HECUBA by Euripides, Part 06
Ah! what wilt thou say? Art thou not come, as I had thought, to
fetch me to my doom, but to announce ill news? Lost, lost, my child!
snatched from thy mother's arms! and I am childless now, at least as
touches thee; ah, woe is me!
How did ye end her life? was any mercy shown? or did ye deal
ruthlessly with her as though your victim were a foe, old man?
Speak, though thy words must be pain to me.
Lady, thou art bent on making mine a double meed of tears in
pity for thy child; for now too as I tell the sad tale a tear will wet
my eye, as it did at the tomb when she was dying.
All Achaea's host was gathered there in full array before the tomb
to see thy daughter offered; and the son of Achilles took Polyxena
by the hand and set her on the top of the mound, while I stood near;
and a chosen band of young Achaeans followed to hold thy child and
prevent her struggling. Then did Achilles' son take in his hands a
brimming cup of gold and poured an offering to his dead sire, making a
sign to me to proclaim silence throughout the Achaean host. So I stood
at his side and in their midst proclaimed, "Silence, ye Achaeans!
hushed be the people all! peace! be still! "Therewith I hushed the
host. Then spake he, "Son of Peleus, father mine, accept the
offering I pour thee to appease thy spirit, strong to raise the
dead; and come to drink the black blood of a virgin pure, which I
and the host are offering thee; oh! be propitious to us; grant that we
may loose our prows and the cables of our ships, and, meeting with
prosperous voyage from Ilium, all to our country come." So he; and all
the army echoed his prayer. Then seizing his golden sword by the
hilt he drew it from its scabbard, signing the while to the picked
young Argive warriors to hold the maid. But she, when she was ware
thereof, uttered her voice and said: "O Argives, who have sacked my
city! of my free will I die; let none lay hand on me; for bravely will
I yield my neck. Leave me free, I do beseech; so slay me, that death
may find me free; for to be called a slave amongst the dead fills my
royal heart with shame." Thereat the people shouted their applause,
and king AGAMEMNON bade the young men loose the maid. So they set
her free, as soon as they heard this last command from him whose might
was over all. And she, hearing her captors' words took her robe and
tore it open from the shoulder to the waist, displaying a breast and
bosom fair as a statue's; then sinking on her knee, one word she spake
more piteous than all the rest, "Young prince, if 'tis my breast
thou'dst strike, lo! here it is, strike home! or if at my neck thy
sword thou'lt aim, behold! that neck is bared."
Then he, half glad, half sorry in his pity for the maid, cleft
with the steel the channels of her breath, and streams of blood gushed
forth; but she, e'en in death's agony, took good heed to fall with
maiden grace, hiding from gaze of man what modest maiden must. Soon as
she had breathed her last through the fatal gash, each Argive set
his hand to different tasks, some strewing leaves o'er the corpse in
handfuls, others bringing pine-logs and heaping up a pyre; and he, who
brought nothing, would hear from him who did such taunts as these,
"Stand'st thou still, ignoble wretch, with never a robe or ornament to
bring for the maiden? Wilt thou give naught to her that showed such
peerless bravery and spirit?"
Such is the tale I tell about thy daughter's death, and I regard
thee as blest beyond all mothers in thy noble child, yet crossed in
fortune more than all.
Upon the race of Priam and my city some fearful curse hath
burst; 'tis sent by God, and we must bear it.
O my daughter! 'mid this crowd of sorrows I know not where to turn
my gaze; for if I set myself to one, another will not give me pause;
while from this again a fresh grief summons me, finding a successor to
sorrow's throne. No longer now can I efface from my mind the memory of
thy sufferings sufficiently to stay my tears; yet hath the story of
thy noble death taken from the keenness of my grief. Is it not then
strange that poor land, when blessed by heaven with a lucky year,
yields a good crop, while that which is good, if robbed of needful
care, bears but little increase; yet 'mongst men the knave is never
other than a knave, the good man aught but good, never changing for
the worse because of misfortune, but ever the same? Is then the
difference due to birth or bringing up? Good training doubtless
gives lessons in good conduct, and if a man have mastered this, he
knows what is base by the standard of good. Random shafts of my soul's
shooting these, I know.
(To TALTHYBIUS) Go thou and proclaim to the Argives that they
touch not my daughter's body but keep the crowd away. For when
countless host is gathered, the mob knows no restraint, and the
unruliness of sailors exceeds that of fire, all abstinence from evil
being counted evil.
(TALTHYBIUS goes out.)
(Addressing a servant) My aged handmaid, take a pitcher and dip it
in the salt sea and bring hither thereof, that I for the last time may
wash my child, a virgin wife, a widowed maid, and lay her out,-as
she deserves, ah! whence can I? impossible! but as best I can; and
what will that be? I will collect adornment from the captives, my
companions in these tents, if haply any of them escaping her
master's eye have some secret store from her old home.
(The MAID departs.)
O towering halls, O home so happy once, O Priam, rich in store
of fairest wealth, most blest of sires, and I no less, the grey-haired
mother of thy race, how are we brought to naught, stripped of our
former pride! And spite of all we vaunt ourselves, one on the riches
of his house, another be, cause he has an honoured name amongst his
fellow-citizens! But these things are naught; in vain are all our
thoughtful schemes, in vain our vaunting words. He is happiest who
meets no sorrow in his daily walk.
(HECUBA enters the tent.)