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By David Grene, Richmond Lattimore
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2013The University of Chicago
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CHORUS of Argive Elders
CLYTAEMESTRA, wife of Agamemnon
AGAMEMNON, son of Atreus and king of Argos
CASSANDRA, daughter of King Priam of Troy
AEGISTHUS, cousin of Agamemnon
Scene: Argos, in front of the palace of King Agamemnon. The Watchman is posted on the roof.
I ask the gods some respite from the weariness of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake elbowed upon the Atreidae's roof dogwise to mark the grand processionals of all the stars of night burdened with winter and again with heat for men, dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air, these stars, upon their wane and when the rest arise. I wait; to read the meaning in that beacon light, a blaze of fire to carry out of Troy the rumor and outcry of its capture; to such end a lady's male strength of heart in its high confidence ordains. Now as this bed stricken with night and drenched with dew I keep, nor ever with kind dreams for company— since fear in sleep's place stands forever at my head against strong closure of my eyes, or any rest— I mince such medicine against sleep failed: I sing, only to weep again the pity of this house no longer, as once, administered in the grand way. Now let there be again redemption from distress, the flare burning from the blackness in good augury.
(A light shows in the distance.)
Oh hail, blaze of the darkness, harbinger of day's shining, and of processionals and dance and songs of multitudes in Argos for this day of thanks. Ho there, ho! I cry the news aloud to Agamemnon's queen, that she may rise up from her bed of state with speed to raise the rumor of gladness welcoming this beacon, and singing rise, if truly the citadel of Ilium has fallen, as the shining of this flare proclaims. I also, I, will make my choral prelude, since my lord's dice cast aright are counted as my own, and mine the tripled sixes of this torchlit throw. May it only happen. May my king come home, and I take up within this hand the hand I love. The rest I leave to silence; for an ox stands huge upon my tongue. The house itself, could it take voice, might speak aloud and plain. I speak to those who understand, but if they fail, I have forgotten everything.
(Exit. Enter the Chorus from the side.)
CHORUS [chanting] Ten years since the great contestants of Priam's right, Menelaus and Agamemnon, my lord, twin throned, twin sceptered, in twofold power of kings from god, the Atreidae, put forth from this shore the thousand ships of the Argives, the strength and the armies. Their cry of war went shrill from the heart, as eagles stricken in agony for young perished, high from the nest eddy and circle to bend and sweep of the wings' stroke, lost far below the fledglings, the nest, and the tendance. Yet someone hears in the air, a god, Apollo, Pan, or Zeus, the high thin wail of these sky-guests, and drives late to its mark the Fury upon the transgressors.
So drives Zeus, the great god of guests, the Atreidae against Alexander: for one woman's promiscuous sake the struggling masses, legs tired, knees grinding in dust, spears broken in the onset. Danaans and Trojans they have it alike. It goes as it goes now. The end will be destiny. You cannot burn flesh or pour unguents, not innocent cool tears,° that will soften the gods' stiff anger. But we, dishonored, old in our bones, cast off even then from the gathering horde, stay here, to prop up on staves the strength of a baby. Since the young vigor that urges inward to the heart is frail as age, no warcraft yet perfect, while beyond age, leaf withered, man goes three-footed no stronger than a child is, a dream that falters in daylight.° But you, lady, daughter of Tyndareus, Clytaemestra, our queen: What is there to be done? What new thing have you heard? In persuasion of what report do you order such sacrifice? To all the gods of the city, the high and the deep spirits, to them of the sky and the marketplaces, the altars blaze with oblations. The staggered flame goes sky-high one place, then another, drugged by the simple soft persuasion of sacred unguents, the deep-stored oil of the kings. Of these things what can be told openly, speak. Be healer to this perplexity that grows now into darkness of thought, while again sweet hope shining from the flames beats back the pitiless pondering of sorrow that eats my heart.
I have mastery yet to proclaim the wonder at the wayside given to kings. Still by god's grace there surges within me singing magic grown to my life and power, how the wild bird portent hurled forth the Achaeans' twin-stemmed power single-hearted, lords of the youth of Hellas, with spear and hand of strength to the land of Teucrus. Kings of birds to the kings of the ships, one black, one blazed with silver, clear seen by the royal house on the right, the spear hand, they alighted, watched by all tore a hare, ripe, bursting with young unborn yet, stayed from her last fleet running. Sing sorrow, sorrow: but good win out in the end.
Then the grave seer of the host saw through to the hearts divided, knew the fighting sons of Atreus feeding on the hare with the host, their people. Seeing beyond, he spoke: "With time, this foray shall stalk the city of Priam; and under the walls, Fate shall spoil in violence the rich herds of the people. Only let no doom of the gods darken upon this huge iron forged to curb Troy— from inward. Artemis the undefiled is angered with pity at the flying hounds of her father eating the unborn young in the hare and the shivering mother. She is sick at the eagles' feasting. Sing sorrow, sorrow: but good win out in the end.
Lovely she is and kind to the tender young of ravening lions. For sucklings of all the savage beasts that lurk in the lonely places she has sympathy. She demands meaning° for these appearances good, yet not without evil. Healer Apollo, I pray you let her not with crosswinds bind the ships of the Danaans to time-long anchorage forcing a second sacrifice unholy, untasted, working bitterness in the blood and fearing no man. For the terror returns like sickness to lurk in the house; the secret anger remembers the child that shall be avenged." Such, with great good things beside, rang out in the voice of Calchas, these fatal signs from the birds by the way to the house of the princes, wherewith in sympathy sing sorrow, sorrow: but good win out in the end.
Zeus: whatever he may be, if this name pleases him in invocation, thus I call upon him. I have pondered every thing yet I cannot find a way, only Zeus, to cast this dead weight of ignorance finally from out my brain.
He who in time long ago was great, throbbing with gigantic strength, shall be as if he never were, unspoken. He who followed him has found his master, and is gone. Cry aloud without fear the victory of Zeus; you will not have failed the truth.
Zeus, who guided men to think, who has laid it down that wisdom comes alone through suffering. Still there drips in sleep against the heart grief of memory; against our will temperance comes. From the gods who sit in grandeur grace is somehow violent.
On that day the elder king of the Achaean ships, not faulting any prophet's word, shifted with the crosswinds of fortune, when no ship sailed, no pail was full, and the Achaean people sulked along the shore at Aulis facing Chalcis, where tides ebb and surge:
and winds blew from the
Excerpted from GREEK TRAGEDIES by David Grene. Copyright © 2013 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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