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ELECTRA by Sophocles, Part 05

What is it, sir? Tell me: coming from a friend, thou wilt bring, I know; a kindly message.

Orestes is dead; that is the sum.

Oh, miserable that I am! I am lost this day!

What sayest thou, friend, what sayest thou?- listen not to her!

I said, and say again- Orestes is dead.

I am lost, hapless one, I am undone!

See thou to thine own concerns.- But do thou, sir, tell me exactly,-how did he perish?

I was sent for that purpose, and will tell thee all. Having gone to the renowned festival, the pride of Greece, for the Delphian games, when he heard the loud summons to the foot-race which was first to be decided, he entered the lists, a brilliant form, a wonder in the eyes of all there; and, having finished his course at the point where it began, he went out with the glorious meed of victory. To speak briefly, where there is much to tell, I know not the man whose deeds and triumphs have matched his; but one thing thou must know; in all the contests that the judges announced, he bore away the prize; and men deemed him happy, as oft as the Herald proclaimed him an Argive, by name Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who once gathered the famous armament of Greece.

Thus far, 'twas well; but, when a god sends harm, not even the strong man can escape. For, on another day, when chariots were to try their speed at sunrise, he entered, with many charioteers. One was an Achaean, one from Sparta, two masters of yoked cars were Libyans; Orestes, driving Thessalian mares, came fifth among them; the sixth from Aetolia, with chestnut colts; a Magnesian was the seventh; the eighth, with white horses, was of Aenian stock; the ninth, from Athens, built of gods; there was a Boeotian too, making the tenth chariot.

They took their stations where the appointed umpires placed them by lot and ranged the cars; then, at the sound of the brazen trump, they started. All shouted to their horses, and shook the reins in their hands; the whole course was filled with the noise of rattling chariots; the dust flew upward; and all, in a confused throng, plied their goads unsparingly, each of them striving to pass the wheels and the snorting steeds of his rivals; for alike at their backs and at their rolling wheels the breath of the horses foamed and smote.

Orestes, driving close to the pillar at either end of the course, almost grazed it with his wheel each time, and, giving rein to the trace-horse on the right, checked the horse on the inner side. Hitherto, all the chariots had escaped overthrow; but presently the Aenian's hard-mouthed colts ran away, and, swerving, as they passed from the sixth into the seventh round, dashed their foreheads against the team of the Barcaean. Other mishaps followed the first, shock on shock and crash on crash, till the whole race-ground of Crisa was strewn with the wreck of the chariots.

Seeing this, the wary charioteer from Athens drew aside and paused, allowing the billow of chariots, surging in mid course, to go by. Orestes was driving last, keeping his horses behind,- for his trust was in the end; but when he saw that the Athenian was alone left in, he sent a shrill cry ringing through the ears of his swift colts, and gave chase. Team was brought level with team, and so they raced,-first one man, then the other. showing his head in front of the chariots.

Hitherto the ill-fated Orestes had passed safely through every round, steadfast in his steadfast car; at last, slackening his left rein while the horse was turning, unawares he struck the edge of the pillar; he broke the axle-box in twain; he was thrown over the chariot-rail; he was caught in the shapely reins; and, as he fell on the ground, his colts were scattered into the middle of the course.

But when the people saw him fallen from the car, a cry of pity went up for the youth, who had done such deeds and was meeting such a doom,- now dashed to earth, now tossed feet uppermost to the sky,- till the charioteers, with difficulty checking the career of his horses, loosed him, so covered with blood that no friend who saw it would have known the hapless corpse. Straightway they burned it on a pyre; and chosen men of Phocis are bringing in a small urn of bronze the sad dust of that mighty form, to find due burial in his fatherland.

Such is my story,- grievous to hear, if words can grieve; but for us, who beheld, the greatest of sorrows that these eyes have seen.

Alas, alas Now, methinks, the stock of our ancient masters hath utterly perished, root and branch.

O Zeus, what shall I call these tidings,- glad tidings? Or dire, but gainful? 'Tis a bitter lot, when mine own calamities make the safety of my life.

Why art thou so downcast, lady, at this news?

There is a strange power in motherhood; a mother may be wronged, but she never learns to hate her child.

Then it seems that we have come in vain.

Nay, not in vain; how canst thou say 'in vain,' when thou hast brought an sure proofs of his death?- His, who sprang from mine own life, yet, forsaking me who had suckled and reared him, became an exile and an alien; and, after he went out of this land, he saw me no more; but, charging me with the murder of his sire, he uttered dread threats against me; so that neither by night nor by day could sweet sleep cover mine eyes, but from moment to moment I lived in fear of death. Now, however-since this day I am rid of terror from him, and from this girl,- that worse plague who shared my home, while still she drained my very life-blood,-now, methinks, for aught that she can threaten, I shall pass my days in peace.

Ah, woe is me! Now, indeed, Orestes, thy fortune may be lamented, when it is thus with thee, and thou art mocked by this thy mother! Is it not well?

Not with thee; but his state is well.

Hear, Nemesis of him who hath lately died!

She hath heard who should be heard, and hath ordained well.

Insult us, for this is the time of thy triumph.

Then will not Orestes and thou silence me?

We are silenced; much less should we silence thee.

Thy coming, sir, would deserve large recompense, if thou hast hushed her clamorous tongue.

Then I may take my leave, if all is well.

Not so; thy welcome would then be unworthy of me, and of the ally who sent thee. Nay, come thou in; and leave her without, to make loud lament for herself and for her friends.
CLYTEMNESTRA and the PAEDAGOGUS enter the palace.

How think ye? Was there not grief and anguish there, wondrous weeping and wailing of that miserable mother, for the son who perished by such a fate? Nay, she left us with a laugh! Ah, woe is me! Dearest Orestes, how is my life quenched by thy death! Thou hast torn away with the from my heart the only hopes which still were mine,- that thou wouldst live to return some day, an avenger of thy sire, and of me unhappy. But now- whither shall I turn? I am alone, bereft of thee, as of my father.

Henceforth I must be a slave again among those whom most I hate, my father's murderers. Is it not well with me? But never, at least, henceforward, will I enter the house to dwell with them; nay, at these gates I will lay me down, and here, without a friend, my days shall wither. Therefore, if any in the house be wroth, let them slay me; for 'tis a grace, if I die, but if I live, a pain; I desire life no more.
The following lines between ELECTRA and the CHORUS are chanted responsively.

strophe 1

Where are the thunderbolts of Zeus, or where is the bright Sun, if they look upon these things, and brand them not, but rest?


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