ATHENA

O men of Athens, ye who first do judge  The law of bloodshed, hear me now ordain.  Here to all time for Aegeus’ Attic host  Shall stand this council-court of judges sworn,  Here the tribunal, set on Ares’ Hill  Where camped of old the tented Amazons,  What time in hate of Theseus they assailed  Athens, and set against her citadel  A counterwork of new sky-pointing towers,  And there to Ares held their sacrifice,  Where now the rock hath name, even Ares’ Hill.  And hence shall Reverence and her kinsman Fear  Pass to each free man’s heart, by day and night  Enjoining, Thou shalt do no unjust thing,  So long as law stands as it stood of old  Unmarred by civic change. Look you, the spring  Is pure; but foul it once with influx vile  And muddy clay, and none can drink thereof.  Therefore, O citizens, I bid ye bow  In awe to this command, Let no man live,  Uncurbed by law nor curbed by tyranny;  Nor banish ye the monarchy of Awe  Beyond the walls; untouched by fear divine,  No man doth justice in the world of men.  Therefore in purity and holy dread  Stand and revere; so shall ye have and hold  A saving bulwark of the state and land,  Such as no man hath ever elsewhere known,  Nor in far Scythia, nor in Pelops’ realm.  Thus I ordain it now, a council-court  Pure and unsullied by the lust of gain,  Sacred and swift to vengeance, wakeful ever  To champion men who sleep, the country’s guard.  Thus have I spoken, thus to mine own clan  Commended it for ever. Ye who judge,  Arise, take each his vote, mete out the right,  Your oath revering. Lo, my word is said.

The twelve judges come forward, one by one, to the urns of decision; the first votes; as each of the others follows, the LEADER and APOLLO speakalternately.

LEADER

I rede ye well, beware! nor put to shame,  In aught, this grievous company of hell.

APOLLO

I too would warn you, fear mine oracles-  From Zeus they are,-nor make them void of fruit.

LEADER

Presumptuous is thy claim, blood-guilt to judge,  And false henceforth thine oracles shall be.

APOLLO

Failed then the counsels of my sire, when turned  Ixion, first of slayers, to his side?

LEADER

These are but words; but I, if justice fail me,  Will haunt this land in grim and deadly deed.

APOLLO

Scorn of the younger and the elder gods  Art thou: ’tis I that shall prevail anon.

LEADER

Thus didst thou too of old in Pheres’ halls,  O’erreaching Fate to make a mortal deathless.

APOLLO

Was it not well, my worshipper to aid,  Then most of all when hardest was the need?

LEADER

I say thou didst annul the lots of life,  Cheating with wine the deities of eld.

APOLLO

I say thou shalt anon, thy pleadings foiled,  Spit venom vainly on thine enemies.

LEADER

Since this young god o’errides mine ancient right,  I tarry but to claim your law, not knowing  If wrath of mine shall blast your state or spare.

ATHENA

Mine is the right to add the final vote,  And I award it to Orestes’ cause.  For me no mother bore within her womb,  And, save for wedlock evermore eschewed,  I vouch myself the champion of the man,  Not of the woman, yea, with all my soul,-  In heart, as birth, a father’s child alone.  Thus will I not too heinously regard  A woman’s death who did her husband slay,  The guardian of her home; and if the votes  Equal do fall, Orestes shall prevail.  Ye of the judges who are named thereto,  Swiftly shake forth the lots from either urn.

Two judges come forward, one to each urn.

ORESTES

O bright Apollo, what shall be the end?

LEADER

O Night, dark mother mine, dost mark these things?

ORESTES

Now shall my doom be life, or strangling cords.

LEADER

And mine, lost honour or a wider sway.

APOLLO

O stranger judges, sum aright the count  Of votes cast forth, and, parting them, take heed  Ye err not in decision. The default  Of one vote only bringeth ruin deep,  One, cast aright. doth stablish house and home.

ATHENA

Behold, this man is free from guilt of blood,  For half the votes condemn him, half set free!

ORESTES

O Pallas, light and safety of my home,  Thou, thou hast given me back to dwell once more  In that my fatherland, amerced of which  I wandered; now shall Grecian lips say this,  The man is Argive once again, and dwells  Again within kiss father’s wealthy hall,  By Pallas saved, by Loxias, and by Him,  The great third saviour, Zeus omnipotent-  Who thus in pity for my father’s fate  Doth pluck me from my doom, beholding these,  Confederates of my mother. Lo, I pass  To mine own home, but proffering this vow  Unto thy land and people: Nevermore,  Thro’ all the manifold years of Time to be,  Shall any chieftain of mine Argive land  Bear hitherward his spears for fight arrayed.  For we, though lapped in earth we then shall lie,  By thwart adversities will work our will  On them who shall transgress this oath of mine,  Paths of despair and journeyings ill-starred  For them ordaining, till their task they rue.  But if this oath be rightly kept, to them  Will we the dead be full of grace, the while  With loyal league they honour Pallas’ town.  And now farewell, thou and thy city’s folk-  Firm be thine arms’ grasp, closing with thy foes,  And, strong to save, bring victory to thy spear.

ORESTES and APOLLO depart.

CHORUS chanting

Woe on you, younger gods! the ancient right  Ye have o’erridden, rent it from my hands.  I am dishonoured of you, thrust to scorn!  But heavily my wrath  Shall on this land fling forth the drops that blast and burn,  Venom of vengeance, that shall work such scathe  As I have suffered; where that dew shall fall,  Shall leafless blight arise,  Wasting Earth’s offspring,-Justice, hear my call!-  And thorough all the land in deadly wise  Shall scatter venom, to exude again  In pestilence on men.  What cry avails me now, what deed of blood,  Unto this land what dark despite?  Alack, alack, forlorn  Are we, a bitter injury have borne!  Alack, O sisters, O dishonoured brood  Of mother Night!

ATHENA

Nay, bow ye to my words, chafe not nor moan:  Ye are not worsted nor disgraced; behold,  With balanced vote the cause had issue fair,  Nor in the end did aught dishonour thee.  But thus the will of Zeus shone clearly forth,  And his own prophet-god avouched the same,  Orestes slew: his slaying is atoned.  Therefore I pray you, not upon this land  Shoot forth the dart of vengeance; be appeased,  Nor blast the land with blight, nor loose thereon  Drops of eternal venom, direful darts  Wasting and marring nature’s seed of growth.  For I, the queen of Athens’ sacred right,  Do pledge to you a holy sanctuary  Deep in the heart of this my land, made just  By your indwelling presence, while ye sit  Hard by your sacred shrines that gleam with oil  Of sacrifice, and by this folk adored.

CHORUS chanting

Woe on you, younger gods! the ancient right  Ye have o’erridden, rent it from my hands.  I am dishonoured of you, thrust to scorn!  But heavily my wrath  Shall on this land fling forth the drops that blast and burn,  Venom of vengeance, that shall work such scathe  As I have suffered; where that dew shall fall,  Shall leafless blight arise,  Wasting Earth’s offspring,-justice, hear my call!-  And thorough all the land in deadly wise  Shall scatter venom, to exude again  In pestilence on men.  What cry avails me now, what deed of blood,  Unto this land what dark despite?  Alack, alack, forlorn  Are we, a bitter injury have borne!  Alack, O sisters, O dishonoured brood  Of mother Night!

ATHENA

Dishonoured are ye not; turn not, I pray,  As goddesses your swelling wrath on men,  Nor make the friendly earth despiteful to them.  I too have Zeus for champion-’tis enough-  I only of all goddesses do know  To ope the chamber where his thunderbolts  Lie stored and sealed; but here is no such need.  Nay, be appeased, nor cast upon the ground  The malice of thy tongue, to blast the world;  Calm thou thy bitter wrath’s black inward surge,  For high shall be thine honour, set beside me  For ever in this land, whose fertile lap  Shall pour its teeming firstfruits unto you,  Gifts for fair childbirth and for wedlock’s crown:  Thus honoured, praise my spoken pledge for aye.

CHORUS chanting

I, I dishonoured in this earth to dwell,-  Ancient of days and wisdom! I breathe forth  Poison and breath of frenzied ire. O Earth,  Woe, woe for thee, for me!  From side to side what pains be these that thrill?  Hearken, O mother Night, my wrath, mine agony!  Whom from mine ancient rights the gods have thrust  And brought me to the dust-  Woe, woe is me!-with craft invincible.

ATHENA

Older art thou than I, and I will bear  With this thy fury. Know, although thou be  More wise in ancient wisdom, yet have  From Zeus no scanted measure of the same,  Wherefore take heed unto this prophecy-  If to another land of alien men  Ye go, too late shall ye feel longing dreep  For mine. The rolling tides of time bring round  A day of brighter glory for this town;  And thou, enshrined in honour by the halls  Where dwelt Erechtheus, shalt a worship win  From men and from the train of womankind,  Greater than any tribe elsewhere shall pay.  Cast thou not therefore on this soil of mine  Whetstones that sharpen souls to bloodshedding,  The burning goads of youthful hearts, made hot  With frenzy of the spirit, not of wine.  Nor pluck as ’twere the heart from cocks that strive,  To set it in the breast of citizens  Of mine, a war-god’s spirit, keen for fight,  Made stern against their country and their kin.  The man who grievously doth lust for fame,  War, full, immitigable, let him wage  Against the stranger; but of kindred birds  I hold the challenge hateful. Such the boon  I proffer thee-within this land of lands,  Most loved of gods, with me to show and share  Fair mercy, gratitude and grace as fair.

CHORUS chanting

I, I dishonoured in this earth to dwell,-  Ancient of days and wisdom! I breathe forth  Poison and breath of frenzied ire. O Earth,  Woe, woe for thee, for me!  From side to side what pains be these that thrill?  Hearken, O mother Night, my wrath, mine agony!  Whom from mine ancient rights the gods have thrust  And brought me to the dust-  Woe, woe is me!-with craft invincible.

Eumenides By Aeschylus