Have heed of him who looketh from on high,
The guard of woeful mortals, whosoe’er
Unto their fellows cry,
And find no pity, find no justice there.
Abiding in his wrath, the suppliants’ lord
Doth smite, unmoved by cries, unbent by prayerful word.
But if Aegyptus’ children grasp you here,
Claiming, their country’s right, to hold you theirs
As next of kin, who dares to counter this?
Plead ye your country’s laws, if plead ye may,
That upon you they lay no lawful hand.
Hard is the cause-make me not judge thereof.
Already I have vowed it, to do nought
Save after counsel with my people ta’en,
King though I be; that ne’er in after time,
If ill fate chance, my people then may say-
In aid of strangers thou the State hast slain.
Zeus, lord of kinship, rules at will
The swaying balance, and surveys
Evil and good; to men of ill
Gives evil, and to good men praise,
And thou-since true those scales do sway-
Shalt thou from justice shrink away?
A deep, a saving counsel here there needs-
An eye that like a diver to the depth
Of dark perplexity can pass and see,
Undizzied, unconfused. First must we care
That to the State and to ourselves this thing
Shall bring no ruin; next, that wrangling hands
Shall grasp you not as prey, nor we ourselves
Betray you thus embracing sacred shrines,
Nor make the avenging all-destroying god,
Who not in hell itself sets dead men free,
A grievous inmate, an abiding bane.
-Spake I not right, of saving counsel’s need?
strophe 4strophe 5
Steel not thyself to see the suppliant thrust
From hallowed statues’ side,
Haled by the frontlet on my forehead bound,
As steeds are led, and drawn
By hands that drag from shrine and altar-mound
My vesture’s fringed lawn.
Know thou that whether for Aegyptus’ race
Thou dost their wish fulfil,
Or for the gods and for each holy place-
Be thy choice good or ill,
Blow is with blow requited, grace with grace.
Such is Zeus’ righteous will.
Yea, I have pondered: from the sea of doubt
Here drives at length the bark of thought ashore;
Landward with screw and windlass haled, and firm,
Clamped to her props, she lies. The need is stern;
With men or gods a mighty strife we strive
Perforce, and either hap in grief concludes.
For, if a house be sacked, new wealth for old
Not hard it is to win-if Zeus the lord
Of treasure favour-more than quits the loss,
Enough to pile the store of wealth full high;
Or if a tongue shoot forth untimely speech,
Bitter and strong to goad a man to wrath,
Soft words there be to soothe that wrath away:
But what device shall make the war of kin
Bloodless? that woe, the blood of many beasts,
And victims manifold to many gods,
Alone can cure. Right glad I were to shun
This strife, and am more fain of ignorance
Than of the wisdom of a woe endured.
The gods send better than my soul foretells!
Of many cries for mercy, hear the end.
Say on, then, for it shall not ‘scape mine ear.
Girdles we have, and bands that bind our robes.
Even so; such things beseem a woman’s wear.
Know, then, with these a fair device there is-
Speak, then: what utterance doth this foretell?
Unless to us thou givest pledge secure
What can thy girdles’ craft achieve for thee?
Strange votive tablets shall these statues deck.
Mysterious thy resolve-avow it clear.
Swiftly to hang me on these sculptured gods!
Thy word is as a lash to urge my heart.
Thou seest truth, for I have cleared thine eyes.
Yea, and woes manifold, invincible,
A crowd of ills, sweep on me torrent-like.
My bark goes forth upon a sea of troubles
Unfathomed, ill to traverse, harbourless.
For if my deed shall match not your demand,
Dire, beyond shot of speech, shall be the bane
Your death’s pollution leaves unto this land.
Yet if against your kin, Aegyptus’ race,
Before our gates I front the doom of war,
Will not the city’s loss be sore? Shall men
For women’s sake incarnadine the ground?
But yet the wrath of Zeus, the suppliants’ lord,
I needs must fear: most awful unto man
The terror of his anger. Thou, old man,
The father of these maidens, gather up
Within your arms these wands of suppliance,
And lay them at the altars manifold
Of all our country’s gods, that all the town
Know, by this sign, that ye come here to sue.
Nor, in thy haste, do thou say aught of me.
Swift is this folk to censure those who rule;
But, if they see these signs of suppliance,
It well may chance that each will pity you,
And loathe the young men’s violent pursuit;
And thus a fairer favour you may find:
For, to the helpless, each man’s heart is kind.
To us, beyond gifts manifold it is
To find a champion thus compassionate;
Yet send with me attendants, of thy folk,
Rightly to guide me, that I duly find
Each altar of your city’s gods that stands
Before the fane, each dedicated shrine;
And that in safety through the city’s ways
I may pass onwards: all unlike to yours
The outward semblance that I wear-the race
That Nilus rears is all dissimilar
To that of Inachus. Keep watch and ward
Lest heedlessness bring death: full oft, I ween,
Friend hath slain friend, not knowing whom he slew.
Leave there the new-plucked boughs, thy sorrow’s sign.
Thus beckoned forth, at thy behest I leave them.
Now to this level precinct turn thyself.
Unconsecrate it is, and cannot shield me.
We will not yield thee to those falcons’ greed.
What help? more fierce they are than serpents fell.
We spake thee fair-speak thou them fair in turn.
What marvel that we loathe them, scared in soul?
Awe towards a king should other fears transcend.
Thus speak, thus act, and reassure my mind.
Not long thy sire shall leave thee desolate.
But I will call the country’s indwellers,
And with soft words th’ assembly will persuade,
And warn your sire what pleadings will avail.
Therefore abide ye, and with prayer entreat
The country’s gods to compass your desire;
The while I go, this matter to provide,
Persuasion and fair fortune at my side.
O King of Kings, among the blest
Thou highest and thou happiest,
Listen and grant our prayer,
And, deeply loathing, thrust
Away from us the young men’s lust,
And deeply drown
In azure waters, down and ever down,
Benches and rowers dark,
The fatal and perfidious bark!
Unto the maidens turn thy gracious care;
Think yet again upon the tale of fame,
How from the maiden loved of thee there sprung
Mine ancient line, long since in many a legend sung!
Remember, O remember, thou whose hand
Did Io by a touch to human shape reclaim.
For from this Argos erst our mother came
Driven hence to Egypt’s land,
Yet sprung of Zeus we were, and hence our birth we claim.
The Suppliants by Aeschylus