Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 148

  "Nor all who reach their native land
  May long the joy of welcome feel;
  Beside the household gods may stand
  Grim Murder, with awaiting steel
  And they who 'scape the foe, may die
  Beneath the foul, familiar glaive.
  Thus he to whom prophetic eye
  Her light the wise Minerva gave;
  'Ah! Bless'd, whose hearth, to memory true
  The goddess keeps unstained and pure;
  For woman's guile is deep and sure,
  And falsehood loves the new!'

  "The Spartan eyes his Helen's charms,
  By the best blood of Greece recaptured;
  Round that fair form his glowing arms
  (A second bridal) wreath, enraptured.
  Woe waits the work of evil birth,
  Revenge to deeds unblessed is given!
  For watchful o'er the things of earth,
  The eternal council-halls of heaven.
  Yes, ill shall never ill repay;
  Jove to the impious hands that stain
  The altar of man's heart,
  Again the doomer's doom shall weigh!"
  Sir Edw. L. Bulwer's translation


Agamemnon, the general-in-chief of the Greeks, the brother of Menelaus, who had been drawn into the quarrel to avenge another's wrongs, was not so fortunate in the issue as his brother. During his absence his wife Clytemnestra had been false to him, and when his return was expected, she, with her paramour, AEgisthus, laid a plan for his destruction, and at the banquet given to celebrate his return, murdered him.

The conspirators intended also to slay his son Orestes, a lad not yet old enough to be an object of apprehension, but from whom, if he should be suffered to grow up, there might be danger. Electra, the sister of Orestes, saved her brother's life by sending him secretly away to his uncle Strophius, king of Phocis. In the palace of Strophius, Orestes grew up with the king's son, Pylades, and formed with him that ardent friendship which has become proverbial. Electra frequently reminded her brother hy messengers of the duty of avenging his father's death, and when grown up he consulted the oracle of Delphi, which confirmed him in his design. He therefore repaired in disguise to Argos, pretending to he a messenger from Strophius, who had come to announce the death of Orestes, and brought the ashes of the deceased in a funeral urn. After visiting his father's tomb and sacrificing upon it, according to the rites of the ancients, he made himself known to his sister Electra, and soon after slew both AEgisthus and Clytemnestra.

This revolting act, the slaughter of a mother by her son, though alleviated by the guilt of the victim and the express command of the gods, did not fail to awaken in the breasts of the ancients the same abhorrence that it does in ours. The Eumenides, avenging deities, seized upon Orestes, and drove him frantic from land to land. Pylades accompanied him in his wanderings, and watched over him. At length in answer to a second appeal to the oracle, he was directed to go to Tauris in Scythia, and to bring thence a statue of Diana which was believed to have fallen from heaven. Accordingly Orestes and Pylades went to Tauris, where the barbarous people were accustomed to sacrifice to the goddess all strangers who fell into their hands. The two friends were seized and carried bound to the temple to be made victims. But the priestess of Diana was no other than Iphigenia, the sister of Orestes, who, our readers will remember, was snatched away by Diana, at the moment when she was about to be sacrificed. Ascertaining from the prisoners who they were, Iphigenia disclosed herself to them, and the three made their escape with the statue of the goddess, and returned to Mycenae.