Be near us, protect us, and show that the city is dear in your sight!
Have heed for her sacrifice holy, and thought of her offerings take,
Forget not her love and her worship, be near her and smite for her sake!
Hark to my question, things detestable!
Is this aright and for the city’s weal,
And helpful to our army thus beset,
That ye before the statues of our gods
Should fling yourselves, and scream and shriek your fears?
Immodest, uncontrolled! Be this my lot-
Never in troublous nor in peaceful days
To dwell with aught that wears a female form!
Where womankind has power, no man can house,
Where womankind feeds panic, ruin rules
Alike in house and city! Look you now-
Your flying feet, and rumour of your fears,
Have spread a soulless panic on our walls,
And they without do go from strength to strength,
And we within make breach upon ourselves!
Such fate it brings, to house with womankind.
Therefore if any shall resist my rule
Or man, or woman, or some sexless thing-
The vote of sentence shall decide their doom,
And stones of execution, past escape,
Shall finish all. Let not a woman’s voice
Be loud in council! for the things without,
A man must care; let women keep within-
Even then is mischief all too probable!
Hear ye? or speak I to unheeding ears?
Ah, but I shudder, child of Oedipus!
I heard the clash and clang!
The axles rolled and rumbled; woe to us,
Fire-welded bridles rang!
Say-when a ship is strained and deep in brine,
Did eer a seaman mend his chance, who left
The helm, t’ invoke the image at the prow?
Ah, but I fled to the shrines, I called to our helpers on high,
When the stone-shower roared at the portals!
I sped to the temples aloft, and loud was my call and my cry,
Look down and deliver, Immortals!
Ay, pay thy vows to Heaven; I grudge them not,
But-so thou strike no fear into our men-
Have calm at heart, nor be too much afraid.
Alack, it is fresh in mine ears, the clamour and crash of the fray,
And up to our holiest height I sped on my timorous way,
Bewildered, beset by the din!
Ah, but the snorting of the steeds I hear!
Then, if thou hearest, hear them not too well
Hark, the earth rumbles, as they close us round!
Enough if I am here, with plans prepared.
Alack, the battering at the gates is loud!
Peace! stay your tongue, or else the town may hear!
O warders of the walls, betray them not!
Beshrew your cries! in silence face your fate.
Gods of our city, see me not enslaved!
On me, on all, thy cries bring slavery.
Zeus, strong to smite, turn upon foes thy blow!
Zeus, what a curse are women, wrought by thee!
In the sick heart, fear maketh prey of speech.
Light is the thing I ask thee-do my will!
Ask swiftly: swiftly shall I know my power.
Silence, weak wretch! nor put thy friends in fear.
I speak no more: the general fate be mine!
I take that word as wiser than the rest.
Nay, more: these images possess thy will-
Pray, in their strength, that Heaven be on our side!
Then hear my prayers withal, and then ring out
The female triumph-note, thy privilege-
Yea, utter forth the usage Hellas knows,
The cry beside the altars, sounding clear
Encouragement to friends, alarm to foes.
But I unto all gods that guard our walls,
Lords of the plain or warders of the mart
And to Ismenus’ stream and Dirce’s rills,
I swear, if Fortune smiles and saves our town,
That we will make our altars reek with blood
Of sheep and kine, shed forth unto the gods,
And with victorious tokens front our fanes-
Corslets and casques that once our foemen wore,
Spear-shattered now-to deck these holy homes!
Be such thy vows to Heaven-away with sighs,
Away with outcry vain and barbarous,
That shall avail not, in a general doom!
But I will back, and, with six chosen men
Myself the seventh, to confront the foe
In this great aspect of a poised war,
Return and plant them at the sevenfold gates,
Or e’er the prompt and clamorous battle-scouts
Haste to inflame our counsel with the need.
I mark his words, yet, dark and deep,
My heart’s alarm forbiddeth sleep!
Close-clinging cares around my soul
Enkindle fears beyond control,
Presageful of what doom may fall
From the great leaguer of the wall!
So a poor dove is faint with fear
For her weak nestlings, while anew
Glides on the snaky ravisher!
In troop and squadron, hand on hand,
They climb and throng, and hemmed we stand,
While on the warders of our town
The flinty shower comes hurtling down!
Gods born of Zeus! put forth your might
For Cadmus’ city, realm, and right!
What nobler land shall e’er be yours,
If once ye give to hostile powers
The deep rich soil, and Dirce’s wave,
The nursing stream, Poseidon gave
And Tethys’ children? Up and save!
Cast on the ranks that hem us round
A deadly panic, make them fling
Their arms in terror on the ground,
And die in carnage! thence shall spring
High honour for our clan and king!
Come at our wailing cry, and stand
As throned sentries of our land!
For pity and sorrow it were that this immemorial town
Should sink to be slave of the spear, to dust and to ashes gone down,
By the gods of Achaean worship and arms of Achaean might
Sacked and defiled and dishonoured, its women the prize of the fight-
That, haled by the hair as a steed, their mantles dishevelled and torn,
The maiden and matron alike should pass to the wedlock of scorn!
I hear it arise from the city, the manifold wail of despair-
Woe, woe for the doom that shall be-as in grasp of the foeman they fare!
For a woe and a weeping it is, if the maiden inviolate flower
Is plucked by the foe in his might, not culled in the bridal bower!
Alas for the hate and the horror-how say it?-less hateful by far
Is the doom to be slain by the sword, hewn down in the carnage of war!
For wide, ah! wide is the woe when the foeman has mounted the wall;
There is havoc and terror and flame, and the dark smoke broods over all,
And wild is the war-god’s breath, as in frenzy of conquest he springs,
And pollutes with the blast of his lips the glory of holiest things!
Up to the citadel rise clash and din,
The war-net closes in,
The spear is in the heart: with blood imbrued
Young mothers wail aloud,
For children at their breast who scream and die!
And boys and maidens fly,
Yet scape not the pursuer, in his greed
To thrust and grasp and feed!
Robber with robber joins, each calls his mate
Unto the feast of hate-
The banquet, lo! is spread-seize, rend, and tear!
No need to choose or share!
The Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus