ELECTRA by Sophocles, Part 09
When we see the birds of the air, with sure instinct, careful to nourish those who give them life and nurture, why do not we pay these debts in like measure? Nay, by the lightning-flash of Zeus, by Themis throned in heaven, it is not long till sin brings sorrow.
Voice that comest to the dead beneath the earth, send a piteous cry, I pray thee, to the son of Atreus in that world, a joyless message of dishonour;
tell him that the fortunes of his house are now distempered; while, among his children, strife of sister with sister hath broken the harmony of loving days. Electra, forsaken, braves the storm alone; she bewails alway, hapless one, her father's fate, like the nightingale unwearied in lament; she recks not of death, but is ready to leave the sunlight, could she but quell the two Furies of her house. Who shall match such noble child of noble sire?
No generous soul deigns, by a base life, to cloud a fair repute, and leave a name inglorious; as thou, too, O my daughter, hast chosen to mourn all thy days with those that mourn, and hast spurned dishonour, that thou mightest win at once a twofold praise, as wise, and as the best of daughters.
May I yet see thy life raised in might and wealth above thy foes, even as now it is humbled beneath their hand! For I have found thee in no prosperous estate; and yet, for observance of nature's highest laws, winning the noblest renown, by thy piety towards Zeus.
ORESTES enters, with PYLADES and two attendants, one of them carrying a funeral urn.
Ladies, have we been directed aright, and are we on the right path to our goal?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And what seekest thou? With what desire hast thou come?
I have been searching for the home of Aegisthus.
Well, thou hast found it; and thy guide is blameless.
Which of you, then, will tell those within that our company, long desired, hath arrived?
This maiden,- if the nearest should announce it.
I pray thee, mistress, make it known in the house that certain men of Phocis seek Aegisthus.
Ah, woe is me! Surely ye are not bringing the visible proofs of that rumour which we heard?
I know nothing of thy 'rumour'; but the aged Strophius charged me with tidings of Orestes.
What are they, sir? Ah, how I thrill with fear!
He is dead; and in a small urn, as thou seest, we bring the scanty relics home.
Ah me unhappy! There, at last, before mine eyes, I see that woful burden in your hands
If thy tears are for aught which Orestes hath suffered, know that yonder vessel holds his dust.
Ah, sir, allow me, then, I implore thee, if this urn indeed contains him, to take it in my hands,- that I may weep and wail, not for these ashes alone, but for myself and for all our house therewith!
ORESTES to the attendants
Bring it and give it her, whoe'er she be; for she who begs this boon must be one who wished him no evil, but a friend, or haply a kinswoman in blood.
The urn is placed in ELECTRA'S hands.
Ah, memorial of him whom I loved best on earth! Ah, Orestes, whose life hath no relic left save this,- how far from the hopes with which I sent thee forth is the manner in which I receive thee back! Now I carry thy poor dust in my hands; but thou wert radiant, my child, when I sped the forth from home! Would that I had yielded up my breath, ere, with these hands, I stole thee away, and sent thee to a strange land, and rescued the from death; that so thou mightest have been stricken down on that self-same day, and had thy portion in the tomb of thy sire!
But now, an exile from home and fatherland, thou hast perished miserably, far from thy sister; woe is me, these loving hands have not washed or decked thy corpse, nor taken up, as was meet, their sad burden from the flaming pyre. No! at the hands of strangers, hapless one, thou hast had those rites, and so art come to us, a little dust in a narrow urn.
Ah, woe is me for my nursing long ago, so vain, that I oft bestowed on thee with loving toil I For thou wast never thy mother's darling so much as mine; nor was any in the house thy nurse but I; and by thee I was ever called 'sister.' But now all this hath vanished in a day, with thy death; like a whirlwind, thou hast swept all away with thee. Our father is gone; I am dead in regard to thee; thou thyself hast perished: our foes exult; that mother, who is none, is mad with joy,- she of whom thou didst oft send me secret messages, thy Heralds, saying that thou thyself wouldst appear as an avenger. But our evil fortune. thine and mine, hath reft all that away, and hath sent thee forth unto me thus,- no more the form that I loved so well, but ashes and an idle shade.
Ah me, ah me! O piteous dust! Alas, thou dear one, sent on a dire journey, how hast undone me,- undone me indeed, O brother mine!
Therefore take me to this thy home, me who am as nothing, to thy nothingness, that I may dwell with thee henceforth below; for when thou wert on earth, we shared alike; and now I fain would die, that I may not be parted from thee in the grave. For I see that the dead have rest from pain.
Bethink thee, Electra, thou art the child of mortal sire, and mortal was Orestes; therefore grieve not too much. This is a debt which all of us must pay.
Alas, what shall I say? What words can serve me at this pass? I can restrain my lips no longer!
What hath troubled thee? Why didst thou say that?
Is this the form of the illustrious Electra that I behold?
It is; and very grievous is her plight.
Alas, then, for this miserable fortune!
Surely, sir, thy lament is not for me?