And all the wealth of earth to waste is poured-
A sight by all abhorred!
The grieving housewives eye it; heaped and blent,
Earth’s boons are spoiled and spent,
And waste to nothingness; and O alas,
Young maids, forlorn ye pass-
Fresh horror at your hearts-beneath the power
Of those who crop the flower!
Ye own the ruffian ravisher for lord,
And night brings rites abhorred!
Woe, woe for you! upon your grief and pain
There comes a fouler stain.
Well have I scanned the foe, and well can say
Unto which chief, by lot, each gate is given.
Tydeus already with his onset-cry
Storms at the gate called Proetides; but him
The seer Amphiaraus holds at halt,
Nor wills that he should cross Ismenus’ ford,
Until the sacrifices promise fair.
But Tydeus, mad with lust of blood and broil,
Like to a cockatrice at noontide hour,
Hisses out wrath and smites with scourge of tongue
The prophet-son of Oecleus-Wise thou art,
Faint against war, and holding back from death!
With such revilings loud upon his lips
He waves the triple plumes that o’er his helm
Float overshadowing, as a courser’s mane;
And at his shield’s rim, terror in their tone,
Clang and reverberate the brazen bells.
And this proud sign, wrought on his shield, he bears,-
The vault of heaven, inlaid with blazing stars;
And, for the boss, the bright moon glows at full,
The eye of night, the first and lordliest star.
Thus with high-vaunted armour, madly bold,
He clamours by the stream-bank, wild for war,
As a steed panting grimly on his bit,
Held in and chafing for the trumpet’s bray!
Whom wilt thou set against him? when the gates
Of Proetus yield, who can his rush repel?
To me, no blazon on a foeman’s shield
Shall e’er present a fear! such pointed threats
Are powerless to wound; his plumes and bells,
Without a spear, are snakes without a sting.
Nay, more-that pageant of which thou tellest-
The nightly sky displayed, ablaze with stars,
Upon his shield, palters with double sense
One headstrong fool will find its truth anon!
For, if night fall upon his eyes in death,
Yon vaunting blazon will its own truth prove,
And he is prophet of his folly’s fall.
Mine shall it be, to pit against his power
The loyal son of Astacus, as guard
To hold the gateways-a right valiant soul,
Who has in heed the throne of Modesty
And loathes the speech of Pride, and evermore
Shrinks from the base, but knows no other fear.
He springs by stock from those whom Ares spared,
The men called Sown, a right son of the soil,
And Melanippus styled. Now, what his arm
To-day shall do, rests with the dice of war,
And Ares shall ordain it; but his cause
Hath the true badge of Right, to urge him on
To guard, as son, his motherland from wrong.
Then may the gods give fortune fair
Unto our chief, sent forth to dare
War’s terrible arbitrament!
But ah! when champions wend away,
I shudder, lest, from out the fray,
Only their blood-stained wrecks be sent!
Nay, let him pass, and the gods’ help be his!
Next, Capaneus comes on, by lot to lead
The onset at the gates Electran styled:
A giant be, more huge than Tydeus’ self,
And more than human in his arrogance-
May fate forefend his threat against our walls!
God willing, or unwilling-such his vaunt-
I will lay waste this city; Pallas’ self,
Zeus’s warrior maid, although she swoop to earth
And plant her in my path, shall stay me not.
And, for the flashes of the levin-bolt,
He holds them harmless as the noontide rays.
Mark, too, the symbol on his shield-a man
Scornfully weaponless but torch in hand,
And the flame glows witbin his grasp, prepared
For ravin: lo, the legend, wrought in words,
Fire for the city bring I, flares in gold!
Against such wight, send forth-yet whom? what man
Will front that vaunting figure and not fear?
Aha, this profits also, gain on gain!
In sooth, for mortals, the tongue’s utterance
Bewrays unerringly a foolish pride!
Hither stalks Capaneus, with vaunt and threat
Defying god-like powers, equipt to act,
And, mortal though he be, he strains his tongue
In folly’s ecstasy, and casts aloft
High swelling words against the ears of Zeus.
Right well I trust-if justice grants the word-
That, by the might of Zeus, a bolt of flame
In more than semblance shall descend on him.
Against his vaunts, though reckless, I have set,
To make assurance sure, a warrior stern-
Strong Polyphontes, fervid for the fray;-
A sturdy bulwark, he, by grace of Heaven
And favour of his champion Artemis!
Say on, who holdeth the next gate in ward?
I will say on. Eteoclus is third-
To him it fell, what time the third lot sprang
O’er the inverted helmet’s brazen rim,
To dash his stormers on Neistae gate.
He wheels his mares, who at their frontlets chafe
And yearn to charge upon the gates amain.
They snort the breath of pride, and, filled therewith,
Their nozzles whistle with barbaric sound.
High too and haughty is his shield’s device-
An armed man who climbs, from rung to rung,
A scaling ladder, up a hostile wall,
Afire to sack and slay; and he too cries
(By letters, full of sound, upon the shield)
Not Ares’ self shall cast me from the wall.
Look to it, send, against this man, a man
Strong to debar the slave’s yoke from our town.
By his worth sent already, not by pride
And vain pretence, is he. ‘Tis Megareus,
The child of Creon, of the Earth-sprung born!
He will not shrink from guarding of the gates,
Nor fear the maddened charger’s frenzied neigh,
But, if he dies, will nobly quit the score
For nurture to the land that gave him birth,
Or from the shield-side hew two warriors down-
Eteoclus and the figure that he lifts-
Ay, and the city pictured, all in one,
And deck with spoils the temple of his sire!
Announce the next pair, stint not of thy tongue!
Lo, next him stands a fourth and shouts amain,
By Pallas Onca’s portal, and displays
A different challenge; ’tis Hippomedon!
Huge the device that starts up from his targe
In high relief; and, I deny it not,
I shuddered, seeing how, upon the rim,
It made a mighty circle round the shield-
No sorry craftsman he, who wrought that work
And clamped it all around the buckler’s edge!
The form was Typhon: from his glowing throat
Rolled lurid smoke, spark-litten, kin of fire!
The flattened edge-work, circling round the whole,
Made strong support for coiling snakes that grew
Erect above the concave of the shield:
Loud rang the warrior’s voice; inspired for war,
He raves to slay, as doth a Bacchanal,
His very glance a terror! of such wight
Beware the onset! closing on the gates,
He peals his vaunting and appalling cry!
Yet first our Pallas Onca-wardress she,
Planting her foot hard by her gate-shall stand,
The Maid against the ruffian, and repel
His force, as from her brood the mother-bird
Beats back the wintered serpent’s venom’d fang.
And next, by her, is Oenops’ gallant son,
Hyperbius, chosen to confront this foe,
Ready to seek his fate at Fortune’s shrine!
In form, in valour, and in skill of arms,
None shall gainsay him. See how wisely well
Hermes hath set the brave against the strong!
Confronted shall they stand, the shield of each
Bearing the image of opposing gods:
One holds aloft his Typhon breathing fire,
But, on the other’s shield, in symbol sits
Zeus, calm and strong, and fans his bolt to flame-
Zeus, seen of all, yet seen of none to fail!
Howbeit, weak is trust reposed in Heaven-
Yet are we upon Zeus’ victorious side,
The foe, with those he worsted-if in sooth
Zeus against Typhon held the upper hand,
And if Hyperbius (as well may hap
When two such foes such diverse emblems bear)
Have Zeus upon his shield, a saving sign.
High faith is mine that he whose shield
Bears, against Zeus, the thing of hate.
The giant Typhon, thus revealed,
A monster loathed of gods eterne
And mortal men-this doom shall earn
A shattered skull, before the gate!
Heaven send it so! A fifth assailant now
Is set against our fifth, the northern, gate,
Fronting the death-mound where Amphion lies
The child of Zeus. This foeman vows his faith,
Upon a mystic spear-head which he deems
More holy than a godhead and more sure
To find its mark than any glance of eye,
That, will they, nill they, he will storm and sack
The hold of the Cadmeans. Such his oath-
His, the bold warrior, yet of childish years,
A bud of beauty’s foremost flower, the son
Of Zeus and of the mountain maid. I mark
How the soft down is waxing on his cheek,
Thick and close-growing in its tender prime-
In name, not mood, is he a maiden’s child-
Parthenopaeus; large and bright his eyes
But fierce the wrath wherewith he fronts the gate:
Yet not unheralded he takes his stand
Before the portal; on his brazen shield,
The rounded screen and shelter of his form,
I saw him show the ravening Sphinx, the fiend
That shamed our city-how it glared and moved,
Clamped on the buckler, wrought in high relief!
And in its claws did a Cadmean bear-
Nor heretofore, for any single prey,
Sped she aloft, through such a storm of darts
As now awaits her. So our foe is here-
Like, as I deem, to ply no stinted trade
In blood and broil, but traffick as is meet
In fierce exchange for his long wayfaring!
The Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus