I have heard in other days how dread a doom befell our Phrygian guest,
the daughter of Tantalus, on the Sipylian heights; I how, like clinging
ivy, the growth of stone subdued her; and the rains fail not, as men tell,
from her wasting form, nor fails the snow, while beneath her weeping lids
the tears bedew her bosom; and most like to hers is the fate that brings
me to my rest.
Ah, I am mocked! In the name of our fathers’ gods, can ye not wait till
I am gone,-must ye taunt me to my face, O my city, and ye, her wealthy
sons? Ah, fount of Dirce, and thou holy ground of Thebe whose chariots
are many; ye, at least, will bear me witness, in what sort, unwept of friends,
and by what laws I pass to the rock-closed prison of my strange tomb, ah
me unhappy! who have no home on the earth or in the shades, no home with
the living or with the dead.
Thou hast touched on my bitterest thought,-awaking the ever-new lament
for my sire and for all the doom given to us, the famed house of Labdacus.
Alas for the horrors of the mother’s bed! alas for the wretched mother’s
slumber at the side of her own son,-and my sire! From what manner of parents
did I take my miserable being! And to them I go thus, accursed, unwed,
to share their home. Alas, my brother, ill-starred in thy marriage, in
thy death thou hast undone my life!
Know ye not that songs and wailings before death would never
cease, if it profited to utter them? Away with her-away! And when ye have
enclosed her, according to my word, in her vaulted grave, leave her alone,
forlorn-whether she wishes to die, or to live a buried life in such a home.
Our hands are clean as touching this maiden. But this is certain-she shall
be deprived of her sojourn in the light.
Tomb, bridal-chamber, eternal prison in the caverned rock,
whither go to find mine own, those many who have perished, and whom Persephone
hath received among the dead! Last of all shall I pass thither, and far
most miserably of all, before the term of my life is spent. But I cherish
good hope that my coming will be welcome to my father, and pleasant to
thee, my mother, and welcome, brother, to thee; for, when ye died, with
mine own hands I washed and dressed you, and poured drink-offerings at
your graves; and now, Polyneices, ’tis for tending thy corpse that I win
such recompense as this.
And yet I honoured thee, as the wise will deem, rightly. Never,
had been a mother of children, or if a husband had been mouldering in death,
would I have taken this task upon me in the city’s despite. What law, ye
ask, is my warrant for that word? The husband lost, another might have
been found, and child from another, to replace the first-born: but, father
and mother hidden with Hades, no brother’s life could ever bloom for me
again. Such was the law whereby I held thee first in honour; but Creon
deemed me guilty of error therein, and of outrage, ah brother mine! And
now he leads me thus, a captive in his hands; no bridal bed, no bridal
song hath been mine, no joy of marriage, no portion in the nurture of children;
but thus, forlorn of friends, unhappy one, I go living to the vaults of
And what law of heaven have I transgressed? Why, hapless one, should
I look to the gods any more,-what ally should I invoke,-when by piety I
have earned the name of impious? Nay, then, if these things are pleasing
to the gods, when I have suffered my doom, I shall come to know my sin;
but if the sin is with my judges, I could wish them no fuller measure of
evil than they, on their part, mete wrongfully to me.
Even thus endured Danae in her beauty to change the light of day for brass-bound
walls; and in that chamber, secret as the grave, she was held close prisoner;
yet was she of a proud lineage, O my daughter, and charged with the keeping
of the seed of Zeus, that fell in the golden rain.
But dreadful is the mysterious power of fate: there is no deliverance
from it by wealth or by war, by fenced city, or dark, sea-beaten ships.
And bonds tamed the son of Dryas, swift to wrath, that king of the Edonians;
so paid he for his frenzied taunts, when, by the will of Dionysus, he was
pent in a rocky prison. There the fierce exuberance of his madness slowly
passed away. That man learned to know the god, whom in his frenzy he had
provoked with mockeries; for he had sought to quell the god-possessed women,
and the Bacchanalian fire; and he angered the Muses that love the flute.
And by the waters of the Dark Rocks, the waters of the twofold sea, are
the shores of Bosporus, and Thracian Salmydessus; where Ares, neighbour
to the city, saw the accurst, blinding wound dealt to the two sons of Phineus
by his fierce wife,-the wound that brought darkness to those vengeance-craving
orbs, smitten with her bloody hands, smitten with her shuttle for a dagger.
Pining in their misery, they bewailed their cruel doom, those sons of a
mother hapless in her marriage; but she traced her descent from the ancient
line of the Erechtheidae; and in far-distant caves she was nursed amid
her father’s storms, that child of Boreas, swift as a steed over the steep
hills, a daughter of gods; yet upon her also the gray Fates bore hard,