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The Trachiniae

In Greek this play is known as "the women of Trachis," and refers to the identity of the chorus.
430 BC
THE TRACHINIAE
by Sophocles
transalated by R. C. Jebb
CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY

DEIANEIRA
NURSE
HYLLUS, son of HERACLES and DEIANEIRA
MESSENGER
LICHAS, the herald of HERACLES
HERACLES
AN OLD MAN
CHORUS OF TRACHINIAN MAIDENS


THE TRACHINIAE


(SCENE:- 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 free.
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 he is.
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 choral song.)

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!

antistrophe 1

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.

strophe 2

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.

antistrophe 2

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.

epode

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 life.
Such, he said, was the doom ordained by the gods to be
accomplished in the toils of Heracles; as the ancient oak at Dodona
had spoken of yore, by the mouth of the two Peleiades. And this is the
precise moment when the fulfilment of that word becomes due; so that I
start up from sweet slumber, my friends, stricken with terror at the
thought that I must remain widowed of the noblest among men.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Hush- no more ill-omened words; I see a man approaching, who wears
a wreath, as if for joyous tidings.
(A MESSENGER enters.)
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
my hope!
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 give joy.
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 her silence.)
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 bewildered
me!
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
service.
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 thou?
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 whom mean?
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 tell me.
And if thou art afraid, thy fear is mistaken. Not to learn the
truth,-that, indeed, would pain me; but to know it- what is there
terrible in that? Hath not Heracles wedded others ere now,- ay, more
than living man,- and no one of them hath bad harsh word or taunt from
me; nor shall this girl, though her whole being should be absorbed
in her passion; for indeed I felt a profound pity when I beheld her,
because her beauty hath wrecked her life, and she, hapless one, all
innocent, hath brought her fatherland to ruin and to bondage.
Well, those things must go with wind and stream.- To thee I
say,-deceive whom thou wilt, but ever speak the truth to me.
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?

antistrophe

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.

epode

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 ship.
I, too, was carried on his shoulders,- when, by my father's
sending, first went forth with Heracles as his wife; and when I was in
mid-stream, he touched me with wanton hands. I shrieked; the son of
Zeus turned quickly round, and shot a feathered arrow; it whizzed
through his breast to the lungs; and, in his mortal faintness, thus
much the Centaur spake:-
'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;

antistrophe 1

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.

strophe 2

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.

antistrophe 2

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 saw.
But as I was going back into the house, I beheld a thing too
wondrous for words, and passing the wit of man to understand. I
happened to have thrown the shred of wool, with which I bad been
preparing the robe, into the full blaze of the sunshine. As it grew
warm, it shrivelled all away, and quickly crumbled to powder on the
ground, like nothing so much as the dust shed from a saw's teeth where
men work timber. In such a state it lies as it fell. And from the
earth, where it was strewn, clots of foam seethed up, as when the rich
juice of the blue fruit from the vine of Bacchus is poured upon the
ground.
So I know not, hapless one, whither to turn my thoughts; I only
see that I have done a fearful deed. Why or wherefore should the
monster, in his death-throes, have shown good will to me, on whose
account he was dying? Impossible! No, he was cajoling me, in order
to slay the man who had smitten him: and I gain the knowledge of
this too late, when it avails no more. Yes, I alone- unless my
foreboding prove false- I, wretched one, must destroy him! For I
know that the arrow which made the wound did scathe even to the god
Cheiron; and it kills all beasts that it touches. And since 'tis
this same black venom in the blood that hath passed out through the
wound of Nessus, must it not kill my lord also? I ween it 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 lend
courage.
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 altar.
At first, hapless one, he prayed with serene soul, rejoicing in
his comely garb. But when the blood-fed flame began to blaze from
the holy offerings and from the resinous pine, a sweat broke forth
upon his flesh, and the tunic clung to his sides, at every joint,
close-glued, as if by a craftsman's hand; there came a biting pain
that racked his bones; and then the venom, as of some deadly, cruel
viper, began to devour 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 the house.)
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?

antistrophe 1

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?

strophe 2

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.

antistrophe 2

Our streaming tears break forth: alas, a plague is upon him more
piteous than any suffering that foemen ever brought upon that glorious
hero.
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 of others.
But when she ceased from this, suddenly I beheld her rush into the
chamber of Heracles. From a secret place of espial, I watched her; and
saw her spreading coverings on the couch of her lord. When she had
done this, she sprang thereon, and sat in the middle of the bed; her
tears burst forth in burning streams, and thus she spake: 'Ah,
bridal bed and bridal chamber mine, farewell now and for ever; never
more shall ye receive me to rest upon this couch.' She said no more,
but with a vehement hand loosed her robe, where the gold-wrought
brooch lay above her breast, baring all her left side and arm. Then
I ran with all my strength, and warned her son of her intent. But
lo, in the space between my going and our return, she had driven a
two-edged sword through her side to the 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.

antistrophe 1

One sorrow may be seen in the house; for one we wait with
foreboding: and suspense hath a kinship with pain.

strophe 2

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.

antistrophe 2

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, noiseless march.
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 and eyes?
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 my ken!

strophe 1

Ah!
Leave me, hapless one, to my rest- leave me to my last rest!

strophe 2

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?

antistrophe 1

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 relief.
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 by Zeus!
HERACLES

strophe 3

O my son, where art thou? Raise me,- take hold of me,- thus
thus! Alas, my destiny!

antistrophe 2

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!

antistrophe 3

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
plight!
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
the wicked!
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
voice!
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
oracles know.
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 a sire.
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 with
me!
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, my
father.
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.


-THE END-
.
 

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