THE TRACHINIAE by Sophocles, Part 08
Nay, if I ply this Herald-craft of Hermes with any sureness, I will never trip in doing thine errand: I will not fail to deliver this casket as it is, and to add thy words in attestation of thy gift.
Thou mayest be going now; for thou knowest well how things are with us in the house.
I know, and will report, that all hath prospered.
And then thou hast seen the greeting given to the stranger maiden-thou knowest how I welcomed her?
So that my heart was filled with wondering joy.
What more, then, is there for thee to tell? I am afraid that it would be too soon to speak of the longing on my part, before we know if I am longed for there. LICHAS departs with the casket and DEIANEIRA retires into the house.
strophe 1 DEIANEIRA comes out of the house in agitation.
O ye who dwell by the warm springs between haven and crag, and by Oeta's heights; O dwellers by the land-locked waters of the Malian sea, on the shore sacred to the virgin-goddess of the golden shafts, where the Greeks meet in famous council at the Gates;
Soon shall the glorious voice of the flute go up for you again, resounding with no harsh strain of grief, but with such music as the lyre maketh to the gods! For the son whom Alcmena bore to Zeus is hastening homeward, with the trophies of all prowess.
He was lost utterly to our land, a wanderer over sea, while we waited through twelve long months, and knew nothing; and his loving wife, sad dweller with sad thoughts, was ever pining amid her tears. But now the War-god, roused to fury, hath delivered her from the days of her mourning.
May he come, may he come! Pause not the many-oared ship that carries him, till he shall have reached this town, leaving the island altar where, as rumour saith, he is sacrificing! Thence may he come, full of desire, steeped in love by the specious device of the robe, on which Persuasion hath spread her sovereign charm!
Friends, how I fear that I may have gone too far in all that I have been doing just now!
What hath happened, Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus?
I know not; but feel a misgiving that I shall presently be found to have wrought a great mischief, the issue of a fair hope.
It is nothing, surely, that concerns thy gift to Heracles?
Yea, even so. And henceforth I would say to all, act not with zeal, if ye act without light.
Tell us the cause of thy fear, if it may be told.
A thing hath come to pass, my friends, such that, if I declare it, ye will hear a marvel whereof none could have dreamed.
That with which I was lately anointing the festal robe,- a white tuft of fleecy sheep's wool,- hath disappeared,- not consumed by anything in the house, but self-devoured and self-destroyed, as it crumbled down from the surface of a stone. But I must tell the story More at length, that thou mayest know exactly how this thing befell.
I neglected no part of the precepts which the savage Centaur gave me, when the bitter barb was rankling in his side: they were in my memory, like the graven words which no hand may wash from a tablet of bronze. Now these were his orders, and I obeyed them:-to keep this unguent in secret place, always remote from fire and from the sun's warm ray, until I should apply it, newly spread, where I wished. So had I done. And now, when the moment for action had come, I performed the anointing privily in the house, with a tuft of soft wool which I had plucked from a sheep of our home-flock; then I folded up my gift, and laid it, unvisited by sunlight, within its casket, as ye saw.
But as I was going back into the house, I beheld a thing too wondrous for words, and passing the wit of man to understand. I happened to have thrown the shred of wool, with which I bad been preparing the robe, into the full blaze of the sunshine. As it grew warm, it shrivelled all away, and quickly crumbled to powder on the ground, like nothing so much as the dust shed from a saw's teeth where men work timber. In such a state it lies as it fell. And from the earth, where it was strewn, clots of foam seethed up, as when the rich juice of the blue fruit from the vine of Bacchus is poured upon the ground.
So I know not, hapless one, whither to turn my thoughts; I only see that I have done a fearful deed. Why or wherefore should the monster, in his death-throes, have shown good will to me, on whose account he was dying? Impossible! No, he was cajoling me, in order to slay the man who had smitten him: and I gain the knowledge of this too late, when it avails no more. Yes, I alone- unless my foreboding prove false- I, wretched one, must destroy him! For I know that the arrow which made the wound did scathe even to the god Cheiron; and it kills all beasts that it touches. And since 'tis this same black venom in the blood that hath passed out through the wound of Nessus, must it not kill my lord also? I ween it must.
Howbeit, I am resolved that, if he is to fall, at the same time I also shall be swept from life; for no woman could bear to live with an evil name, if she rejoices that her nature is not evil.