Before the temple of APOLLO at Delphi. The PYTHIAN PRIESTESS enters and approaches the doors of the temple.
First, in this prayer, of all the gods I name The prophet-mother Earth; and Themis next, Second who sat-for so with truth is said- On this her mother’s shrine oracular. Then by her grace, who unconstrained allowed, There sat thereon another child of Earth- Titanian Phoebe. She, in after time, Gave o’er the throne, as birthgift to a god, Phoebus, who in his own bears Phoebe’s name. He from the lake and ridge of Delos’ isle Steered to the port of Pallas’ Attic shores, The home of ships; and thence he passed and came Unto this land and to Pamassus’ shrine. And at his side, with awe revering him, There went the children of Hephaestus’ seed, The hewers of the sacred way, who tame The stubborn tract that erst was wilderness. And all this folk, and Delphos, chieftain-king Of this their land, with honour gave him home; And in his breast Zeus set a prophet’s soul, And gave to him this throne, whereon he sits, Fourth prophet of the shrine, and, Loxias hight, Gives voice to that which Zeus his sire decrees. Such gods I name in my preluding prayer, And after them, I call with honour due On Pallas, wardress of the fane, and Nymphs Who dwell around the rock Corycian, Where in the hollow cave, the wild birds’ haunt, Wander the feet of lesser gods; and there, Right well I know it, Bromian Bacchus dwells, Since he in godship led his Maenad host, Devising death for Pentheus, whom they rent Piecemeal, as hare among the hounds. And last, I call on Pleistus’ springs, Poseidon’s might, And Zeus most high, the great Accomplisher. Then as a seeress to the sacred chair I pass and sit; and may the powers divine Make this mine entrance fruitful in response Beyond each former advent, triply blest. And if there stand without, from Hellas bound, Men seeking oracles, let each pass in In order of the lot, as use allows; For the god guides whate’er my tongue proclaims.
Things fell to speak of, fell for eyes to see, Have sped me forth again from Loxias’ shrine, With strength unstrung, moving erect no more, But aiding with my hands my failing feet, Unnerved by fear. A beldame’s force is naught- Is as a child’s, when age and fear combine. For as I pace towards the inmost fane Bay-filleted by many a suppliant’s hand, Lo, at the central altar I descry One crouching as for refuge-yea, a man Abhorred of heaven; and from his hands, wherein A sword new-drawn he holds, blood reeked and fell: A wand he bears, the olive’s topmost bough, Twined as of purpose with a deep close tuft Of whitest wool. This, that I plainly saw, Plainly I tell. But lo, in front of him, Crouched on the altar-steps, a grisly band Of women slumbers-not like women they, But Gorgons rather; nay, that word is weak, Nor may I match the Gorgons’ shape with theirs! Such have I seen in painted semblance erst- Winged Harpies, snatching food from Phineus’ board,- But these are wingless, black, and all their shape The eye’s abomination to behold. Fell is the breath-let none draw nigh to it- Exude the damned drops of poisonous ire: And such their garb as none should dare to bring To statues of the gods or homes of men. I wot not of the tribe wherefrom can come So fell a legion, nor in what land Earth Could rear, unharmed, such creatures, nor avow That she had travailed and had brought forth death. But, for the rest, be all these things a carp Unto the mighty Loxias, the lord Of this our shrine: healer and prophet he, Discerner he of portents, and the cleanser Of other homes-behold, his own to cleanse!
She goes out. The central doors open, disclosing the interior of the temple. ORESTES clings to the central altar; the FURIES lie slumbering at a little distance; APOLLO and HERMES appear from the innermost shrine.
Lo, I desert thee never: to the end, Hard at thy side as now, or sundered far, I am thy guard, and to thine enemies Implacably oppose me: look on them, These greedy fiends, beneath my craft subdued I See, they are fallen on sleep, these beldames old, Unto whose grim and wizened maidenhood Nor god nor man nor beast can e’er draw near. Yea, evil were they born, for evil’s doom, Evil the dark abyss of Tartarus Wherein they dwell, and they themselves the hate Of men on earth, and of Olympian gods. But thou, flee far and with unfaltering speed; For they shall hunt thee through the mainland wide Where’er throughout the tract of travelled earth Thy foot may roam, and o’er and o’er the seas And island homes of men. Faint not nor fail, Too soon and timidly within thy breast Shepherding thoughts forlorn of this thy toil; But unto Pallas’ city go, and there Crouch at her shrine, and in thine arms enfold Her ancient image: there we well shall find Meet judges for this cause and suasive pleas, Skilled to contrive for thee deliverance For by my hest thou didst thy mother slay.
Have thou too heed, nor let thy fear prevail Above thy will. And do thou guard him, Hermes, Whose blood is brother unto mine, whose sire The same high God. Men call thee guide and guard, Guide therefore thou and guard my suppliant; For Zeus himself reveres the outlaw’s right, Boon of fair escort, upon man conferred.
Sleep on! awake! what skills your sleep to me- Me, among all the dead by you dishonoured- Me from whom never, in the world of death, Dieth this course, ‘Tis she who smote and slew, And shamed and scorned I roam? Awake, and hear My plaint of dead men’s hate intolerable. Me, sternly slain by them that should have loved, Me doth no god arouse him to avenge, Hewn down in blood by matricidal hands. Mark ye these wounds from which the heart’s blood ran, And by whose hand, bethink ye! for the sense When shut in sleep hath then the spirit-sight, But in the day the inward eye is blind. List, ye who drank so oft with lapping tongue The wineless draught by me outpoured to soothe Your vengeful ire! how oft on kindled shrine I laid the feast of darkness, at the hour Abhorred of every god but you alone! Lo, all my service trampled down and scorned! And he bath baulked your chase, as stag the hounds; Yea, lightly bounding from the circling toils, Hath wried his face in scorn, and flieth far. Awake and hear-for mine own soul I cry- Awake, ye powers of hell! the wandering ghost That once was Clytemnestra calls-Arise!
In dreams ye chase a prey, and like some hound, That even in sleep doth ply woodland toil, Ye bell and bay. What do ye, sleeping here? Be not o’ercome with toil, nor, sleep-subdued, Be heedless of my wrong. Up! thrill your heart With the just chidings of my tongue,-Such words Are as a spur to purpose firmly held. Blow forth on him the breath of wrath and blood, Scorch him with reek of fire that burns in you, Waste him with new pursuit-swift, hound him down!
Alack, alack, O sisters, we have toiled, O much and vainly have we toiled and borne! Vainly! and all we wrought the gods have foiled, And turned us to scorn! He hath slipped from the net, whom we chased: he hath ‘scaped us who should be our prey- O’ermastered by slumber we sank, and our quarry hath stolen away!
Thou, child of the high God Zeus, Apollo, hast robbed us and wronged; Thou, a youth, hast down-trodden the right that to godship more ancient belonged; Thou hast cherished thy suppliant man; the slayer, the God- forsaken, The bane of a parent, by craft from out of our grasp thou hast taken; A god, thou hast stolen from us the avengers a matricide son- And who shall consider thy deed and say, It is rightfully done?
The sound of chiding scorn Came from the land of dream; Deep to mine inmost heart I felt it thrill and burn, Thrust as a strong-grasped goad, to urge Onward the chariot’s team. Thrilled, chilled with bitter inward pain I stand as one beneath the doomsman’s scourge.
Eumenides By Aeschylus