Choephori by Aeschylus

The Choephori
By Aeschylus 

Written 450 B.C.E

Translated by E. D. A. Morshead

‘The Choephori’, second in Aeschylus’ trilogy, is about a honorable son who avenges his father by committing matricide before going mad.

Dramatis Personae


ORESTES, son of AGAMEMNON and CLYTEMNESTRA
CHORUS OF SLAVE WOMEN
ELECTRA, sister of ORESTES
A NURSE
CLYTEMNESTRA
AEGISTHUS
AN ATTENDANT

Scene

By the tomb of Agamemnon near the palace in Argos. ORESTES and PYLADES enter, dressed as travellers. ORESTES carries two locks of hair in his hand.

ORESTES

Lord of the shades and patron of the realm  That erst my father swayed, list now my prayer,  Hermes, and save me with thine aiding arm,  Me who from banishment returning stand  On this my country; lo, my foot is set  On this grave-mound, and herald-like, as thou,  Once and again, I bid my father hear.  And these twin locks, from mine head shorn, I bring,  And one to Inachus the river-god,  My young life’s nurturer, I dedicate,  And one in sign of mourning unfulfilled  I lay, though late, on this my father’s grave.  For O my father, not beside thy corse  Stood I to wail thy death, nor was my hand  Stretched out to bear thee forth to burial.  What sight is yonder? what this woman-throng  Hitherward coming, by their sable garb  Made manifest as mourners? What hath chanced?  Doth some new sorrow hap within the home?  Or rightly may I deem that they draw near  Bearing libations, such as soothe the ire  Of dead men angered, to my father’s grave?  Nay, such they are indeed; for I descry  Electra mine own sister pacing hither,  In moody grief conspicuous. Grant, O Zeus,  Grant me my father’s murder to avenge-  Be thou my willing champion!  Pylades,  Pass we aside, till rightly I discern  Wherefore these women throng in suppliance.

PYLADES and ORESTES withdraw; the CHORUS enters bearing vessels for libation; ELECTRA follows them; they pace slowly towards the tomb ofAgamemnon.

CHORUS singing

strophe 1

Forth from the royal halls by high command  I bear libations for the dead.  Rings on my smitten breast my smiting hand,  And all my cheek is rent and red,  Fresh-furrowed by my nails, and all my soul  This many a day doth feed on cries of dole.  And trailing tatters of my vest,  In looped and windowed raggedness forlorn,  Hang rent around my breast,  Even as I, by blows of Fate most stern  Saddened and torn.

antistrophe 1

Oracular thro’ visions, ghastly clear,  Bearing a blast of wrath from realms below,  And stiffening each rising hair with dread,  Came out of dream-land Fear,  And, loud and awful, bade  The shriek ring out at midnight’s witching hour,  And brooded, stern with woe,  Above the inner house, the woman’s bower  And seers inspired did read the dream on oath,  Chanting aloud In realms below  The dead are wroth;  Against their slayers yet their ire doth glow.

strophe 2

Therefore to bear this gift of graceless worth-  O Earth, my nursing mother!-  The woman god-accurs’d doth send me forth  Lest one crime bring another.  Ill is the very word to speak, for none  Can ransom or atone  For blood once shed and darkening the plain.  O hearth of woe and bane,  O state that low doth lie!  Sunless, accursed of men, the shadows brood  Above the home of murdered majesty.

antistrophe 2

Rumour of might, unquestioned, unsubdued,  Pervading ears and soul of lesser men,  Is silent now and dead.  Yet rules a viler dread;  For bliss and power, however won,  As gods, and more than gods, dazzle our mortal ken.  Justice doth mark, with scales that swiftly sway,  Some that are yet in light;  Others in interspace of day and night,  Till Fate arouse them, stay;  And some are lapped in night, where all things are undone

strophe 3

On the life-giving lap of Earth  Blood hath flowed forth;  And now, the seed of vengeance, clots the plain-  Unmelting, uneffaced the stain.  And Ate tarries long, but at the last  The sinner’s heart is cast  Into pervading, waxing pangs of pain.

antistrophe 3

Lo, when man’s force doth ope  The virgin doors, there is nor cure nor hope  For what is lost,-even so, I deem,  Though in one channel ran Earth’s every stream,  Laving the hand defiled from murder’s stain,  It were in vain.

epode

And upon me-ah me!-the gods have laid  The woe that wrapped round Troy,  What time they led me down from home and kin  Unto a slave’s employ-  The doom to bow the head  And watch our master’s will  Work deeds of good and ill-  To see the headlong sway of force and sin,  And hold restrained the spirit’s bitter hate,  Wailing the monarch’s fruitless fate,  Hiding my face within my robe, and fain  Of tears, and chilled with frost of hidden pain.

ELECTRA

Handmaidens, orderers of the palace-halls,  Since at my side ye come, a suppliant train,  Companions of this offering, counsel me  As best befits the time: for I, who pour  Upon the grave these streams funereal,  With what fair word can I invoke my sire?  Shall I aver, Behold, I bear these gifts  From well-loved wife unto her well-loved lord,  When ’tis from her, my mother, that they come?  I dare not say it: of all words I fail  Wherewith to consecrate unto my sire  These sacrificial honours on his grave.  Or shall I speak this word, as mortals use-  Give back, to those who send these coronals,  Full recompense-of ills for acts malign?  Or shall I pour this draught for Earth to drink,  Sans word or reverence, as my sire was slain,  And homeward pass with unreverted eyes,  Casting the bowl away, as one who flings  The household cleansings to the common road?  Be art and part, O friends, in this my doubt,  Even as ye are in that one common hate  Whereby we live attended: fear ye not  The wrath of any man, nor hide your word  Within your breast: the day of death and doom  Awaits alike the freeman and the slave.  Speak, then, if aught thou know’st to aid us more.

LEADER OF THE CHORUS

Thou biddest; I will speak my soul’s thought out,  Revering as a shrine thy father’s grave.

ELECTRA

Say then thy say, as thou his tomb reverest.

LEADER

Speak solemn words to them that love, and pour.

ELECTRA

And of his kin whom dare I name as kind?

LEADER

Thyself; and next, whoe’er Aegisthus scorns.

ELECTRA

Then ’tis myself and thou, my prayer must name.

LEADER

Whoe’er they be, ’tis thine to know and name them.

ELECTRA

Is there no other we may claim as ours?

LEADER

Think of Orestes, though far-off he be.

ELECTRA

Right well in this too hast thou schooled my thought.

LEADER

Mindfully, next, on those who shed the blood-

ELECTRA

Pray on them what? expound, instruct my doubt.

LEADER

This: Upon them some god or mortal come-

ELECTRA

As judge or as avenger? speak thy thought.

LEADER

Pray in set terms, Who shall the slayer slay.

ELECTRA

Beseemeth it to ask such boon of heaven?

LEADER

How not, to wreak a wrong upon a foe?

ELECTRA praying at the tomb

O mighty Hermes, warder of the shades,  Herald of upper and of under world,  Proclaim and usher down my prayer’s appeal  Unto the gods below, that they with eyes  Watchful behold these halls. my sire’s of old-  And unto Earth, the mother of all things,  And loster-nurse, and womb that takes their seed.  Lo, I that pour these draughts for men now dead,  Call on my father, who yet holds in ruth  Me and mine own Orestes, Father, speak-  How shall thy children rule thine halls again?  Homeless we are and sold; and she who sold  Is she who bore us; and the price she took  Is he who joined with her to work thy death,  Aegisthus, her new lord. Behold me here  Brought down to slave’s estate, and far away  Wanders Orestes, banished from the wealth  That once was thine, the profit of thy care,  Whereon these revel in a shameful joy.  Father, my prayer is said; ’tis thine to hear-  Grant that some fair fate bring Orestes home,  And unto me grant these-a purer soul  Than is my mother’s, a more stainless hand.  These be my prayers for us; for thee, O sire,  I cry that one may come to smite thy fops,  And that the slayers may in turn be slain.  Cursed is their prayer, and thus I bar its path,  Praying mine own, a counter-curse on them.  And thou, send up to us the righteous boon  For which we pray; thine aids be heaven and earth,  And justice guide the right to victory.

To the CHORUS

Thus have I prayed, and thus I shed these streams,  And follow ye the wont, and as with flowers  Crown ye with many a tear and cry the dirge  Your lips ring out above the dead man’s grave.

She pours the libations.

CHORUS chanting

Woe, woe, woe!  Let the teardrop fall, plashing on the ground  Where our lord lies low:  Fall and cleanse away the cursed libation’s stair.,  Shed on this grave-mound,  Fenced wherein together, gifts of good or bane  From the dead are found.  Lord of Argos, hearken!  Though around thee darken  Mist of death and hell, arise and hear  Hearken and awaken to our cry of woe!  Who with might of spear  Shall our home deliver?  Who like Ares bend until it quiver,  Bend the northern bow?  Who with hand upon the hilt himself will thrust with glaive,  Thrust and slay and save?

The Choephori by Aeschylus