antistrophe 4

And call on Powers, that heed him nought, to save,  And vainly wrestle with the whirling wave.  Hot was his heart with pride-  I shall not fall, he cried.  But him with watching scorn  The god beholds, forlorn,  Tangled in toils of Fate beyond escape,  Hopeless of haven safe beyond the cape-  Till all his wealth and bliss of bygone day  Upon the reef of Rightful Doom is hurled,  And he is rapt away  Unwept, for ever, to the dead forgotten world.

ATHENA enters, with TWELVE ATHENIAN CITIZENS. A large crowd follows.

ATHENA

O herald, make proclaim, bid all men come.  Then let the shrill blast of the Tyrrhene trump,  Fulfilled with mortal breath, thro’ the wide air  Peal a loud summons, bidding all men heed.  For, till my judges fill this judgment-seat,  Silence behoves,-that this whole city learn,  What for all time mine ordinance commands,  And these men, that the cause be judged aright.

APOLLO enters.

LEADER OF THE CHORUS

O king Apollo, rule what is thine own,  But in this thing what share pertains to thee?

APOLLO

First, as a witness come I, for this man  Is suppliant of mine by sacred right,  Guest of my holy hearth and cleansed by me  Of blood-guilt: then, to set me at his side  And in his cause bear part, as part I bore  Erst in his deed, whereby his mother fell.  Let whoso knoweth now announce the cause.

ATHENA to the CHORUS

‘Tis I announce the cause-first speech be yours;  For rightfully shall they whose plaint is tried  Tell the tale first and set the matter clear.

LEADER

Though we be many, brief shall be our tale.

To ORESTES

Answer thou, setting word to match with word;  And first avow-hast thou thy mother slain?

ORESTES

I slew her. I deny no word hereof.

LEADER

Three falls decide the wrestle-this is one.

ORESTES

Thou vauntest thee-but o’er no final fall.

LEADER

Yet must thou tell the manner of thy deed.

ORESTES

Drawn sword in hand, I gashed her neck. ‘Tis told.

LEADER

But by whose word, whose craft, wert thou impelled?

ORESTES

By oracles of him who here attests me.

LEADER

The prophet-god bade thee thy mother slay?

ORESTES

Yea, and thro’ him less ill I fared, till now.

LEADER

If the vote grip thee, thou shalt change that word.

ORESTES

Strong is my hope; my buried sire shall aid.

LEADER

Go to now, trust the dead, a matricide!

ORESTES

Yea, for in her combined two stains of sin.

LEADER

How? speak this clearly to the judges’ mind.

ORESTES

Slaying her husband, she did slay my sire.

LEADER

Therefore thou livest; death assoils her deed.

ORESTES

Then while she lived why didst thou hunt her not?

LEADER

She was not kin by blood to him she slew.

ORESTES

And I, am I by blood my mother’s kin?

LEADER

O cursed with murder’s guilt, how else wert thou  The burden of her womb? Dost thou forswear  Thy mother’s kinship, closest bond of love?

ORESTES

It is thine hour, Apollo-speak the law,  Averring if this deed were justly done;  For done it is, and clear and undenied.  But if to thee this murder’s cause seem right  Or wrongful, speak-that I to these may tell.

APOLLO

To you, Athena’s mighty council-court,  Justly for justice will I plead, even I,  The prophet-god, nor cheat you by one word.  For never spake I from my prophet-seat  One word, of man, of woman, or of state,  Save what the Father of Olympian gods  Commanded unto me. I rede you then,  Bethink you of my plea, how strong it stands,  And follow the decree of Zeus our sire,-  For oaths prevail not over Zeus’ command.

LEADER

Go to; thou sayest that from Zeus befell  The oracle that this Orestes bade  With vengeance quit the slaying of his sire,  And hold as nought his mother’s right of kin!

APOLLO

Yea, for it stands not with a common death,  That he should die, a chieftain and a king  Decked with the sceptre which high heaven confers-  Die, and by female hands, not smitten down  By a far-shooting bow, held stalwartly  By some strong Amazon. Another doom  Was his: O Pallas, hear, and ye who sit  In judgment, to discern this thing aright!-  She with a specious voice of welcome true  Hailed him, returning from the mighty mart  Where war for life gives fame, triumphant home;  Then o’er the laver, as he bathed himself,  She spread from head to foot a covering net,  And in the endless mesh of cunning robes  Enwound and trapped her lord, and smote him down.  Lo, ye have heard what doom this chieftain met,  The majesty of Greece, the fleet’s high lord:  Such as I tell it, let it gall your ears,  Who stand as judges to decide this cause.

LEADER

Zeus, as thou sayest, holds a father’s death  As first of crimes,-yet he of his own act  Cast into chains his father, Cronus old:  How suits that deed with that which now ye tell?  O ye who judge, I bid ye mark my words!

APOLLO

O monsters loathed of all, O scorn of gods,  He that hath bound may loose: a cure there is.  Yea, many a plan that can unbind the chain.  But when the thirsty dust sucks up man’s blood  Once shed in death, he shall arise no more.  No chant nor charm for this my Sire hath wrought.  All else there is, he moulds and shifts at will,  Not scant of strength nor breath, whate’er he do.

LEADER

Think yet, for what acquittal thou dost plead:  He who hath shed a mother’s kindred blood,  Shall he in Argos dwell, where dwelt his sire?  How shall he stand before the city’s shrines,  How share the clansmen’s holy lustral bowl?

APOLLO

This too I answer; mark a soothfast word  Not the true parent is the woman’s womb  That bears the child; she doth but nurse the seed  New-sown: the male is parent; she for him,  As stranger for a stranger, hoards the germ  Of life, unless the god its promise blight.  And proof hereof before you will I set.  Birth may from fathers, without mothers, be:  See at your side a witness of the same,  Athena, daughter of Olympian Zeus,  Never within the darkness of the womb  Fostered nor fashioned, but a bud more bright  Than any goddess in her breast might bear.  And I, O Pallas, howsoe’er I may,  Henceforth will glorify thy town, thy clan,  And for this end have sent my suppliant here  Unto thy shrine; that he from this time forth  Be loyal unto thee for evermore,  O goddess-queen, and thou unto thy side  Mayst win and hold him faithful, and his line,  And that for aye this pledge and troth remain  To children’s children of AtheniaD seed.

ATHENA

Enough is said; I bid the judges now  With pure intent deliver just award.

LEADER

We too have shot our every shaft of speech,  And now abide to hear the doom of law.

ATHENA to APOLLO AND ORESTES

Say, how ordaining shall I ‘scape your blame?

APOLLO

I spake, ye heard; enough. O stranger men,  Heed well your oath as ye decide the cause.

Eumenides By Aeschylus