THE TRACHINIAE by Sophocles, Part 07
Dear friends, while our visitor is saying his farewell to the captive girls in the house, I have stolen forth to you,- partly to tell you what these hands have devised, and partly to crave your sympathy with my sorrow.
A maiden,- or, methinks, no longer a maiden, but a mistress,- hath found her way into my house, as a freight comes to a mariner,- a merchandise to make shipwreck of my peace. And now we twain are to share the same marriage-bed, the same embrace. Such is the reward that Heracles hath sent me,- he whom I called true and loyal,- for guarding his home through all that weary time. I have no thought of anger against him, often as he is vexed with this distemper. But then to live with her, sharing the same union- what woman could endure it? For I see that the flower of her age is blossoming, while mine is fading; and the eyes of men love to cull the bloom of youth, but they turn aside from the old. This, then, is my fear,- lest Heracles, in name my spouse, should be the younger's mate.
But, as I said, anger ill beseems a woman of understanding. I will tell you, friends, the way by which I hope to find deliverance and relief. I had a gift, given to me long ago by a monster of olden time, aid stored in an urn of bronze; a gift which, while yet a girl, I took up from the shaggy-breasted Nessus,- from his life-blood, as he lay dying; Nessus, who used to carry men in his arms across the deep waters of the Evenus, using no oar to waft them, nor sail of ship.
I, too, was carried on his shoulders,- when, by my father's sending, first went forth with Heracles as his wife; and when I was in mid-stream, he touched me with wanton hands. I shrieked; the son of Zeus turned quickly round, and shot a feathered arrow; it whizzed through his breast to the lungs; and, in his mortal faintness, thus much the Centaur spake:-
'Child of aged Oeneus, thou shalt have at least this profit of my ferrying,- if thou wilt hearken,-because thou wast the last whom I conveyed. If thou gatherest with thy hands the blood clotted round my wound, at the place where the Hydra, Lerna's monstrous growth, hath tinged the arrow with black gall,- this shall be to thee a charm for the soul of Heracles, so that he shall never look upon any woman to love her more than thee.'
I bethought me of this, my friends- for, after his death, I had kept it carefully locked up in a secret place; and I have anointed this robe, doing everything to it as he enjoined while he lived. The work is finished. May deeds of wicked daring be ever far from my thoughts, and from my knowledge,- as I abhor the women who attempt them! But if in any wise I may prevail against this girl by love-spells and charms used on Heracles, the means to that end are ready;-unless, indeed, I seem to be acting rashly: if so, I will desist forthwith.
Nay, if these measures give any ground of confidence, we think that thy design is not amiss.
Well, the ground stands thus,- there is a fair promise; but I have not yet essayed the proof.
Nay, knowledge must come through action; thou canst have no test which is not fanciful, save by trial.
Well, we shall know presently:- for there I see the man already at the doors; and he will soon be going.- Only may my secret be well kept by you! While thy deeds are hidden, even though they be not seemly, thou wilt never be brought to shame. LICHAS enters from the house.
What are thy commands? Give me my charge, daughter of Oeneus; for already I have tarried over long.
Indeed, I have just been seeing to this for thee, Lichas, while thou wast speaking to the stranger maidens in the house;- that thou shouldest take for me this long robe, woven by mine own hand, a gift to mine absent lord.
And when thou givest it, charge him that he, and no other, shall be the first to wear it; that it shall not be seen by the light of the sun, nor by the sacred precinct, nor by the fire at the hearth, until he stand forth, conspicuous before all eyes, and show it to the gods on a day when bulls are slain.
For thus had I vowed,- that if I should ever see or hear that he had come safely home, I would duly clothe him in this robe, and so present him to the gods, newly radiant at their altar in new garb.
As proof, thou shalt carry a token, which he will quickly recognise within the circle of this seal.
Now go thy way; and, first, remember the rule that messengers should not be meddlers; next, so bear thee that my thanks may be joined to his doubling the grace which thou shalt win.