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THE TRACHINIAE by Sophocles, Part 03


In the meadow, summer haunt of oxen, Lichas the Herald is proclaiming it to many: from him I heard it, and flew hither, that I might be the first to give thee these tidings, and so might reap some guerdon from thee, and win thy grace.

And why is he not here, if he brings good news?

His task, lady, is no easy one; all the Malian folk have thronged around him with questions, and he cannot move forward: each and all are bent on learning what they desire, and will not release him until they are satisfied. Thus their eagerness detains him against his will; but thou shalt presently see him face to face.

O Zeus, who rulest the meads of Oeta, sacred from the scythe, at last, though late, thou hast given us joy! Uplift your voices, ye women within the house and ye beyond our gates, since now we are gladdened by the light of this message, that hath risen on us beyond my hope!

Let the maidens raise a joyous strain for the house, with songs of triumph at the hearth; and, amidst them, let the shout of the men go up with one accord for Apollo of the bright quiver, our Defender! And at the same time, ye maidens, lift up a paean, cry aloud to his sister, the Ortygian Artemis, smiter of deer, goddess of the twofold torch, and to the Nymphs her neighbours!

My spirit soars; I will not reject the wooing of the flute.- O thou sovereign of my soul! Lo, the ivy's spell begins to work upon me! Euoe!- even now it moves me to whirl in the swift dance of Bachanals!

Praise, praise unto the Healer!

See, dear lady, see! Behold, these tidings are taking shape before thy gaze.

I see it, dear maidens; my watching eyes had not failed to note yon company.
Enter LICHAS, followed by Captive Maidens. Conspicuous among them is IOLE.
-All hail to the Herald, whose coming hath been so long delayed!- if indeed thou bringest aught that can give joy.

We are happy in our return, and happy in thy greeting, lady, which befits the deed achieved; for when a man hath fair fortune, he needs must win good welcome.

O best of friends, tell me first what first I would know,- shall I receive Heracles alive?

I, certainly, left him alive and well,- in vigorous health, unburdened by disease.

Where, tell me- at home, or on foreign soil?

There is a headland of Euboea, where to Cenaean Zeus he consecrates altars, and the tribute of fruitful ground.

In payment of a vow, or at the bidding of an oracle?

For a vow, made when he was seeking to conquer and despoil the country of these women who are before thee.

And these- who are they, I pray thee, and whose daughters? They deserve pity, unless their plight deceives me.

These are captives whom he chose out for himself and for the gods, when he sacked the city of Eurytus.

Was it the war against that city which kept him away so long, beyond all forecast, past all count of days?

Not so: the greater part of the time he was detained in Lydia,- no free man, as he declares, but sold into bondage. No offence should attend on the word, lady, when the deed is found to be of Zeus. So he passed a whole year, as he himself avows, in thraldom to Omphale the barbarian. And so stung was he by that reproach, he bound himself by a solemn oath that he would one day enslave, with wife and child, the man who had brought that calamity upon him. Nor did he speak the word in vain; but, when he bad been purged, gathered an alien host, and went against the city of Eurytus. That man, he said, alone of mortals, had a share in causing his misfortune. For when Heracles, an old friend, came to his house and hearth, Eurytus heaped on him the taunts of a bitter tongue and spiteful soul,- saying, 'Thou hast unerring arrows in thy hands, and yet my sons surpass thee in the trial of archery'; 'Thou art a slave,' he cried, 'a free man's broken thrall': and at a banquet, when his guest was full of wine, he thrust him from his doors.

Wroth thereat, when afterward Iphitus came to the hill of Tiryns, in search for horses that had strayed, Heracles seized a moment when the man's wandering thoughts went not with his wandering gaze, and hurled him from a tower-like summit. But in anger at that deed, Zeus our lord, Olympian sire of all, sent him forth into bondage, and spared not, because, this once, he had taken a life by guile. Had he wreaked his vengeance openly, Zeus would surely have pardoned him the righteous triumph; for the gods, too, love not insolence.

So those men, who waxed so proud with bitter speech, are themselves in the mansions of the dead, all of them, and their city is enslaved; while the women whom thou beholdest, fallen from happiness to misery, come here to thee; for such was thy lord's command, which I, his faithful servant, perform. He himself, thou mayest be sure,- so soon as he shall have offered holy sacrifice for his victory to Zeus from whom he sprang,- will be with thee. After all the fair tidings that have been told, this, indeed, is the sweetest word to hear.


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