When from womb of Night we sprang, on us this labour Was laid and shall abide. Gods immortal are ye, yet beware ye touch not That which is our pride! None may come beside us gathered round the blood-feast- For us no garments white Gleam on a festal day; for us a darker fate is, Another darker rite.
That is mine hour when falls an ancient line When in the household’s heart The God of blood doth slay by kindred hands,- Then do we bear our part: On him who slays we sweep with chasing cry: Though he be triply strong, We wear and waste him; blood atones for blood, Yew pain for ancient wrong.
I hold this task-’tis mine, and not another’s. The very gods on high, Though they can silence and annul the prayers Of those who on us cry, They may not strive with us who stand apart, A race by Zeus abhorred, Blood-boltered, held unworthy of the council And converse of Heaven’s lord.
Therefore the more I leap upon my prey; Upon their head I bound; My foot is hard; as one that trips a runner I cast them to the ground; Yea, to the depth of doom intolerable; And they who erst were great, And upon earth held high their pride and glory, Are brought to low estate. In underworld they waste and are diminished, The while around them fleet Dark wavings of my robes, and, subtly woven, The paces of my feet.
Who falls infatuate, he sees not neither knows he That we are at his side; So closely round about him, darkly flitting, The cloud of guilt doth glide. Heavily ’tis uttered, how around his hearthstone The mirk of hell doth rise.
Stern and fixed the law is; we have hands t’ achieve it, Cunning to devise. Queens are we and mindful of our solemn vengeance. Not by tear or prayer Shall a man avert it. In unhonoured darkness, Far from gods, we fare, Lit unto our task with torch of sunless regions, And o’er a deadly way- Deadly to the living as to those who see not Life and light of day- Hunt we and press onward.
Who of mortals hearing Doth not quake for awe, Hearing all that Fate thro’ hand of God hath given us For ordinance and law? Yea, this right to us, in dark abysm and backward Of ages it befell: None shall wrong mine office, tho’ in nether regions And sunless dark I dwell.
Far off I heard the clamour of your cry, As by Scamander’s side I set my foot Asserting right upon the land given o’er To me by those who o’er Achaea’s host Held sway and leadership: no scanty part Of all they won by spear and sword, to me They gave it, land and all that grew thereon, As chosen heirloom for my Theseus’ clan. Thence summoned, sped I with a tireless foot,- Hummed on the wind, instead of wings, the fold Of this mine aegis, by my feet propelled, As, linked to mettled horses, speeds a car. And now, beholding here Earth’s nether brood, I fear it nought, yet are mine eyes amazed With wonder. Who are ye? of all I ask, And of this stranger to my statue clinging. But ye-your shape is like no human form, Like to no goddess whom the gods behold, Like to no shape which mortal women wear. Yet to stand by and chide a monstrous form Is all unjust-from such words Right revolts.
I know your lineage now and eke your name.
Yea, and eftsoons indeed my rights shalt know.
Fain would I learn them; speak them clearly forth,
We chase from home the murderers of men.
And where at last can he that slew make pause?
Where this is law-All joy abandon here.
Say, do ye bay this man to such a flight?
Yea, for of choice he did his mother slay.
Urged by no fear of other wrath and doom?
What spur can rightly goad to matricide?
Two stand to plead-one only have I heard.
He wiR not swear nor challenge us to oath.
The form of justice, not its deed, thou willest.
Prove thou that word; thou art not scant of skill.
I say that oaths shall not enforce the wrong.
Then test the cause, judge and award the right.
Will ye to me then this decision trust?
Yea, reverencing true child of worthy sire.
O man unknown, make thou thy plea in turn. Speak forth thy land, thy lineage, and thy woes; Then, if thou canst, avert this bitter blame- If, as I deem, in confidence of right Thou sittest hard beside my holy place, Clasping this statue, as Ixion sat, A sacred suppliant for Zeus to cleanse,- To all this answer me in words made plain.
O queen Athena, first from thy last words Will I a great solicitude remove. Not one blood-guilty am I; no foul stain Clings to thine image from my clinging hand; Whereof one potent proof I have to tell. Lo, the law stands-The slayer shall not plead, Till by the hand of him who cleanses blood A suckling creature’s blood besprinkle him. Long since have I this expiation done,- In many a home, slain beasts and running streams Have cleansed me. Thus I speak away that fear. Next, of my lineage quickly thou shalt learn: An Argive am I, and right well thou know’st My sire, that Agamemnon who arrayed The fleet and them that went therein to war- That chief with whom thy hand combined to crush To an uncitied heap what once was Troy; That Agamemnon, when he homeward came, Was brought unto no honourable death, Slain by the dark-souled wife who brought me forth To him,-enwound and slain in wily nets, Blazoned with blood that in the laver ran. And I, returning from an exiled youth, Slew her, my mother-lo, it stands avowed! With blood for blood avenging my loved sire; And in this deed doth Loxias bear part, Decreeing agonies, to goad my will, Unless by me the guilty found their doom. Do thou decide if right or wrong were done- Thy dooming, whatsoe’er it be, contents me.
Too mighty is this matter, whosoe’er Of mortals claims to judge hereof aright. Yea, me, even me, eternal Right forbids To judge the issues of blood-guilt, and wrath That follows swift behind. This too gives pause, That thou as one with all due rites performed Dost come, unsinning, pure, unto my shrine. Whate’er thou art, in this my city’s name, As uncondemned, I take thee to my side.- Yet have these foes of thine such dues by fate, O’erthrown in judgment of the cause, forthwith Their anger’s poison shall infect the land- A dropping plague-spot of eternal ill. Thus stand we with a woe on either hand: Stay they, or go at my commandment forth, Perplexity or pain must needs befall. Yet, as on me Fate hath imposed the cause, I choose unto me judges that shall be An ordinance for ever, set to rule The dues of blood-guilt, upon oath declared. But ye, call forth your witness and your proof, Words strong for justice, fortified by oath; And I, whoe’er are truest in my town, Them will I choose and bring, and straitly charge, Look on this cause, discriminating well, And pledge your oath to utter nought of wrong.
Now are they all undone, the ancient laws, If here the slayer’s cause Prevail; new wrong for ancient right shall be If matricide go free. Henceforth a deed like his by all shall stand, Too ready to the hand: Too oft shall parents in the aftertime Rue and lament this crime,- Taught, not in false imagining, to feel Their children’s thrusting steel: No more the wrath, that erst on murder fell From us, the queens of Hell, Shall fall, no more our watching gaze impend- Death shall smite unrestrained.
Henceforth shall one unto another cry Lo, they are stricken, lo, they fall and die Around me! and that other answers him, O thou that lookest that thy woes should cease, Behold, with dark increase They throng and press upon thee; yea, and dim Is all the cure, and every comfort vain!
Let none henceforth cry out, when falls the blow Of sudden-smiting woe, Cry out in sad reiterated strain O Justice, aid! aid, O ye thrones of Hell! So though a father or a mother wail New-smitten by a son, it shall no more avail, Since, overthrown by wrong, the fane of justice fell!
Know, that a throne there is that may not pass away, And one that sitteth on it-even Fear, Searching with steadfast eyes man’s inner soul: Wisdom is child of pain, and born with many a tear; But who henceforth, What man of mortal men, what nation upon earth, That holdeth nought in awe nor in the light Of inner reverence, shall worship Right As in the older day?
Praise not, O man, the life beyond control, Nor that which bows unto a tyrant’s sway. Know that the middle way Is dearest unto God, and they thereon who wend, They shall achieve the end; But they who wander or to left or right Are sinners in his sight. Take to thy heart this one, this soothfast word- Of wantonness impiety is sire; Only from calm control and sanity unstirred Cometh true weal, the goal of every man’s desire.
Yea, whatsoe’er befall, hold thou this word of mine: Bow down at Justice’ shrine, Turn thou thine eyes away from earthly lure, Nor witk a godless foot that altar spurn. For as thou dost shall Fate do in return, And the great doom is sure. Therefore let each adore a parent’s trust, And each with loyalty revere the guest That in his halls doth rest.
For whoso uncompelled doth follow what is just, He ne’er shall be unblest; Yea, never to the gulf of doom That man shall come. But he whose will is set against the gods, Who treads beyond the law with foot impure, Till o’er the wreck of Right confusion broods,- Know that for him, though now he sail secure, The day of storm shall be; then shall he strive and fail Down from the shivered yard to furl the sail,
Eumenides By Aeschylus