antistrophe 3

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.

On one side the SPY enters; on the other, ETEOCLES and the SIX CHAMPIONS.

Look, friends! methinks the scout, who parted hence 
To spy upon the foemen, comes with news, 
His feet as swift as wafting chariot-wheels.


Ay, and our king, the son of Oedipus, 
Comes prompt to time, to learn the spy’s report- 
His heart is fainer than his foot is fast!


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.

MELANIPPUS goes out.
CHORUS chanting

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?

CHORUS chanting

Perish the wretch whose vaunt affronts our home! 
On him the red bolt come, 
Ere to the maiden bowers his way he cleave, 
To ravage and bereave!


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.

Send will I-even this man, with luck to aid-
MEGAREUS departs as soon as he has been marked out.

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!

CHORUS chanting

O thou, the warder of my home, 
Grant, unto us, Fate’s favouring tide, 
Send on the foemen doom! 
They fling forth taunts of frenzied pride, 
On them may Zeus with glare of vengeance come


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.

HYPERBIUS goes out.
CHORUS chanting

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