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HECUBA by Euripides, Part 03

ODYSSEUS
Lady, methinks thou knowest already the intention of the host, and
the vote that has been passed; still will I declare it. It is the
Achaeans' will to sacrifice thy daughter Polyxena at the mound
heaped o'er Achilles' grave; and they appoint me to take the maid
and bring her thither, while the son of Achilles is chosen to
preside o'er the sacrifice and act as priest. Dost know then what to
do? Be not forcibly torn from her, nor match thy might 'gainst mine;
recognize the limits of thy strength, and the presence of thy
troubles. Even in adversity 'tis wise to yield to reason's dictates.
HECUBA
Ah me! an awful trial is nigh, it seems, fraught with mourning,
rich in tears. Yes, I too escaped death where death had been my due,
and Zeus destroyed me not but is still preserving my life, that I
may witness in my misery fresh sorrows surpassing all before. Still if
the bond may ask the free of things that grieve them not nor wrench
their heart-strings, 'tis well that thou shouldst make an end and
hearken to my questioning.
ODYSSEUS
Granted; put thy questions; that short delay I grudge thee not.
HECUBA
Dost remember the day thou camest to spy on Ilium, disguised in
rags and tatters, while down thy cheek ran drops of blood?
ODYSSEUS
Remember it! yes; 'twas no slight impression it made upon my
heart.
HECUBA
Did Helen recognize thee and tell me only?
ODYSSEUS
I well remember the awful risk I ran.
HECUBA
Didst thou embrace my knees in all humility?
ODYSSEUS
Yea, so that my hand grew dead and cold upon thy robe.
HECUBA
What saidst thou then, when in my power?
ODYSSEUS
Doubtless I found plenty to say, to save my life.
HECUBA
Was it I that saved and sent thee forth again?
ODYSSEUS
Thou didst, and so I still behold the light of day.
HECUBA
Art not thou then playing a sorry part to plot against me thus,
after the kind treatment thou didst by thy own confession receive from
me, showing me no gratitude but all the ill thou canst? A thankless
race! all ye who covet honour from the mob for your oratory. Oh that
ye were unknown to me ye who harm your friends and think no more of
it, if ye can but say a word to win the mob. But tell me, what kind of
cleverness did they think it, when against this child they passed
their bloody vote? Was it duty led them to slay a human victim at
the tomb, where sacrifice of oxen more befits? or does Achilles, if
claiming the lives of those who slew him as his recompense, show his
justice by marking her out for death? No! she at least ne'er injured
him. He should have demanded Helen as a victim at his tomb, for she it
was that proved his ruin, bringing him to Troy; or if some captive
of surpassing beauty was to be singled out for doom, this pointed
not to us; for the daughter of Tyndareus was fairer than all
womankind, and her injury to him was proved no les than ours.
Against the justice of his plea I pit this argument. Now hear the
recompense due from thee to me at my request. On thy own confession,
thou didst fall at my feet and embrace my hand and aged cheek; I in my
turn now do the same to thee, and claim the favour then bestowed;
and I implore thee, tear not my child from my arms, nor slay her.
There be dead enough; she is my only joy, in her I forget my
sorrows; My one comfort she in place of many a loss, my city and my
NURSE, my staff and journey's guide. 'Tis never right that those in
power should use it out of season, or when prosperous suppose they
will be always so. For I like them was prosperous once, but now my
life is lived, and one day robbed me of all my bliss. Friend, by thy
beard, have some regard and pity for me; go to Achaea's host, and talk
them over, saying how hateful a thing it is to slay women whom at
first ye spared out of pity, after dragging them from the altars.
For amongst you the self-same law holds good for bond and free alike
respecting bloodshed; such influence as thine will persuade them
even though thy words are weak; for the same argument, when proceeding
from those of no account, has not the same force as when it is uttered
by men of mark.
LEADER
Human nature is not so stony-hearted as to hear thy plaintive tale
and catalogue of sorrows, without shedding a tear.
ODYSSEUS
O HECUBA! be schooled by me, nor in thy passion count him a foe
who speaketh wisely. Thy life I am prepared to save, for the service I
received; I say no otherwise. But what I said to all, I will not now
deny, that after Troy's capture I would give thy daughter to the
chiefest of our host because he asked a victim. For herein is a source
of weakness to most states, whene'er a man of brave and generous
soul receives no greater honour than his inferiors. Now Achilles,
lady, deserves honour at our hands, since for Hellas he died as
nobly as a mortal can. Is not this a foul reproach to treat a man as a
friend in life, but, when he is gone from us, to treat him so no more?
How now? what will they say, if once more there comes gathering of the
host and a contest with the foe? "Shall we fight or NURSE our lives,
seeing the dead have no honours?" For myself, indeed, though in life
my daily store were scant, yet would it be all-sufficient, but as
touching a tomb I should wish mine to be an object of respect, for
this gratitude has long to run. Thou speakest of cruel sufferings;
hear my answer. Amongst us are aged dames and grey old men no less
miserable than thou, and brides of gallant husbands reft, o'er whom
this Trojan dust has closed. Endure these sorrows; for us, if we are
wrong in resolving to honour the brave, we shall bring upon
ourselves a charge of ignorance; but as for you barbarians, regard not
your friends as such and pay no homage to your gallant dead, that
Hellas may prosper and ye may reap the fruits of such policy.

 

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