TYNDAREUS, father of Clytemnestra
(SCENE:-Before the royal palace at Argos. It is the sixth day after the murder of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. ELECTRA is discovered alone. ORESTES lies sleeping on a couch in the background.)
ELECTRA THERE is naught so terrible to describe, be it physical pain or heaven-sent affliction, that man's nature may not have to bear the burden of it. Tantalus, they say, once so prosperous,-and I am not now taunting him with his misfortunes,-Tantalus, the reputed son of Zeus, hangs suspended in mid air, quailing at the crag which looms above his head; paying this penalty, they say, for the shameful weakness he displayed in failing to keep a bridle on his lips, when admitted by gods, though he was but mortal, to share the honours of their feasts like one of them. He it was that begat Pelops, the father of Atreus, for whom the goddess, when she had carded her wool, spun a web of strife, even to the making of war with his own brother Thyestes. But why need I repeat that hideous tale? Well, Atreus slew Thyestes' children and feasted him on them; but,-passing over intermediate events-from Atreus and Aerope of Crete sprang Agamemnon, that famous chief,-if his was really fame,-and Menelaus. Now it was this Menelaus who married Helen, Heaven's abhorrence; while his brother, King Agamemnon, took Clytemnestra to wife, name of note in Hellas, and we three daughters were his issue, Chrysothemis, Iphigenia, and myself Electra; also a son Orestes; all of that one accursed mother, who slew her lord, after snaring him in a robe that had no outlet. Her reason a maiden's lips may not declare, and so leave that unexplained for the world to guess at. What need for me to charge Phoebus with wrong-doing, though he instigated Orestes to slay his own mother, a deed that few approved; still it was his obedience to the god that made him slay her; I, too, feebly as a woman would, shared in the deed of blood, as did Pylades who helped us to bring it about. After this my poor Orestes fell sick of a cruel wasting disease; upon his couch he lies prostrated, and it is his mother's blood that goads him into frenzied fits; this I say, from dread of naming those goddesses, whose terrors are chasing him before them,-even the Eumenides. 'Tis now the sixth day since the body of his murdered mother was committed to the cleansing fire; since then no food has passed his lips, nor hath he washed his skin; but wrapped in his cloak he weeps in his lucid moments, whenever the fever leaves him; other whiles he bounds headlong from his couch, as colt when it is loosed from the yoke. Moreover, this city of Argos has decreed that no man give us shelter at his fireside or speak to matricides like us; yea, and this is the fateful day on which Argos will decide our sentence, whether we are both to die by stoning, or to whet the steel and plunge it in our necks. There is, 'tis true, one hope of escape still left us; Menelaus has landed from Troy; his fleet now crowds the haven of Nauplia where he is come to anchor, returned at last from Troy after ceaseless wanderings; but Helen, that "lady of sorrows," as she styles herself, hath he sent on to our palace, carefully waiting for the night, lest any of those parents whose sons were slain beneath the walls of Troy, might see her if she went by day, and set to stoning her. Within she sits, weeping for her sister and the calamities of her family, and yet she hath still some solace in her woe; for Hermione, the child she left at home in the hour she sailed for Troys-the maid whom Menelaus brought from Sparta and entrusted to my mother's keeping,-is still a cause of joy to her and a reason to forget her sorrows. I, meantime, am watching each approach, against the moment I see Menelaus arriving; for unless we find some safety there, we have but feeble anchor to ride on otherwise. A helpless thing, an unlucky house! (HELEN enters from the palace.) HELEN Daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, hapless Electra, too long now left a maid unwed! how is it with thee and thy brother, this ill-starred Orestes who slew his mother! Speak; for referring the sin as I do to Phoebus, I incur no pollution by letting thee accost me; and yet am truly sorry for the fate of my sister Clytenmestra, on whom I ne'er set eyes after I was driven by heaven-sent frenzy to sail on my disastrous voyage to Ilium; but now that I am parted from her I bewail our misfortunes. ELECTRA Prithee, Helen, why should I speak of that which thine own eyes can see the son of Agamemnon in his misery? Beside his wretched corpse I sit, a sleepless sentinel; for corpse he is, so faint his breath; not that I reproach him with his sufferings; but thou art highly blest and thy husband too, and ye are come upon us in the hour of adversity. HELEN How long hath he been laid thus upon his couch? ELECTRA Ever since he spilt his mother's blood-. HELEN Unhappy wretch! unhappy mother! what a death she died! ELECTRA Unhappy enough to succumb to his misery. HELEN Prithee, maiden, wilt hear me a moment? ELECTRA Aye, with such small leisure as this watching o'er a brother leaves. HELEN Wilt go for me to my sister's tomb? ELECTRA Wouldst have me seek my mother's tomb? And why? HELEN To carry an offering of hair and a libation from me. ELECTRA Art forbidden then to go to the tombs of those thou lovest? HELEN Nay, but I am ashamed to show myself in Argos. ELECTRA A late repentance surely for one who left her home so shamefully then. HELEN Thou hast told the truth, but thy telling is not kind to me. ELECTRA What is this supposed modesty before the eyes of Mycenae that possesses thee? HELEN I am afraid of the fathers of those who lie dead beneath the walls of Ilium. ELECTRA Good cause for fear; thy name is on every tongue in Argos. HELEN Then free me of my fear and grant me this boon. ELECTRA I could not bear to face my mother's grave. HELEN And yet 'twere shame indeed to send these offerings by a servant's hand. ELECTRA Then why not send thy daughter Hermione? HELEN 'Tis not seemly for a tender maid to make her way amongst a crowd. ELECTRA And yet she would thus be repaying her dead foster-mother's care. HELEN True; thou hast convinced me, maiden. Yes, I will send my daughter; for thou art right. (Calling) Hermione, my child, come forth before the palace; (HERMIONE and attendants come out of the palace.) take these libations and these tresses of mine in thy hands, and go pour round Clytemnestra's tomb a mingled cup of honey, milk, and frothing wine; then stand upon the heaped-up grave, and proclaim therefrom, "Helen, thy sister, sends thee these libations as her gift, fearing herself to approach thy tomb from terror of the Argive mob"; and bid her harbour kindly thoughts towards me and thee and my husband; towards these two wretched sufferers, too, whom Heaven hath afflicted. Likewise promise that I will pay in full whatever funeral gifts are due from me to a sister. Now go, my child, and tarry not; and soon as thou hast made the offering at the tomb, bethink thee of thy return.
(HELEN goes into the palace as HERMIONE and her attendants depart with the offerings.)
ELECTRA O human nature, what a grievous curse thou art in this world! and what salvation, too, to those who have a goodly heritage therein! Did ye mark how she cut off her hair only at the ends, careful to preserve its beauty? 'Tis the same woman as of old. May Heaven's hate pursue thee! for thou hast proved the ruin of me and my poor brother and all Hellas. Alack! here are my friends once more, coming to unite their plaintive dirge with mine; they will soon put an end to my brother's peaceful sleep and cause my tears to flow when I see his frenzied fit.
(The CHORUS OF ARGIVE MAIDENS enters quietly. The following lines between ELECTRA and the CHORUS are chanted responsively.)
Good friends, step softly; not a sound; not a whisper! for though this kindness is well-meant, rouse him and I shall rue it. CHORUS Hush! hush! let your footsteps fall lightly! not a sound! not whisper! ELECTRA Further, further from his couch! I beseech ye. CHORUS There! there! I obey. ELECTRA Hush! hush! good friend, I pray. Soft as the breath of slender reedy pipe be thy every accent! CHORUS Hark, how soft and low I drop my voice! ELECTRA Yes, lower thy voice e'en thus; approach now, softly, softly! Tell me what reason ye had for coming at all. 'Tis so long since he laid him down to sleep. CHORUS How is it with him? Impart thy news, dear lady. Is it weal or woe I am to tell? ELECTRA He is still alive, but his moans grow feeble. CHORUS What sayest thou? (Turning to ORESTES) Poor wretch! ELECTRA Awake him from the deep sweet slumber he is now enjoying and thou wilt cause his death. CHORUS Ah, poor sufferer! victim of Heaven's vengeful hate! ELECTRA Ah, misery! It seems it was a wicked utterance by a wicked god delivered, the day that Loxias from his seat upon the tripod of Themis decreed my mother's most unnatural murder. CHORUS He stirs beneath his robe! Dost see? ELECTRA Alas! I do; thy noisy words have roused him from his sleep. CHORUS Nay, methinks he slumbers still. ELECTRA Begone! quit the house! retrace thy footsteps! a truce to this din! CHORUS He sleeps. Thou art right. ELECTRA O Night, majestic queen, giver of sleep to toiling men, rise from the abyss of Erebus and wing thy way to the palace of Agamemnon! For beneath our load of misery and woe we sink, aye, sink oppressed. There! (To the CHORUS) that noise again! Be still and keep that high-pitched voice of thine away from his couch; suffer him to enjoy his sleep in peace! CHORUS Tell me, what end awaits his troubles? ELECTRA Death, death; what else? for he does not even miss his food. CHORUS Why, then his doom is full in view. ELECTRA Phoebus marked us out as his victims by imposing a foul unnatural task, even the shedding of the blood of our mother, who slew our sire. CHORUS 'Twas just, but 'twas not well. ELECTRA Dead, dead, O mother mine! and thou hast slain a father and these the children of thy womb; for we are dead or as the dead. Yes, thou art in thy grave, and more than half my life is spent in weeping and wailing and midnight lamentations; oh, look on me! a maid unwed, unblest with babes, I drag out a joyless existence as if for ever. LEADER OF THE CHORUS My daughter Electra, from thy near station there see whether thy brother hath not passed away without thy knowing it; for I like not his utter prostration. ORESTES (awaking refreshed) Sweet charm of sleep! saviour in sickness! how dear to me thy coming was! how needed! All hail, majestic power, oblivion of woe! How wise this goddess is, how earnestly invoked by every suffering soul! (Addressing ELECTRA) Whence came I hither? How is it I am here? for I have lost all previous recollection and remember nothing. ELECTRA Dearest brother, how glad I was to see thee fall asleep! Wouldst have me take thee in my arms and lift thy body? ORESTES Take, oh! take me in thy arms, and from this sufferer's mouth and eyes wipe off the flakes of foam. ELECTRA Ah! 'tis a service I love; nor do I scorn with sister's hand to tend a brother's limbs. ORESTES Prop me up, thy side to mine; brush the matted hair from off my face, for I see but dimly. ELECTRA Ah, poor head! how squalid are thy locks become! How wild thy look from remaining so long uncleansed! ORESTES Lay me once more upon the couch; when my fit leaves me, I am all unnerved, unstrung. ELECTRA (as she lays him down) Welcome to the sick man is his couch, for painful though it be to take thereto, yet is it necessary. ORESTES Set me upright once again, turn me round; it is their helplessness makes the sick so hard to please. ELECTRA Wilt put thy feet upon the ground and take a step at last? Change is always pleasant. ORESTES That will I; for that has a semblance of health; and that seeming, though it be far from the reality, is preferable to this. ELECTRA Hear me then, O brother mine, while yet the avenging fiends permit thee to use thy senses. ORESTES Hast news to tell? so it be good, thou dost me a kindness; but if it tend to my hurt, lo! I have sorrow enough. ELECTRA Menelaus, thy father's brother, is arrived; in Nauplia his fleet lies at anchor. ORESTES Ha! is he come to cast a ray of light upon our gloom, a man of our own kin who owes our sire a debt of gratitude? ELECTRA Yes, he is come, and is bringing Helen with him from the walls of Troy; accept this as a sure proof of what I say. ORESTES Had he returned alone in safety, he were more to be envied; for if he is bringing his wife with him, he is bringing a load of evil. ELECTRA Tyndareus begat a race of daughters notorious for the shame they earned, infamous throughout Hellas. ORESTES Be thou then different from that evil brood, for well thou mayest, and that not only in profession, but also in heart. ELECTRA Ah! brother, thine eye is growing wild, and in a moment art thou passing from thy recent saneness back to frenzy. ORESTES (starting up wildly) Mother, I implore thee! let not loose on me those maidens with their bloodshot eyes and snaky hair. Ha! see, see where they approach to leap upon me! ELECTRA Lie still, poor sufferer, on thy couch; thine eye sees none of the things which thy fancy paints so clear. ORESTES O Phoebus! they will kill me, yon hounds of hell, death's priestesses with glaring eyes, terrific goddesses. ELECTRA I will not let thee go; but with arms twined round thee will prevent thy piteous tossing to and fro. ORESTES Loose me! thou art one of those fiends that plague me, and art gripping me by the waist to hurl my body into Tartarus. ELECTRA Woe is me! what succour can I find, seeing that we have Heaven's forces set against us? ORESTES Give me my horn-tipped bow, Apollo's gift, wherewith that god declared that I should defend myself against these goddesses, if ever they sought to scare me with wild transports of madness. A mortal hand will wound one of these goddesses, unless she vanish from my sight. Do ye not heed me, or mark the feathered shaft of my far-shooting bow ready to wing its flight? What! do ye linger still? Spread your pinions, skim the sky, and blame those oracles of Phoebus. Ah! why am I raving, panting, gasping? Whither, oh! whither have leapt from off my couch? Once more the storm is past; I see a calm. Sister, why weepest thou, thy head wrapped in thy robe? I am ashamed that I should make thee a partner in my sufferings and distress a maid like thee through sickness of mine. Cease to fret for my troubles; for though thou didst consent to it, yet 'twas I that spilt our mother's blood. 'Tis Loxias I blame, for urging me on to do a deed most damned, encouraging me with words but no real help; for I am sure that, had I asked my father to his face whether I was to slay my mother, he would have implored me oft and earnestly by this beard never to plunge a murderer's sword into my mother's breast, since he would not thereby regain his life, whilst I, poor wretch, should be doomed to drain this cup of sorrow. E'en as it is, dear sister, unveil thy face and cease to weep, despite our abject misery; and whensoe'er thou seest me give way to despair, be it thine to calm and soothe the terrors and distorted fancies of my brain; likewise when sorrow comes to thee, I must be at thy side and give the words of comfort; for to help our friends like this is a gracious task. Seek thy chamber now, poor sister; lie down and close awhile thy sleepless eyes; take food and bathe thy body; for if thou leave me or fall sick from nursing me, my doom is sealed; for thou art the only champion I now have, by all the rest deserted, as thou seest. ELECTRA I leave thee! never! With thee I am resolved to live and die; for 'tis the same; if thou diest, what can I, a woman, do? How shall I escape alone, reft of brother, sire, and friends? Still if it be thy pleasure, I must do thy bidding. But lay thee down upon thy couch, and pay not too great heed to the terrors and alarms that scare thee from thy rest; lie still upon thy pallet bed; for e'en though one be not sick but only fancy it, this is a source of weariness and perplexity to mortals.
(ELECTRA enters the palace, as ORESTES lies back upon his couch.)