And fire was reared, Stintless and high, a stormy streaming beard, That waved in flame beyond the promontory Rock-ridged, that watches the Saronian sea, Kindling the night: then one short swoop to catch The Spider’s Crag, our city’s tower of watch; Whence hither to the Atreidae’s roof it came, A light true-fathered of Idaean flame. Torch-bearer after torch-bearer, behold The tale thereof in stations manifold, Each one by each made perfect ere it passed, And Victory in the first as in the last. These be my proofs and tokens that my lord From Troy hath spoke to me a burning word. LEADER.
Woman, speak on. Hereafter shall my prayer Be raised to God; now let me only hear, Again and full, the marvel and the joy. CLYTEMNESTRA. Now, even now, the Achaian holdeth Troy! Methinks there is a crying in her streets That makes no concord. When sweet unguent meets With vinegar in one phial, I warrant none Shall lay those wranglers lovingly at one. So conquerors and conquered shalt thou hear, Two sundered tones, two lives of joy or fear. Here women in the dust about their slain, Husbands or brethren, and by dead old men Pale children who shall never more be free, For all they loved on earth cry desolately.
And hard beside them war-stained Greeks, whom stark Battle and then long searching through the dark Hath gathered, ravenous, in the dawn, to feast At last on all the plenty Troy possessed, No portion in that feast nor ordinance, But each man clutching at the prize of chance. Aye, there at last under good roofs they lie Of men spear-quelled, no frosts beneath the sky, No watches more, no bitter moony dew…. How blessed they will sleep the whole night through! Oh, if these days they keep them free from sin Toward Ilion’s conquered shrines and Them within Who watch unconquered, maybe not again The smiter shall be smit, the taker ta’en.
May God but grant there fall not on that host The greed of gold that maddeneth and the lust To spoil inviolate things! But half the race Is run which windeth back to home and peace. Yea, though of God they pass unchallenged, Methinks the wound of all those desolate dead Might waken, groping for its will…. Ye hear A woman’s word, belike a woman’s fear. May good but conquer in the last incline Of the balance! Of all prayers that prayer is mine. LEADER. O Woman, like a man faithful and wise Thou speakest. I accept thy testimonies And turn to God with praising, for a gain Is won this day that pays for all our pain. CLYTEMNESTRA returns to the Palace. The CHORUS take up their position for the Second Stasimon. AN ELDER. 0 Zeus, All-ruler, and Night the Aid, Gainer of glories, and hast thou thrown Over the towers of Ilion Thy net close-laid, That none so nimble and none so tall Shall escape withal The snare of the slaver that claspeth all? ANOTHER. And Zeus the Watcher of Friend and Friend I also praise, who hath wrought this end. Long since on Paris his shaft he drew, And hath aimed true, Not too soon falling nor yet too far, The fire of the avenging star. CHORUS. (This is God’s judgement upon Troy. May it not be too fierce!
Gold cannot save one who spurneth Justice. ) The stroke of Zeus hath found them! Clear this day The tale, and plain to trace. He judged, and Troy hath fallen. —And have men said That God not deigns to mark man’s hardihead, Trampling to earth the grace Of holy and delicate things? —Sin lies that way. For visibly Pride doth breed its own return On prideful men, who, when their houses swell With happy wealth, breathe ever wrath and blood. Yet not too fierce let the due vengeance burn; Only as deemeth well One wise of mood. Never shall state nor gold Shelter his heart from aching Whoso the Altar of Justice old
Spurneth to Night unwaking. (The Sinner suffers in his longing till at last Temptation overcomes him; as longing for Helen overcame Paris. ) The tempting of misery forceth him, the dread Child of fore-scheming Woe! And help is vain; the fell desire within Is veiled not, but shineth bright like Sin: And as false gold will show Black where the touchstone trieth, so doth fade His honour in God’s ordeal. Like a child, Forgetting all, he hath chased his winged bird, And planted amid his people a sharp thorn. And no God hears his prayer, or, have they heard, The man so base-beguiled They cast to scorn. Paris to Argos came;
Love of a woman led him; So God’s altar he brought to shame, Robbing the hand that fed him. (Helen’s flight; the visions seen by the King’s seers; the phantom of Helen and the King’s grief. ) She hath left among her people a noise of shield and sword, A tramp of men armed where the long ships are moored; She hath ta’en in her goings Desolation as a dower; She hath stept, stept quickly, through the great gated Tower, And the thing that could not be, it hath been! And the Seers they saw visions, and they spoke of strange ill: “A Palace, a Palace; and a great King thereof: A bed, a bed empty, that was once pressed in love:
And thou, thou, what art thou? Let us be, thou so still, Beyond wrath, beyond beseeching, to the lips reft of thee! ” For she whom he desireth is beyond the deep sea, And a ghost in his castle shall be queen. Images in sweet guise Carven shall move him never, Where is Love amid empty eyes? Gone, gone for ever! (His dreams and his suffering; but the War that he made caused greater and wider suffering. ) But a shape that is a dream, ‘mid the phantoms of the night, Cometh near, full of tears, bringing vain vain delight: For in vain when, desiring, he can feel the joy’s breath —Nevermore! Nevermore! —from his arms it vanisheth,
On wings down the pathways of sleep. In the mid castle hall, on the hearthstone of the Kings, These griefs there be, and griefs passing these, But in each man’s dwelling of the host that sailed the seas, A sad woman waits; she has thoughts of many things, And patience in her heart lieth deep. Knoweth she them she sent, Knoweth she? Lo, returning, Comes in stead of the man that went Armour and dust of burning. (The return of the funeral urns; the murmurs of the People. ) And the gold-changer, Ares, who changeth quick for dead, Who poiseth his scale in the striving of the spears, Back from Troy sendeth dust, heavy dust, wet with tears,
Sendeth ashes with men’s names in his urns neatly spread. And they weep over the men, and they praise them one by one, How this was a wise fighter, and this nobly-slain— “Fighting to win back another’s wife! ” Till a murmur is begun, And there steals an angry pain Against Kings too forward in the strife. There by Ilion’s gate Many a soldier sleepeth, Young men beautiful; fast in hate Troy her conqueror keepeth. (For the Shedder of Blood is in great peril, and not unmarked by God. May I never be a Sacker of Cities! ) But the rumour of the People, it is heavy, it is chill; And tho’ no curse be spoken, like a curse doth it brood;
And my heart waits some tiding which the dark holdeth still, For of God not unmarked is the shedder of much blood. And who conquers beyond right … Lo, the life of man decays; There be Watchers dim his light in the wasting of the years; He falls, he is forgotten, and hope dies. There is peril in the praise Over-praised that he hears; For the thunder it is hurled from God’s eyes. Glory that breedeth strife, Pride of the Sacker of Cities; Yea, and the conquered captive’s life, Spare me, O God of Pities! DIVERS ELDERS. —The fire of good tidings it hath sped the city through, But who knows if a god mocketh? Or who knows if all be true? Twere the fashion of a child, Or a brain dream-beguiled, To be kindled by the first Torch’s message as it burst, And thereafter, as it dies, to die too. —’Tis like a woman’s sceptre, to ordain Welcome to joy before the end is plain! —Too lightly opened are a woman’s ears; Her fence downtrod by many trespassers, And quickly crossed; but quickly lost The burden of a woman’s hopes or fears. [Here a break occurs in the action, like the descent of the curtain in a modern theatre. A space of some days is assumed to have passed and we find the Elders again assembled. LEADER. Soon surely shall we read the message right;
Were fire and beacon-call and lamps of light True speakers, or but happy lights, that seem And are not, like sweet voices in a dream. I see a Herald yonder by the shore, Shadowed with olive sprays. And from his sore Rent raiment cries a witness from afar, Dry Dust, born brother to the Mire of war, That mute he comes not, neither through the smoke Of mountain forests shall his tale be spoke; But either shouting for a joyful day, Or else…. But other thoughts I cast away. As good hath dawned, may good shine on, we pray! —And whoso for this City prayeth aught Else, let him reap the harvest of his thought! [Enter the HERALD, running.
His garments are torn and war-stained. He falls upon his knees and kisses the Earth, and salutes each Altar in turn. HERALD. Land of my fathers! Argos! Am I here … Home, home at this tenth shining of the year, And all Hope’s anchors broken save this one! For scarcely dared I dream, here in mine own Argos at last to fold me to my rest…. But now—All Hail, O Earth! O Sunlight blest! And Zeus Most High! [Checking himself as he sees the altar of Apollo. And thou, O Pythian Lord; No more on us be thy swift arrows poured! Beside Scamander well we learned how true Thy hate is. Oh, as thou art Healer too, Heal us!
As thou art Saviour of the Lost, Save also us, Apollo, being so tossed With tempest! … All ye Daemons of the Pale! And Hermes! Hermes, mine own guardian, hail! Herald beloved, to whom all heralds bow…. Ye Blessed Dead that sent us, receive now In love your children whom the spear hath spared. O House of Kings, O roof-tree thrice-endeared, O solemn thrones! O gods that face the sun! Now, now, if ever in the days foregone, After these many years, with eyes that burn, Give hail and glory to your King’s return! For Agamemnon cometh! A great light Cometh to men and gods out of the night. Grand greeting give him—aye, it need be grand—
Who, God’s avenging mattock in his hand, Hath wrecked Troy’s towers and digged her soil beneath, Till her gods’ houses, they are things of death; Her altars waste, and blasted every seed Whence life might rise! So perfect is his deed, So dire the yoke on Ilion he hath cast, The first Atreides, King of Kings at last, And happy among men! To whom we give Honour most high above all things that live. For Paris nor his guilty land can score The deed they wrought above the pain they bore. “Spoiler and thief,” he heard God’s judgement pass; Whereby he lost his plunder, and like grass Mowed down his father’s house and all his land;
And Troy pays twofold for the sin she planned. LEADER. Be glad, thou Herald of the Greek from Troy! HERALD. So glad, I am ready, if God will, to die! LEADER. Did love of this land work thee such distress? HERALD. The tears stand in mine eyes for happiness. LEADER. Sweet sorrow was it, then, that on you fell. HERALD. How sweet? I cannot read thy parable. LEADER. To pine again for them that loved you true. HERALD. Did ye then pine for us, as we for you? LEADER. The whole land’s heart was dark, and groaned for thee. HERALD. Dark? For what cause? Why should such darkness be? LEADER. Silence in wrong is our best medicine here.
HERALD. Your kings were gone. What others need you fear? LEADER. ‘Tis past! Like thee now, I could gladly die. HERALD. Even so! ‘Tis past, and all is victory. And, for our life in those long years, there were Doubtless some grievous days, and some were fair. Who but a god goes woundless all his way? …. Oh, could I tell the sick toil of the day, The evil nights, scant decks ill-blanketed; The rage and cursing when our daily bread Came not! And then on land ’twas worse than all. Our quarters close beneath the enemy’s wall; And rain—and from the ground the river dew—Wet, always wet! Into our clothes it grew,
Plague-like, and bred foul beasts in every hair. Would I could tell how ghastly midwinter Stole down from Ida till the birds dropped dead! Or the still heat, when on his noonday bed The breathless blue sea sank without a wave! …. Why think of it? They are past and in the grave, All those long troubles. For I think the slain Care little if they sleep or rise again; And we, the living, wherefore should we ache With counting all our lost ones, till we wake The old malignant fortunes? If Good-bye Comes from their side, Why, let them go, say I. Surely for us, who live, good doth prevail Unchallenged, with no wavering of the scale;
Wherefore we vaunt unto these shining skies, As wide o’er sea and land our glory flies: “By men of Argolis who conquered Troy, These spoils, a memory and an ancient joy, Are nailed in the gods’ houses throughout Greece. ” Which whoso readeth shall with praise increase Our land, our kings, and God’s grace manifold Which made these marvels be. —My tale is told. LEADER. Indeed thou conquerest me. Men say, the light In old men’s eyes yet serves to learn aright. But Clytemnestra and the House should hear These tidings first, though I their health may share. [During the last words CLYTEMNESTRA has entered from the Palace.
CLYTEMNESTRA. Long since I lifted up my voice in joy, When the first messenger from flaming Troy Spake through the dark of sack and overthrow. And mockers chid me: “Because beacons show On the hills, must Troy be fallen? Quickly born Are women’s hopes! ” Aye, many did me scorn; Yet gave I sacrifice; and by my word Through all the city our woman’s cry was heard, Lifted in blessing round the seats of God, And slumbrous incense o’er the altars glowed In fragrance. And for thee, what need to tell Thy further tale? My lord himself shall well Instruct me. Yet, to give my lord and king All reverent greeting at his homecoming—
What dearer dawn on woman’s eyes can flame Than this, which casteth wide her gate to acclaim The husband whom God leadeth safe from war? — Go, bear my lord this prayer: That fast and far He haste him to this town which loves his name; And in his castle may he find the same Wife that he left, a watchdog of the hall, True to one voice and fierce to others all; A body and soul unchanged, no seal of his Broke in the waiting years. —No thought of ease Nor joy from other men hath touched my soul, Nor shall touch, until bronze be dyed like wool. A boast so faithful and so plain, I wot, Spoke by a royal Queen doth shame her not. Exit CLYTEMNESTRA. LEADER. Let thine ear mark her message. ‘Tis of fair Seeming, and craves a clear interpreter…. But, Herald, I would ask thee; tell me true Of Menelaus. Shall he come with you, Our land’s beloved crown, untouched of ill? HERALD. I know not how to speak false words of weal For friends to reap thereof a harvest true. LEADER. Canst speak of truth with comfort joined? Those two Once parted, ’tis a gulf not lightly crossed. HERALD. Your king is vanished from the Achaian host, He and his ship! Such comfort have I brought. LEADER. Sailed he alone from Troy? Or was he caught By storms in the midst of you, and swept away?
HERALD. Thou hast hit the truth; good marksman, as men say! And long to suffer is but brief to tell. LEADER. How ran the sailors’ talk? Did there prevail One rumour, showing him alive or dead? HERALD. None knoweth, none hath tiding, save the head Of Helios, ward and watcher of the world. LEADER. Then tell us of the storm. How, when God hurled His anger, did it rise? How did it die? HERALD. It likes me not, a day of presage high With dolorous tongue to stain. Those twain, I vow, Stand best apart. When one with shuddering brow, From armies lost, back beareth to his home Word that the terror of her prayers is come;
One wound in her great heart, and many a fate For many a home of men cast out to sate The two-fold scourge that worketh Ares’ lust, Spear crossed with spear, dust wed with bloody dust; Who walketh laden with such weight of wrong, Why, let him, if he will, uplift the song That is Hell’s triumph. But to come as I Am now come, laden with deliverance high, Home to a land of peace and laughing eyes, And mar all with that fury of the skies Which made our Greeks curse God—how should this be? Two enemies most ancient, Fire and Sea, A sudden friendship swore, and proved their plight By war on us poor sailors through that night
Of misery, when the horror of the wave Towered over us, and winds from Strymon drave Hull against hull, till good ships, by the horn Of the mad whirlwind gored and overborne, One here, one there, ‘mid rain and blinding spray, Like sheep by a devil herded, passed away. And when the blessed Sun upraised his head, We saw the Aegean waste a-foam with dead, Dead men, dead ships, and spars disasterful. Howbeit for us, our one unwounded hull Out of that wrath was stolen or begged free By some good spirit—sure no man was he! — Who guided clear our helm; and on till now Hath Saviour Fortune throned her on the prow.
No surge to mar our mooring, and no floor Of rock to tear us when we made for shore. Till, fled from that sea-hell, with the clear sun Above us and all trust in fortune gone, We drove like sheep about our brain the thoughts Of that lost army, broken and scourged with knouts Of evil. And, methinks, if there is breath In them, they talk of us as gone to death— How else? —and so say we of them! For thee, Since Menelaus thy first care must be, If by some word of Zeus, who wills not yet To leave the old house for ever desolate, Some ray of sunlight on a far-off sea Lights him, yet green and living … we may see His ship some day in the harbour! ‘Twas the word Of truth ye asked me for, and truth ye have heard! [Exit HERALD. The CHORUS take position for the Third Stasimon. CHORUS. (Surely there was mystic meaning in the name HELENA, meaning which was fulfilled when she fled to Troy. ) Who was He who found for thee That name, truthful utterly— Was it One beyond our vision Moving sure in pre-decision Of man’s doom his mystic lips? — Calling thee, the Battle-wed, Thee, the Strife-encompassed, HELEN? Yea, in fate’s derision, Hell in cities, Hell in ships, Hell in hearts of men they knew her, When the dim and delicate fold Of her curtains backward rolled,
And to sea, to sea, she threw her In the West Wind’s giant hold; And with spear and sword behind her Came the hunters in a flood, Down the oarblade’s viewless trail Tracking, till in Simois’ vale Through the leaves they crept to find her, A Wrath, a seed of blood. (The Trojans welcomed her with triumph and praised Alexander till at last their song changed and they saw another meaning in Alexander’s name also. ) So the Name to Ilion came On God’s thought-fulfilling flame, She a vengeance and a token Of the unfaith to bread broken, Of the hearth of God betrayed, Against them whose voices swelled Glorying in the prize they held
And the Spoiler’s vaunt outspoken And the song his brethren made ‘Mid the bridal torches burning; Till, behold, the ancient City Of King Priam turned, and turning Took a new song for her learning, A song changed and full of pity, With the cry of a lost nation; And she changed the bridegroom’s name: Called him Paris Ghastly-wed; For her sons were with the dead, And her life one lamentation, ‘Mid blood and burning flame. (Like a lion’s whelp reared as a pet and turning afterwards to a great beast of prey,) Lo, once there was a herdsman reared In his own house, so stories tell, A lion’s whelp, a milk-fed thing And soft in life’s first opening
Among the sucklings of the herd; The happy children loved him well, And old men smiled, and oft, they say, In men’s arms, like a babe, he lay, Bright-eyed, and toward the hand that teased him Eagerly fawning for food or play. Then on a day outflashed the sudden Rage of the lion brood of yore; He paid his debt to them that fed With wrack of herds and carnage red, Yea, wrought him a great feast unbidden, Till all the house-ways ran with gore; A sight the thralls fled weeping from, A great red slayer, beard a-foam, High-priest of some blood-cursed altar God had uplifted against that home. (So was it with Helen in Troy. )
And how shall I call the thing that came At the first hour to Ilion city? Call it a dream of peace untold, A secret joy in a mist of gold, A woman’s eye that was soft, like flame, A flower which ate a man’s heart with pity. But she swerved aside and wrought to her kiss a bitter ending, And a wrath was on her harbouring, a wrath upon her friending, When to Priam and his sons she fled quickly o’er the deep, With the god to whom she sinned for her watcher on the wind, A death-bride, whom brides long shall weep. (Men say that Good Fortune wakes the envy of God; not so; Good Fortune may be innocent, and then there is no vengeance. A grey word liveth, from the morn Of old time among mortals spoken, That man’s Wealth waxen full shall fall Not childless, but get sons withal; And ever of great bliss is born A tear unstanched and a heart broken. But I hold my thought alone and by others unbeguiled; ‘Tis the deed that is unholy shall have issue, child on child, Sin on sin, like his begetters; and they shall be as they were. But the man who walketh straight, and the house thereof, tho’ Fate Exalt him, the children shall be fair. (It is Sin, it is Pride and Ruthlessness, that beget children like themselves till Justice is fulfilled upon them. )
But Old Sin loves, when comes the hour again, To bring forth New, Which laugheth lusty amid the tears of men; Yea, and Unruth, his comrade, wherewith none May plead nor strive, which dareth on and on, Knowing not fear nor any holy thing; Two fires of darkness in a house, born true, Like to their ancient spring. But Justice shineth in a house low-wrought With smoke-stained wall, And honoureth him who filleth his own lot; But the unclean hand upon the golden stair With eyes averse she flieth, seeking where Things innocent are; and, recking not the power Of wealth by man misgloried, guideth all To her own destined hour. Here amid a great procession enter AGAMEMNON on a Chariot. Behind him on another Chariot is CASSANDRA. The CHORUS approach and make obeisance. Some of AGAMEMNON’S men have on their shields a White Horse, some a Lion. Their arms are rich and partly barbaric. LEADER. All hail, O King! Hail, Atreus’ Son! Sacker of Cities! Ilion’s bane! With what high word shall I greet thee again, How give thee worship, and neither outrun The point of pleasure, nor stint too soon? For many will cling. To fair seeming The faster because they have sinned erewhile; And a man may sigh with never a sting Of grief in his heart, and a man may smile
With eyes unlit and a lip that strains. But the wise Shepherd knoweth his sheep, And his eyes pierce deep The faith like water that fawns and feigns. But I hide nothing, O King. That day When in quest of Helen our battle array Hurled forth, thy name upon my heart’s scroll Was deep in letters of discord writ; And the ship of thy soul, Ill-helmed and blindly steered was it, Pursuing ever, through men that die, One wild heart that was fain to fly. But on this new day, From the deep of my thought and in love, I say “Sweet is a grief well ended;” And in time’s flow Thou wilt learn and know The true from the false,
Of them that were left to guard the walls Of thine empty Hall unfriended. [During the above CLYTEMNESTRA has appeared on the Palace steps, with a train of Attendants, to receive her Husband. AGAMEMNON. To Argos and the gods of Argolis All hail, who share with me the glory of this Home-coming and the vengeance I did wreak On Priam’s City! Yea, though none should speak, The great gods heard our cause, and in one mood Uprising, in the urn of bitter blood, That men should shriek and die and towers should burn, Cast their great vote; while over Mercy’s urn Hope waved her empty hands and nothing fell. Even now in smoke that City tells her tale;
The wrack-wind liveth, and where Ilion died The reek of the old fatness of her pride From hot and writhing ashes rolls afar. For which let thanks, wide as our glories are, Be uplifted; seeing the Beast of Argos hath Round Ilion’s towers piled high his fence of wrath And, for one woman ravished, wrecked by force A City. Lo, the leap of the wild Horse in darkness when the Pleiades were dead; A mailed multitude, a Lion unfed, Which leapt the tower and lapt the blood of Kings! Lo, to the Gods I make these thanksgivings. But for thy words: I marked them, and I mind Their meaning, and my voice shall be behind Thine.
For not many men, the proverb saith, Can love a friend whom fortune prospereth Unenvying; and about the envious brain Cold poison clings, and doubles all the pain Life brings him. His own woundings he must nurse, And feels another’s gladness like a curse. Well can I speak. I know the mirrored glass Called friendship, and the shadow shapes that pass And feign them a King’s friends. I have known but one— Odysseus, him we trapped against his own Will! —who once harnessed bore his yoke right well … Be he alive or dead of whom I tell The tale. And for the rest, touching our state And gods, we will assemble in debate
A concourse of all Argos, taking sure Counsel, that what is well now may endure Well, and if aught needs healing medicine, still By cutting and by fire, with all good will, I will essay to avert the after-wrack Such sickness breeds. Aye, Heaven hath led me back; And on this hearth where still my fire doth burn I will go pay to heaven my due return, Which guides me here, which saved me far away. O Victory, now mine own, be mine alway! [CLYTEMNESTRA, at the head of her retinue, steps forward. She controls her suspense with difficulty but gradually gains courage as she proceeds. CLYTEMNESTRA. Ye Elders, Council of the Argive name
Here present, I will no more hold it shame To lay my passion bare before men’s eyes. There comes a time to a woman when fear dies For ever. None hath taught me. None could tell, Save me, the weight of years intolerable I lived while this man lay at Ilion. That any woman thus should sit alone In a half-empty house, with no man near, Makes her half-blind with dread! And in her ear Alway some voice of wrath; now messengers Of evil; now not so; then others worse, Crying calamity against mine and me. Oh, had he half the wounds that variously Came rumoured home, his flesh must be a net, All holes from heel to crown! And if he met
As many deaths as I met tales thereon, Is he some monstrous thing, some Geryon Three-souled, that will not die, till o’er his head, Three robes of earth be piled, to hold him dead? Aye, many a time my heart broke, and the noose Of death had got me; but they cut me loose. It was those voices alway in mine ear. For that, too, young Orestes is not here Beside me, as were meet, seeing he above All else doth hold the surety of our love; Let not thy heart be troubled. It fell thus: Our loving spear-friend took him, Strophius The Phocian, who forewarned me of annoy Two-fronted, thine own peril under Troy, And ours here, if the rebel multitude
Should cast the Council down. It is men’s mood Alway, to spurn the fallen. So spake he, And sure no guile was in him. But for me, The old stormy rivers of my grief are dead Now at the spring; not one tear left unshed. Mine eyes are sick with vigil, endlessly Weeping the beacon-piles that watched for thee For ever answerless. And did I dream, A gnat’s thin whirr would start me, like a scream Of battle, and show me thee by terrors swept, Crowding, too many for the time I slept. From all which stress delivered and free-souled, I greet my lord: O watchdog of the fold, O forestay sure that fails not in the squall,
O strong-based pillar of a towering hall; O single son to a father age-ridden; O land unhoped for seen by shipwrecked men; Sunshine more beautiful when storms are fled; Spring of quick water in a desert dead …. How sweet to be set free from any chain! These be my words to greet him home again. No god shall grudge them. Surely I and thou Have suffered in time past enough! And now Dismount, O head with love and glory crowned, From this high car; yet plant not on bare ground Thy foot, great King, the foot that trampled Troy. Ho, bondmaids, up! Forget not your employ, A floor of crimson broideries to spread For the King’s path.
Let all the ground be red Where those feet pass; and Justice, dark of yore, Home light him to the hearth he looks not for! What followeth next, our sleepless care shall see Ordered as God’s good pleasure may decree. [The attendants spread tapestries of crimson and gold from the Chariot to the Door of the Palace. AGAMEMNON does not move. AGAMEMNON. Daughter of Leda, watcher of my fold, In sooth thy welcome, grave and amply told, Fitteth mine absent years. Though it had been Seemlier, methinks, some other, not my Queen, Had spoke these honours. For the rest, I say, Seek not to make me soft in woman’s way;
Cry not thy praise to me wide-mouthed, nor fling Thy body down, as to some barbarous king. Nor yet with broidered hangings strew my path, To awake the unseen ire. ‘Tis God that hath Such worship; and for mortal man to press Rude feet upon this broidered loveliness … I vow there is danger in it. Let my road Be honoured, surely; but as man, not god. Rugs for the feet and yonder broidered pall … The names ring diverse! … Aye, and not to fall Suddenly blind is of all gifts the best God giveth, for I reckon no man blest Ere to the utmost goal his race be run. So be it; and if, as this day I have done, I shall do always, then I fear no ill.
CLYTEMNESTRA. Tell me but this, nowise against thy will … AGAMEMNON. My will, be sure, shall falter not nor fade. CLYTEMNESTRA. Was this a vow in some great peril made? AGAMEMNON. Enough! I have spoke my purpose, fixed and plain. CLYTEMNESTRA. Were Priam the conqueror … Think, would he refrain? AGAMEMNON. Oh, stores of broideries would be trampled then! CLYTEMNESTRA. Lord, care not for the cavillings of men! AGAMEMNON. The murmur of a people hath strange weight. CLYTEMNESTRA. Who feareth envy, feareth to be great. AGAMEMNON. ‘Tis graceless when a woman strives to lead. CLYTEMNESTRA. When a great conqueror yields, ’tis grace indeed,
AGAMEMNON. So in this war thou must my conqueror be? CLYTEMNESTRA. Yield! With good will to yield is victory! AGAMEMNON. Well, if I needs must … Be it as thou hast said! Quick! Loose me these bound slaves on which I tread, And while I walk yon wonders of the sea God grant no eye of wrath be cast on me From far! [The Attendants untie his shoes. For even now it likes me not To waste mine house, thus marring underfoot The pride thereof, and wondrous broideries Bought in far seas with silver. But of these Enough. —And mark, I charge thee, this princess Of Ilion; tend her with all gentleness. God’s eye doth see, and loveth from afar,
The merciful conqueror. For no slave of war Is slave by his own will. She is the prize And chosen flower of Ilion’s treasuries, Set by the soldiers’ gift to follow me. Now therefore, seeing I am constrained by thee And do thy will, I walk in conqueror’s guise Beneath my Gate, trampling sea-crimson dyes. [As he dismounts and sets foot on the Tapestries CLYTEMNESTRA’S women utter again their Cry of Triumph. The people bow or kneel as he passes. CLYTEMNESTRA. There is the sea—its caverns who shall drain? — Breeding of many a purple-fish the stain Surpassing silver, ever fresh renewed, For robes of kings. And we, by right indued,
Possess our fill thereof. Thy house, O King, Knoweth no stint, nor lack of anything. What trampling of rich raiment, had the cry So sounded in the domes of prophesy, Would I have vowed these years, as price to pay For this dear life in peril far away! Where the root is, the leafage cometh soon To clothe an house, and spread its leafy boon Against the burning star; and, thou being come, Thou, on the midmost hearthstone of thy home, Oh, warmth in winter leapeth to thy sign. And when God’s summer melteth into wine The green grape, on that house shall coolness fall Where the true man, the master, walks his hall. Zeus, Zeus!
True Master, let my prayers be true! And, oh, forget not that thou art willed to do! [She follows AGAMEMNON into the Palace. The retinues of both King and Queen go in after them. CASSANDRA remains. CHORUS. What is this that evermore, [Strophe 1. A cold terror at the door Of this bosom presage-haunted, Pale as death hovereth? While a song unhired, unwanted, By some inward prophet chanted, Speaks the secret at its core; And to cast it from my blood Like a dream not understood No sweet-spoken Courage now Sitteth at my heart’s dear prow. Yet I know that manifold Days, like sand, have waxen old Since the day those shoreward-thrown
Cables flapped and line on line Standing forth for Ilion The long galleys took the brine [Antistrophe 1. And in harbour—mine own eye Hath beheld—again they lie; Yet that lyreless music hidden Whispers still words of ill, ‘Tis the Soul of me unbidden, Like some Fury sorrow-ridden, Weeping over things that die. Neither waketh in my sense Ever Hope’s dear confidence; For this flesh that groans within, And these bones that know of Sin, This tossed heart upon the spate Of a whirpool that is Fate, Surely these lie not. Yet deep Beneath hope my prayer doth run, All will die like dreams, and creep To the unthought of and undone. Strophe 2. —Surely of great Weal at the end of all Comes not Content; so near doth Fever crawl, Close neighbour, pressing hard the narrow wall. —Woe to him who fears not fate! ‘Tis the ship that forward straight Sweepeth, strikes the reef below; He who fears and lightens weight, Casting forth, in measured throw, From the wealth his hand hath got … His whole ship shall founder not, With abundance overfraught, Nor deep seas above him flow. —Lo, when famine stalketh near, One good gift of Zeus again From the furrows of one year Endeth quick the starving pain; [Antistrophe 2. —But once the blood of death is fallen, black
And oozing at a slain man’s feet, alack! By spell or singing who shall charm it back? —One there was of old who showed Man the path from death to day; But Zeus, lifting up his rod, Spared not, when he charged him stay. —Save that every doom of God Hath by other dooms its way Crossed, that none may rule alone, In one speech-outstripping groan Forth had all this passion flown, Which now murmuring hides away, Full of pain, and hoping not Ever one clear thread to unknot From the tangle of my soul, From a heart of burning coal. [Suddenly CLYTEMNESTRA appears standing in the Doorway. CLYTEMNESTRA. Thou likewise, come within!
I speak thy name, Cassandra; [CASSANDRA trembles, but continues to stare in front of her, as though not hearing CLYTEMNESTRA. seeing the Gods—why chafe at them? — Have placed thee here, to share within these walls Our lustral waters, ‘mid a crowd of thralls Who stand obedient round the altar-stone Of our Possession. Therefore come thou down, And be not over-proud. The tale is told How once Alcmena’s son himself, being sold, Was patient, though he liked not the slaves’ mess. And more, if Fate must bring thee to this stress, Praise God thou art come to a House of high report And wealth from long ago. The baser sort,
Who have reaped some sudden harvest unforeseen, Are ever cruel to their slaves, and mean In the measure. We shall give whate’er is due. [CASSANDRA is silent. LEADER. To thee she speaks, and waits … clear words and true! Oh, doom is all around thee like a net; Yield, if thou canst…. Belike thou canst not yet. CLYTEMNESTRA. Methinks, unless this wandering maid is one Voiced like a swallow-bird, with tongue unknown And barbarous, she can read my plain intent. I use but words, and ask for her consent. LEADER. Ah, come! Tis best, as the world lies to-day. Leave this high-throned chariot, and obey! CLYTEMNESTRA.
How long must I stand dallying at the Gate? Even now the beasts to Hestia consecrate Wait by the midmost fire, since there is wrought This high fulfilment for which no man thought. Wherefore, if ’tis thy pleasure to obey Aught of my will, prithee, no more delay! If, dead to sense, thou wilt not understand… Thou show her, not with speech but with brute hand! [To the Leader of the CHORUS. LEADER. The strange maid needs a rare interpreter. She is trembling like a wild beast in a snare. CLYTEMNESTRA. ‘Fore God, she is mad, and heareth but her own Folly! A slave, her city all o’erthrown, She needs must chafe her bridle, till this fret
Be foamed away in blood and bitter sweat. I waste no more speech, thus to be defied. [She goes back inside the Palace. LEADER. I pity thee so sore, no wrath nor pride Is in me. —Come, dismount! Bend to the stroke Fate lays on thee, and learn to feel thy yoke. [He lays his hand softly on CASSANDRA’S shoulder. CASSANDRA (moaning to herself). Otototoi … Dreams. Dreams. Apollo. O Apollo! SECOND ELDER. Why sob’st thou for Apollo? It is writ, He loves not grief nor lendeth ear to it. CASSANDRA. Otototoi … Dreams. Dreams. Apollo. O Apollo! LEADER. Still to that god she makes her sobbing cry Who hath no place where men are sad, or die.
CASSANDRA. Apollo, Apollo! Light of the Ways of Men! Mine enemy! Hast lighted me to darkness yet again? SECOND ELDER. How? Will she prophesy about her own Sorrows? That power abides when all is gone! CASSANDRA. Apollo, Apollo! Light of all that is! Mine enemy! Where hast thou led me? … Ha! What house is this? LEADER. The Atreidae’s castle. If thou knowest not, I Am here to help thee, and help faithfully. CASSANDRA (whispering). Nay, nay. This is the house that God hateth. There be many things that know its secret; sore And evil things; murders and strangling death. ‘Tis here they slaughter men…A splashing floor.
SECOND ELDER. Keen-sensed the strange maid seemeth, like a hound For blood. —And what she seeks can sure be found! CASSANDRA. The witnesses … I follow where they lead. The crying … of little children … near the gate: Crying for wounds that bleed: And the smell of the baked meats their father ate. SECOND ELDER (recognizing her vision, and repelled). Word of thy mystic power had reached our ear Long since. Howbeit we need no prophets here. CASSANDRA. Ah, ah! What would they? A new dreadful thing. A great great sin plots in the house this day; Too strong for the faithful, beyond medicining … And help stands far away.
LEADER. This warning I can read not, though I knew That other tale. It rings the city through. CASSANDRA. O Woman, thou! The lord who lay with thee! Wilt lave with water, and then … How speak the end? It comes so quick. A hand … another hand … That reach, reach gropingly…. LEADER. I see not yet. These riddles, pierced with blind Gleams of foreboding, but bemuse my mind. CASSANDRA. Ah, ah! What is it? There; it is coming clear. A net … some net of Hell. Nay, she that lies with him … is she the snare? And half of his blood upon it. It holds well…. O Crowd of ravening Voices, be glad, yea, shout
And cry for the stoning, cry for the casting out! SECOND ELDER. What Fury Voices call’st thou to be hot Against this castle? Such words like me not. And deep within my breast I felt that sick And saffron drop, which creepeth to the heart To die as the last rays of life depart. Misfortune comes so quick. CASSANDRA. Ah, look! Look! Keep his mate from the Wild Bull! A tangle of raiment, see; A black horn, and a blow, and he falleth, full In the marble amid the water. I counsel ye. I speak plain … Blood in the bath and treachery! LEADER. No great interpreter of oracles Am I; but this, I think, some mischief spells.
What spring of good hath seercraft ever made Up from the dark to flow? ‘Tis but a weaving of words, a craft of woe, To make mankind afraid. CASSANDRA. Poor woman! Poor dead woman! … Yea, it is I, Poured out like water among them. Weep for me…. Ah! What is this place? Why must I come with thee…. To die, only to die? LEADER. Thou art borne on the breath of God, thou spirit wild, For thine own weird to wail, Like to that winged voice, that heart so sore Which, crying alway, hungereth to cry more, “Itylus, Itylus,” till it sing her child Back to the nightingale. CASSANDRA. Oh, happy Singing Bird, so sweet, so clear!
Soft wings for her God made, And an easy passing, without pain or tear … For me ’twill be torn flesh and rending blade. SECOND ELDER. Whence is it sprung, whence wafted on God’s breath, This anguish reasonless? This throbbing of terror shaped to melody, Moaning of evil blent with music high? Who hath marked out for thee that mystic path Through thy woe’s wilderness? CASSANDRA. Alas for the kiss, the kiss of Paris, his people’s bane! Alas for Scamander Water, the water my fathers drank! Long, long ago, I played about thy bank, And was cherished and grew strong; Now by a River of Wailing, by shores of Pain, Soon shall I make my song.
LEADER. How sayst thou? All too clear, This ill word thou hast laid upon thy mouth! A babe could read thee plain. It stabs within me like a serpent’s tooth, The bitter thrilling music of her pain: I marvel as I hear. CASSANDRA. Alas for the toil, the toil of a City, worn unto death! Alas for my father’s worship before the citadel, The flocks that bled and the tumult of their breath! But no help from them came To save Troy Towers from falling as they fell! … And I on the earth shall writhe, my heart aflame. SECOND ELDER. Dark upon dark, new ominous words of ill! Sure there hath swept on thee some Evil Thing,
Crushing, which makes thee bleed And in the torment of thy vision sing These plaining death-fraught oracles … Yet still, still, Their end I cannot read! CASSANDRA. [By an effort she regains mastery of herself, and speaks directly to the Leader. ‘Fore God, mine oracle shall no more hide With veils his visage, like a new-wed bride! A shining wind out of this dark shall blow, Piercing the dawn, growing as great waves grow, To burst in the heart of sunrise … stronger far Than this poor pain of mine. I will not mar With mists my wisdom. Be near me as I go, Tracking the evil things of long ago, And bear me witness.
For this roof, there clings Music about it, like a choir which sings One-voiced, but not well-sounding, for not good The words are. Drunken, drunken, and with blood, To make them dare the more, a revelling rout Is in the rooms, which no man shall cast out, Of sister Furies. And they weave to song, Haunting the House, its first blind deed of wrong, Spurning in turn that King’s bed desecrate, Defiled, which paid a brother’s sin with hate…. Hath it missed or struck, mine arrow? Am I a poor Dreamer, that begs and babbles at the door? Give first thine oath in witness, that I know Of this great dome the sins wrought long ago.
ELDER. And how should oath of mine, though bravely sworn, Appease thee? Yet I marvel that one born Far over seas, of alien speech, should fall So apt, as though she had lived here and seen all. CASSANDRA. The Seer Apollo made me too to see. ELDER (in a low voice). Was the God’s heart pierced with desire for thee? CASSANDRA. Time was, I held it shame hereof to speak. ELDER. Ah, shame is for the mighty, not the weak. CASSANDRA. We wrestled, and his breath to me was sweet. ELDER. Ye came to the getting of children, as is meet? CASSANDRA. I swore to Loxias, and I swore a lie. ELDER. Already thine the gift of prophecy? CASSANDRA.
Already I showed my people all their path. ELDER. And Loxias did not smite thee in his wrath? CASSANDRA. After that sin … no man believed me more. ELDER. Nay, then, to us thy wisdom seemeth sure. CASSANDRA. Oh, oh! Agony, agony! Again the awful pains of prophecy Are on me, maddening as they fall…. Ye see them there … beating against the wall? So young … like shapes that gather in a dream … Slain by a hand they loved. Children they seem, Murdered … and in their hands they bear baked meat: I think it is themselves. Yea, flesh; I see it; And inward parts…. Oh, what a horrible load To carry! And their father drank their blood.
From these, I warn ye, vengeance broodeth still, A lion’s rage, which goes not forth to kill But lurketh in his lair, watching the high Hall of my war-gone master … Master? Aye; Mine, mine! The yoke is nailed about my neck…. Oh, lord of ships and trampler on the wreck Of Ilion, knows he not this she-wolf’s tongue, Which licks and fawns, and laughs with ear up-sprung, To bite in the end like secret death? —And can The woman? Slay a strong and armed man? … What fanged reptile like to her doth creep? Some serpent amphisbene, some Skylla, deep Housed in the rock, where sailors shriek and die, Mother of Hell blood-raging, which doth cry
On her own flesh war, war without alloy … God! And she shouted in his face her joy, Like men in battle when the foe doth break. And feigns thanksgiving for his safety’s sake! What if no man believe me? ‘Tis all one. The thing which must be shall be; aye, and soon Thou too shalt sorrow for these things, and here Standing confess me all too true a seer. LEADER. The Thyestean feast of children slain I understood, and tremble. Aye, my brain Reels at these visions, beyond guesswork true. But after, though I heard, I had lost the clue. CASSANDRA. Man, thou shalt look on Agamemnon dead. LEADER. Peace, Mouth of Evil! Be those words unsaid!
CASSANDRA. No god of peace hath watch upon that hour. LEADER. If it must come. Forefend it, Heavenly Power! CASSANDRA. They do not think of prayer; they think of death. LEADER. They? Say, what man this foul deed compasseth? CASSANDRA. Alas, thou art indeed fallen far astray! LEADER. How could such deed be done? I see no way. CASSANDRA. Yet know I not the Greek tongue all too well? LEADER. Greek are the Delphic dooms, but hard to spell. CASSANDRA. Ah! Ah! There! What a strange fire! It moves … It comes at me. O Wolf Apollo, mercy! O agony! … Why lies she with a wolf, this lioness lone, Two-handed, when the royal lion is gone?
God, she will kill me! Like to them that brew Poison, I see her mingle for me too A separate vial in her wrath, and swear, Whetting her blade for him, that I must share His death … because, because he hath dragged me here! Oh, why these mockers at my throat? This gear Of wreathed bands, this staff of prophecy? I mean to kill you first, before I die. Begone! [She tears off her prophetic habiliments; and presently throws them on the ground, and stamps on them. Down to perdition! … Lie ye so? So I requite you! Now make rich in woe Some other Bird of Evil, me no more! [Coming to herself. Ah, see! It is Apollo’s self, hath tore
His crown from me! Who watched me long ago In this same prophet’s robe, by friend, by foe, All with one voice, all blinded, mocked to scorn: “A thing of dreams,” “a beggar-maid outworn,” Poor, starving and reviled, I endured all; And now the Seer, who called me till my call Was perfect, leads me to this last dismay…. ‘Tis not the altar-stone where men did slay My father; ’tis a block, a block with gore Yet hot, that waits me, of one slain before. Yet not of God unheeded shall we lie. There cometh after, one who lifteth high The downfallen; a branch where blossometh A sire’s avenging and a mother’s death.
Exiled and wandering, from this land outcast, One day He shall return, and set the last Crown on these sins that have his house downtrod. For, lo, there is a great oath sworn of God, His father’s upturned face shall guide him home. Why should I grieve? Why pity these men’s doom? I who have seen the City of Ilion Pass as she passed; and they who cast her down Have thus their end, as God gives judgement sure…. I go to drink my cup. I will endure To die. O Gates, Death-Gates, all hail to you! Only, pray God the blow be stricken true! Pray God, unagonized, with blood that flows Quick unto friendly death, these eyes may close!
LEADER. O full of sorrows, full of wisdom great, Woman, thy speech is a long anguish; yet, Knowing thy doom, why walkst thou with clear eyes, Like some god-blinded beast, to sacrifice? CASSANDRA. There is no escape, friends; only vain delay. LEADER. Is not the later still the sweeter day? CASSANDRA. The day is come. Small profit now to fly. LEADER. Through all thy griefs, Woman, thy heart is high. CASSANDRA. Alas! None that is happy hears that praise. LEADER. Are not the brave dead blest in after days? CASSANDRA. O Father! O my brethren brave, I come! [She moves towards the House, but recoils shuddering. LEADER.
What frights thee? What is that thou startest from? CASSANDRA. Ah, faugh! Faugh! LEADER. What turns thee in that blind Horror? Unless some loathing of the mind … CASSANDRA. Death drifting from the doors, and blood like rain! LEADER. ‘Tis but the dumb beasts at the altar slain. CASSANDRA. And vapours from a charnel-house … See there! LEADER. ‘Tis Tyrian incense clouding in the air. CASSANDRA (recovering herself again). So be it! —I will go, in yonder room To weep mine own and Agamemnon’s doom. May death be all! Strangers, I am no bird That pipeth trembling at a thicket stirred By the empty wind. Bear witness on that day
When woman for this woman’s life shall pay, And man for man ill-mated low shall lie: I ask this boon, as being about to die. LEADER. Alas, I pity thee thy mystic fate! CASSAN