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THE TRACHINIAE by Sophocles, Part 12


How sayest thou, old man- is he alive?

OLD MAN whispering
Thou must not awake the slumberer! Thou must not rouse and revive the dread frenzy that visits him, my son!

Nay, I am crushed with this weight of misery- there is madness in my heart!

HERACLES awaking
O Zeus, to what land have I come? Who are these among whom I lie, tortured with unending agonies? Wretched, wretched that I am! Oh, that dire pest is gnawing me once more!

Knew I not how much better it was that thou shouldest keep silence, instead of scaring slumber from his brain and eyes?

Nay, I cannot be patient when I behold this misery.

O thou Cenaean rock whereon mine altars rose, what a cruel reward hast thou won me for those fair offerings,- be Zeus my witness! Ah, to what ruin hast thou brought me, to what ruin! Would that I had never beheld thee for thy sorrow! Then had I never come face to face with this fiery madness, which no spell can soothe! Where is the charmer, where is the cunning healer, save Zeus alone, that shall lull this plague to rest? I should marvel, if he ever came within my ken!

strophe 1

Leave me, hapless one, to my rest- leave me to my last rest!

strophe 2

Where art thou touching me? Whither wouldst thou turn me? Thou wilt kill me, thou wilt kill me! If there be any pang that slumbers, thou hast aroused it!

It hath seized me,- oh, the pest comes again!- Whence are ye, most ungrateful of all the Greeks? I wore out my troublous days in ridding Greece of pests, on the deep and in all forests; and now, when I am stricken, will no man succour me with merciful fire of sword?

antistrophe 1

Oh, will no one come and sever the head, at one fierce stroke, from this wretched body? Woe, woe is me!

Son of Heracles, this task exceeds my strength,- help thou,- for strength is at thy command, too largely to need my aid in his relief.

My hands are helping; but no resource, in myself or from another, avails me to make his life forget its anguish:- such is the doom appointed by Zeus!

strophe 3

O my son, where art thou? Raise me,- take hold of me,- thus thus! Alas, my destiny!

antistrophe 2

Again, again the cruel pest leaps forth to rend me, the fierce plague with which none may cope!

O Pallas, Pallas, it tortures me again! Alas, my son, pity thy sire,- draw a blameless sword, and smite beneath my collar-bone, and heal this pain wherewith thy godless mother hath made me wild! So may I see her fall,- thus, even thus, as she hath destroyed me!

antistrophe 3

Sweet Hades, brother of Zeus, give me rest, give me rest,- end my woe by a swiftly-sped doom!

I shudder, friends, to hear these sorrows of our lord; what a man is here, and what torments afflict him!

Ah, fierce full oft, and grievous not in name alone, have been the labours of these hands, the burdens borne upon these shoulders! But no toil ever laid on me by the wife of Zeus or by the hateful Eurystheus was like unto this thing which the daughter of Oeneus, fair and false, hath fastened upon my back,- this woven net of the Furies, in which I perish! Glued to my sides, it hath eaten my flesh to the inmost parts; it is ever with me, sucking the channels of my breath; already it hath drained my fresh lifeblood, and my whole body is wasted, a captive to these unutterable bonds.

Not the warrior on the battle-field, not the Giants' earth-born host, nor the might of savage beasts, hath ever done unto me thus,- not Hellas, nor the land of the alien, nor any land to which I have come as a deliverer: no, a woman, a weak woman, born not to the strength of man, all alone hath vanquished me, without stroke of sword

Son, show thyself my son indeed, and do not honour a mother's name above a sire's: bring forth the woman that bare thee, and give her with thine own hands into my hand, that I may know of a truth which sight grieves thee most,- my tortured frame, or hers, when she suffers her righteous doom!

Go, my son, shrink not- and show thy pity for me, whom many might deem pitiful,- for me, moaning and weeping like a girl;- and the man lives not who can say that he ever saw me do thus before; no, without complaining I still went whither mine evil fortune led. But now, alas, the strong man hath been found a woman.

Approach, stand near thy sire, and see what a fate it is that hath brought me to this pass; for I will lift the veil. Behold! Look, all of you, on this miserable body; see how wretched, how piteous is my plight!

Ah, woe is me!
The burning throe of torment is there anew, it darts through my sides- I must wrestle once more with that cruel, devouring plague!

O thou lord of the dark realm, receive me! Smite me, O fire of Zeus! Hurl down thy thunderbolt, O King, send it, O father, upon my head! For again the pest is consuming me; it hath blazed forth, it hath started into fury! O hands, my hands, O shoulders and breast and trusty arms, ye, now in this plight, are the same whose force of old subdued the dweller in Nemea, the scourge of herdsmen, the lion, a creature that no man might approach or confront; ye tamed the Lernaean Hydra, and that monstrous host of double form, man joined to steed, a race with whom none may commune, violent, lawless, of surpassing might; ye tamed the Erymanthian beast, and the three-headed whelp of Hades underground, a resistless terror, offspring of the dread Echidna; ye tamed the dragon that guarded the golden fruit in the utmost places of the earth.

These toils and countless others have I proved, nor hath any man vaunted a triumph over my prowess. But now, with joints unhinged and with flesh torn to shreds, I have become the miserable prey of an unseen destroyer,- I, who am called the son of noblest mother,- I, whose reputed sire is Zeus, lord of the starry sky.

But ye may be sure of one thing:- though I am as nought, though I cannot move a step, yet she who hath done this deed shall feel my heavy hand even now: let her but come, and she shall learn to proclaim this message unto all, that in my death, as in my life, I chastised the wicked!


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