Children, be wary-wary he with whom
Ye come, your trusty sire and steersman old:
And that same caution hold I here on land,
And bid you hoard my words, inscribing them
On memory’s tablets. Lo, I see afar
Dust, voiceless herald of a host, arise;
And hark, within their griding sockets ring
Axles of hurrying wheels! I see approach,
Borne in curved cars, by speeding horses drawn,
A speared and shielded band. The chiefs, perchance.
Of this their land are hitherward intent
To look on us, of whom they yet have heard
By messengers alone. But come who may,
And come he peaceful or in ravening wrath
Spurred on his path, ’twere best, in any case,
Damsels, to cling unto this altar-mound
Made sacred to their gods of festival,-
A shrine is stronger than a tower to save,
A shield that none may cleave. Step swift thereto,
And in your left hands hold with reverence
The white-crowned wands of suppliance, the sign
Beloved of Zeus, compassion’s lord, and speak
To those that question you, words meek and low
And piteous, as beseems your stranger state,
Clearly avowing of this flight of yours
The bloodless cause; and on your utterance
See to it well that modesty attend;
From downcast eyes, from brows of pure control,
Let chastity look forth; nor, when ye speak,
Be voluble nor eager-they that dwell
Within this land are sternly swift to chide.
And be your words submissive: heed this well;
For weak ye are, outcasts on stranger lands,
And froward talk beseems not strengthless hands.
Even so-with gracious aspect let him aid.
Fain were I now to seat me by thy side-
Now dally not, but put our thought in act.
Zeus, pity our distress, or e’er we die.
If so he will, your toils to joy will turn.
Lo, on this shrine, the semblance of a bird.
Zeus’ bird of dawn it is; invoke the sign.
Thus I invoke the saving rays of morn.
Next, bright Apollo, exiled once from heaven.
The exiled god will pity our exile.
Yea, may he pity, giving grace and aid.
Whom next invoke I, of these other gods?
Lo, here a trident, symbol of a god.
Who gave sea-safety; may he bless on land!
This next is Hermes, carved in Grecian wise.
Then let him herald help to freedom won.
Lastly, adore this altar consecrate
To many lesser gods in one; then crouch
On holy ground, a flock of doves that flee,
Scared by no alien hawks, a kin not kind,
Hateful, and fain of love more hateful still,
Foul is the bird that rends another bird,
And foul the men who hale unwilling maids,
From sire unwilling, to the bridal bed.
Never on earth, nor in the lower world,
Shall lewdness such as theirs escape the ban:
There too, if men say right, a God there is
Who upon dead men turns their sin to doom,
To final doom. Take heed, draw hitherward,
That from this hap your safety ye may win.
Speak-of what land are ye? No Grecian band
Is this to whom I speak, with Eastern robes
And wrappings richly dight: no Argive maid,
No woman in all Greece such garb doth wear,
This too gives marvel, how unto this land,
Unheralded, unfriended, without guide,
And without fear, ye came? yet wands I see,
True sign of suppliance, by you laid down
On shrines of these our gods of festival.
No land but Greece can rede such signs aright.
Much else there is, conjecture well might guess,
But let words teach the man who stands to hear.
For that, take heart and answer without fear.
I am Pelasgus, ruler of this land,
Child of Palaichthon, whom the earth brought forth;
And, rightly named from me, the race who reap
This country’s harvests are Pelasgian called.
And o’er the wide and westward-stretching land,
Through which the lucent wave of Strymon flows,
I rule; Perrhaebia’s land my boundary is
Northward, and Pindus’ further slopes, that watch
Paeonia, and Dodona’s mountain ridge.
West, east, the limit of the washing seas
Restrains my rule-the interspace is mine.
But this whereon we stand is Apian land,
Styled so of old from the great healer’s name;
For Apis, coming from Naupactus’ shore
Beyond the strait, child of Apollo’s self
And like him seer and healer, cleansed this land
From man-devouring monsters, whoin the earth,
Stained with pollution of old bloodshedding,
Brought forth in malice, beasts of ravening jaws,
A grisly throng of serpents manifold.
And healings of their hurt, by knife and charm,
Apis devised, unblamed of Argive men,
And in their prayers found honour, for reward.
-Lo, thou hast heard the tokens that I give:
Speak now thy race, and tell a forthright tale;
In sooth, this people loves not many words.
O stranger maids, I may not trust this word,
That ye have share in this our Argive race.
No likeness of our country do ye bear,
But semblance as of Libyan womankind.
Even such a stock by Nilus’ banks might grow;
Yea, and the Cyprian stamp, in female forms,
Shows, to the life, what males impressed the same.
And, furthermore, of roving Indian maids
Whose camping-grounds by Aethiopia lie,
And camels burdened even as mules, and bearing
Riders, as horses bear, mine ears have heard;
And tales of flesh-devouring mateless maids
Called Amazons: to these, if bows ye bare,
I most had deemed you like. Speak further yet,
That of your Argive birth the truth I learn.
Ay, and that Hera that embrace surmised.
How issued then this strife of those on high?
By Hera’s will, a heifer she became.
Held Zeus aloof then from the horned beast?
‘Tis said, he loved, in semblance of a bull.
And his stern consort, did she aught thereon?
One myriad-eyed she set, the heifer’s guard.
How namest thou this herdsman many-eyed?
Argus, the child of Earth, whom Hermes slew.
Still did the goddess vex the beast ill-starred?
She wrought a gadfly with a goading sting.
Thus drave she Io hence, to roam afar?
Yea-this thy word coheres exact with mine.
Then to Canopus and to Memphis came she?
Epaphus, named rightly from the saving touch.
And whom in turn did Epaphus beget?
Libya, with name of a wide land endowed.
And who from her was born unto the race?
Belus: from him two sons, my father one.
Speak now to me his name, this greybeard wise.
Danaus; his brother fifty sons begat.
Grudge not, in telling, his name too to tell.
Lord of Pelasgian men, calamity
Is manifold and diverse; as of birds
Feather from feather differs, so of men
The woes are sundry. Who had dared foretell
That this our sudden flight, this hate and fear
Of loathly wedlock, would on Argos’ shore
Set forth a race of kindred lineage?
Ne’er to be slaves unto Aegyptus’ race.
Doth your own hate, or doth the law forbid?
Not as our lords, but as unloved, we chide them.
‘Tis from such wedlock that advancement comes,
How easy is it, from the weak to turn!
How then toward you can I be conscience-clear?
Deny us, though Aegyptus’ race demand.
A heavy task thou namest, a rash war.
But Justice champions them who strike for her.
Yea, if their side was from the outset hers.
Revere the gods thus crowned, who steer the State.
Awe thrills me, seeing these shrines with leafage crowned.
Yea, stern the wrath of Zeus, the suppliants’ lord.
Child of Palaichthon, royal chief
Of thy Pelasgians, hear!
Bow down thine heart to my relief-
A fugitive, a suppliant, swift with fear,
A creature whom the wild wolves chase
O’er toppling crags; in piteous case
Aloud, afar she lows,
Calling the herdsman’s trusty arm to save her from her foes!
Lo, with bowed heads beside our city shrines
Ye sit ‘neath shade of new-plucked olive-boughs.
Our distant kin’s resentment Heaven forefend!
Let not this hap, unhoped and unforeseen,
Bring war on us: for strife we covet not.
Justice, the daughter of right-dealing Zeus,
Justice, the queen of suppliants, look down,
That this our plight no ill may loose
Upon your town!
This word, even from the young, let age and wisdom learn:
If thou to suppliants show grace,
Thou shalt not lack Heaven’s grace in turn,
So long as virtue’s gifts on heavenly shrines have place.
Not at my private hearth ye sit and sue;
And if the city bear a common stain,
Be it the common toil to cleanse the same:
Therefore no pledge, no promise will I give,
Ere counsel with the commonwealth be held.
Nay, but the source of sway, the city’s self, art thou,
A power unjudged! thine, only thine,
To rule the right of hearth and shrine!
Before thy throne and sceptre all men bow!
Thou, in all causes lord, beware the curse divine!
May that curse fall upon mine enemies!
I cannot aid you without risk of scathe,
Nor scorn your prayers-unmerciful it were.
Perplexed, distraught I stand, and fear alike
The twofold chance, to do or not to do.