ELECTRA by Euripides, Part 10
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Hark! my friends, did ye hear that noise, like to the rumbling
of an earthquake, or am I the dupe of idle fancy? Hark! hark! once
more that wind-borne sound swells loudly on mine ear. ELECTRA!
mistress mine! come forth from the house!
ELECTRA (rushing out)
What is it, good friends? how goes the day with us?
I hear the cries of dying men; no more I know.
I heard them too, far off, but still distinct.
Yes, the sound came stealing from afar, but yet 'twas clear.
Was it the groan of an Argive, or of my friends?
I know not; for the cries are all confused.
That word of thine is my death-warrant; why do I delay?
Stay, till thou learn thy fate for certain.
No, no; we are vanquished; where are our messengers?
They will come in time; to slay a king is no light task.
(A MESSENGER enters in haste.)
All hail! ye victors, maidens of Mycenae, to all ORESTES '
friends his triumph I announce; AEGISTHUS, the murderer of
AGAMEMNON, lies weltering where he fell; return thanks to heaven.
Who art thou? What proof dost thou give of this?
Look at me, dost thou not recognize thy brother's servant?
O best of friends! 'twas fear that prevented me from recognizing
thee; now I know thee well. What sayst thou? Is my father's hateful
He is; I repeat it since it is thy wish.
Ye gods, and justice, whose eye is on all, at last art thou come.
I fain would learn the way and means my brother took to slay
After we had set out from this house, we struck into the broad
highroad, and came to the place where was the far-famed King of
Mycenae. Now he was walking in a garden well-watered, culling a wreath
of tender myrtle-sprays for his head, and when he saw us, he called
out, "All hail! strangers; who are ye? whence come ye? from what
country?" To him ORESTES answered, "We are from Thessaly, on our way
to Alpheus' banks to sacrifice to Olympian Zeus." When AEGISTHUS heard
that, he said, "Ye must be my guests to-day, and share the feast,
for I am even now sacrificing to the Nymphs; and by rising with
tomorrow's light ye will be just as far upon your journey; now let
us go within." Therewith he caught us by the hand and led us by the
way; refuse we could not; and when we were come to the house, he
gave command: "Bring water for my guests to wash forthwith, that
they may stand around the altar near the laver." But ORESTES answered,
"'Twas but now we purified ourselves and washed us clean in water from
the river. So if we strangers are to join your citizens in
sacrifice, we are ready, King AEGISTHUS, and will not refuse." So
ended they their private conference. Meantime the servants, that
composed their master's bodyguard, laid aside their weapons, and one
and all were busied at their tasks. Some brought the bowl to catch the
blood, others took up baskets, while others kindled fire and set
cauldrons round about the altars, and the whole house rang. Then did
thy mother's husband take the barley for sprinkling, and began casting
it upon the hearth with these words, "Ye Nymphs, who dwell among the
rocks, grant that I may often sacrifice with my wife, the daughter
of Tyndareus, within my halls, as happily as now, and ruin seize my
foes!" (whereby he meant ORESTES and thyself). But my master, lowering
his voice, offered a different prayer, that he might regain his
father's house. Next AEGISTHUS took from basket a long straight knife,
and cutting off some of the calf's hair, laid it with his right hand
on the sacred fire, and then cut its throat when the servants had
lifted it upon their shoulders, and thus addressed thy brother; "Men
declare that amongst the Thessalians this is counted honourable, to
cut up a bull neatly and to manage steeds. So take the knife, sir
stranger, and show us if rumour speaks true about the Thessalians."
Thereon ORESTES seized the Dorian knife of tempered steel and cast
from his shoulders his graceful buckled robe; then choosing PYLADES to
help him in his task, he made the servants withdraw, and catching
the calf by the hoof, proceeded to lay bare its white flesh, with
arm outstretched, and he flayed the hide quicker than a runner ever
finishes the two laps of the horses' race-course; next he laid the
belly open, and AEGISTHUS took the entrails in his hands and carefully
examined them. Now the liver had no lobe, while the portal vein
leading to the gall-bladder portended dangerous attack on him who
was observing it. Dark grows AEGISTHUS' brow, but my master asks, "Why
so despondent, good sir?" Said he, "I fear treachery from a
stranger. AGAMEMNON's son of all men most I hate, and he hates my
house." But ORESTES cried, "What! fear treachery from an exile! thou
the ruler of the city? Ho! take this Dorian knife away and bring me
a Thessalian cleaver, that we by sacrificial feast may learn the
will of heaven; let me cleave the breast-bone." And he took the axe
and cut it through. Now AEGISTHUS was examining the entrails,
separating them in his hands, and as he was bending down, thy
brother rose on tiptoe and smote him on the spine, severing the
bones of his back; and his body gave one convulsive shudder from
head to foot and writhed in the death-agony. No sooner did his
servants see it, than they rushed to arms, a host to fight with two;
yet did PYLADES and ORESTES of their valiancy meet them with
brandished spears. Then cried ORESTES , "I am no foe that come
against this city and my own servants, but I have avenged me on the
murderer of my sire, I, ill-starred ORESTES . Slay me not, my
father's former thralls!" They, when they heard him speak,
restrained their spears, and an old man, who had been in the family
many a long year, recognized him. Forthwith they crown thy brother
with a wreath, and utter shouts of joy. And lo! he is coming to show
thee the head, not the Gorgon's, but the head of thy hated foe
AEGISTHUS; his death today has paid in blood a bitter debt of blood.