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THE TRACHINIAE by Sophocles, Part 09


Mischief must needs be feared; but it is not well to doom our hope before the event.

Unwise counsels leave no room even for a hope which can lend courage.

Yet towards those who have erred unwittingly, men's anger is softened; and so it should be towards thee.

Nay, such words are not for one who has borne a part in the ill deed, but only for him who has no trouble at his own door.

'Twere well to refrain from further speech, unless thou would'st tell aught to thine own son; for he is at hand, who went erewhile to seek his sire.

O mother, would that one of three things had befallen thee! Would that thou wert dead,- or, if living, no mother of mine,- or that some new and better spirit had passed into thy bosom.

Ah, my son, what cause have I given thee to abhor me?

I tell thee that thy husband- yea, my sire-bath been done to death by thee this day

Oh, what word hath passed thy lips, my child!

A word that shall not fail of fulfilment; for who may undo that which bath come to pass?

What saidst thou, my son? Who is thy warranty for charging me with a deed so terrible?

I have seen my father's grievous fate with mine own eyes; I speak not from hearsay.

And where didst thou find him,- where didst thou stand at his side?

If thou art to hear it, then must all be told.
After sacking the famous town of Eurytus, he went his way with the trophies and first-fruits of victory. There is a sea-washed headland of Euboea, Cape Cenaeum, where he dedicated altars and a sacred grove to the Zeus of his fathers; and there I first beheld him, with the joy of yearning love.

He was about to celebrate a great sacrifice, when his own Herald, Lichas, came to him from home, bearing thy gift, the deadly robe; which he put on, according to thy precept; and then began his offering with twelve bulls, free from blemish, the firstlings of the spoil; but altogether he brought a hundred victims, great or small, to the altar.

At first, hapless one, he prayed with serene soul, rejoicing in his comely garb. But when the blood-fed flame began to blaze from the holy offerings and from the resinous pine, a sweat broke forth upon his flesh, and the tunic clung to his sides, at every joint, close-glued, as if by a craftsman's hand; there came a biting pain that racked his bones; and then the venom, as of some deadly, cruel viper, began to devour him.

Thereupon he shouted for the unhappy Lichas,- in no wise to blame for thy crime,- asking what treason had moved him to bring that robe; but he, all-unknowing, hapless one, said that he had brought the gift from thee alone, as it had been sent. When his master heard it, as a piercing spasm clutched his lungs, he caught him by the foot, where the ankle turns in the socket, and hurled him at a surf-beaten rock in the sea; and he made the white brain to ooze from the hair, as the skull was dashed to splinters, and blood scattered therewith.

But all the people lifted up a cry of awe-struck grief, seeing that one was frenzied, and the other slain; and no one dared to come before the man. For the pain dragged him to earth, or made him leap into the air, with yells and shrieks, till the cliffs rang around, steep headlands of Locris, and Euboean capes.

But when he was spent with oft throwing himself on the ground in his anguish, and oft making loud lament,- cursing his fatal marriage with thee, the vile one, and his alliance with Oeneus,- saying how he had found in it the ruin of his life,- then from out of the shrouding altar-smoke, he lifted up his wildly-rolling eyes, and saw me in the great crowd, weeping. He turned his gaze on me, and called me: 'O son, draw near; do not fly from my trouble, even though thou must share my death. Come, bear me forth, and set me, if thou canst, in a place where no man shall see me; or, if thy pity forbids that, at least convey me with all speed out of this land, and let me not die where I am.'

That command sufficed; we laid him in mid-ship, and brought him-but hardly brought him- to this shore, moaning in his torments. And ye shall presently behold him, alive, or lately dead.

Such, mother, are the designs and deeds against my sire whereof thou hast been found guilty. May avenging justice and the Erinys visit thee for them! Yes, if it be right, that is my prayer: and right it is,- for I have seen thee trample on the right, by slaying the noblest man in all the world, whose like thou shalt see nevermore!


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