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Title: Women of the Classics
Author: Sturgeon, Mary C.
Language: English
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                                WOMEN OF
                              THE CLASSICS



  _Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I._


                                WOMEN OF
                              THE CLASSICS

                          BY MARY C. STURGEON

                       WITH SIXTEEN PHOTOGRAVURES
                       PRESENTING STUDIES OF THE
                          HEROINES OF THE BOOK


                       GEORGE G. HARRAP & COMPANY
                 2 & 3 PORTSMOUTH STREET KINGSWAY W.C.


                               PRINTED AT
                          THE BALLANTYNE PRESS
                             LONDON ENGLAND



 INTRODUCTION                                                         9

      HELEN                                                          15
      ANDROMACHE                                                     29
      PENELOPE                                                       39
      CIRCE                                                          60
      CALYPSO                                                        73
      NAUSICAA                                                       85


      CLYTEMNESTRA                                                   99
      ELECTRA                                                       117
      CASSANDRA                                                     135
      IO                                                            148

      JOCASTA                                                       163
      ANTIGONE                                                      185

      ALCESTIS                                                      209
      MEDEA                                                         227
      PHÆDRA                                                        243
      IPHIGENIA                                                     256

      DIDO                                                          273


       PHÆDRA       GERTRUDE DEMAIN HAMMOND, R.I. _Frontispiece_
                                                   _Facing page_
       HELEN        LORD LEIGHTON                             20
       ANDROMACHE   LORD LEIGHTON                             34
       PENELOPE     PATTEN WILSON                             50
       CIRCE        PATTEN WILSON                             66
       CALYPSO      PATTEN WILSON                             82
       NAUSICAA     PATTEN WILSON                             94
       CLYTÆMNESTRA HON. JOHN COLLIER                        114
       ELECTRA      GERTRUDE DEMAIN HAMMOND, R.I.            128
       CASSANDRA    SOLOMON J. SOLOMON, R.A.                 140
       JOCASTA      GERTRUDE DEMAIN HAMMOND, R.I.            172
       ANTIGONE     FROM THE STATUE BY HUGUES                192
       ALCESTIS     LORD LEIGHTON                            224
       MEDEA        HERBERT DRAPER                           238
       IPHIGENIA    M. NONNENBRUCH                           260
       DIDO         GIANBATTISTA TIEPOLO                     284


The women in this book are the heroines of Homer, of Attic Tragedy, and
of the _Æneid_ of Virgil. Their stories are taken out of the best modern
translations of the old poems; and they are retold from the human
standpoint, with the minimum of critical comment.

It is curious, when we reflect a moment, how little we really know about
the women of the classics. Their names have been familiar to us as long
as we can remember. We have always been vaguely conscious of a glory
clothing them—sometimes sombre and troubled, often gracious and serene,
occasionally enchanting. About the greatest of them some floating hints
of identity ripple on the surface of the mind. But we can by no means
fit these little fragments into any clear outline of the sublime beauty
of their originals. And when we light upon a reference to them in our
reading, or stand before one of the innumerable works of art which they
have inspired, memory is baffled. We have no clue to the spell that they
have cast upon the centuries: the spell itself has no power over us; and
we grope in vain for the key which would admit us to a world of delight.

There were reasons for this state of affairs when translations were few
and costly: when scholars were merely pedants and when the classics were
sealed to women. But _nous avons changé tout cela_. Fine translations
can be bought for a few shillings. Women are themselves engaging in the
study of the old languages and of the sciences which are akin to them.
Scholarship is growing more human; and the awakened spirit of womanhood,
having become conscious of itself, cannot fail to be profoundly
interested in that earlier awakening which, twenty-five centuries ago,
evoked creatures so splendid. Of the women of Attic Tragedy Professor
Gilbert Murray has said, in his _Rise of the Greek Epic_: “Consider for
a moment the whole magnificent file of heroines in Greek Tragedy, both
for good and evil.... I doubt if there has ever in the history of the
world been a period, not even excepting the Elizabethan Age and the
Nineteenth Century, when such a gallery of heroic women has been
represented in Drama.”

By bringing these women together into a single volume, it is hoped to
make their stories easily accessible; and by quoting some of the most
beautiful passages from the poems in which they live, it is hoped to
send the reader back to the poets themselves. It has not been possible
to include all the heroines in the available space; and several of those
who are missing have only been omitted under the direst necessity. But
all the greatest are here; and an effort has been made to choose each
group so that it shall represent as far as may be the characteristics of
its own poet. The source of the story is indicated in each case, and has
been closely followed.

A word may be necessary on one or two points, to those who are coming to
these stories from the classics with an unfamiliar eye. It will be found
that there is a singular reticence here on that aspect of love which
engrosses modern literature. It is occasionally treated by Euripides;
but even he handles the theme delicately and with reserve. Nowhere in
these stories—with the exception of Dido, who of course belongs to a
later civilization than the Greek women—is the love which leads to
marriage dealt with explicitly. It is implicit sometimes, and we who
have been born into a heritage of romanticism, may delightedly trace it
out and make the most of it. But the old poet never does: indeed, he
hardly seems to realize that he has put it there. He belongs to a time
when women were not wooed and won, but literally bought ‘with great
store of presents,’ or acquired in other prosaic ways, which vary
according to the several epochs and their customs. The love of men and
women is treated from the point of view of husband and wife, of sister
and brother, of daughter and father, rather than from the standpoint of
the feverish hopes and fears of romantic passion. Marriage is not so
much the culmination as the starting-point of an eventful story; and the
heroic devotion of sister and daughter is crowned, no less than wifely
fidelity, with everlasting honour. We must therefore be prepared for a
change from the warmth and glow of romance to the tonic air of a more
austere idealism.

Again, these women are not the complex creatures of modern civilization.
The earliest of them, Homer’s women, are drawn in outline only. They are
great and splendid; and because they were created for an aristocratic
audience, they are noble, dignified, and placed high above the small
things of common life. There is hardly any comedy in Homer, and reality
is far away. When we come to the dramatists we find, as we should
expect, a great advance in characterization. The women are stronger,
more real, more complete. But they are still very far from the
psychological subtlety of modern drama.

There is, too, a singular reticence about the personal appearance of the
heroines. We are rarely told what manner of women they were to look at.
Virgil comes one step nearer to our modern love of description when he
portrays Dido as she rides out on the fatal morning of the hunt; and
when he paints the glowing figure of Camilla as she rushes into battle.
But it would be very hard to discover what was the colour of Helen’s
eyes, although the old German _Faustbuch_ of the Middle Age has dared to
assert that they were ‘black as coals.’ Homer has a more excellent way.
Instead of enumerating the charms of his heroine, as it were in a
catalogue of perfections, he brings her into the presence of hostile
folk, who on all counts have reason to hate her, and in a few vivid
phrases shows the potent effect of her beauty upon them.

We shall find that the heroines have a system of ethics which is
different from that of our own day; and strange moral contradictions may
present themselves to our astonished eyes. Electra, with the tenderest
love for her dead father, will not rest until the death of her guilty
mother has been compassed. Antigone, infinitely gentle to the blind
Œdipus, is capable of resolute opposition to the law as it is embodied
in Creon. But though the lines of moral demarcation are differently
placed, they are not blurred. Revenge is a duty in this primitive saga
upon which the poets drew for their material; and in which there is much
that is savage and terrible.

Greek drama was a religious ritual closely bound to ancient myth and
heroic legend, from which the poets could not escape. Hence, if these
stories are approached in an analytical mood, they will be found
barbarous and wildly improbable. If we give the rein to humour, we shall
be overcome by frequent absurdities. The best way is to come to them
quite simply, leaving the comic and the critical spirits a little way

                  *       *       *       *       *

Grateful thanks are due to the translators and publishers who have
kindly given permission to quote the passages used herein; and the
author wishes humbly to acknowledge the debt she owes to critical work
in this field. She is especially conscious of help from Professor
Gilbert Murray in interpreting some of the Women of Tragedy. A note of
the sources of the quotations will be found at the end of each chapter.

_Homer: Helen_

In the twilight of early Greek history, one event and one name blaze
like beacons. They are the siege of Troy and the name of Helen. They
have not come down to us as cold fact, but burning through a mist of
legend and poetry. The historian cannot name the date of the Trojan war;
and the archæologist, whose labours have been so fruitful at Mycenæ and
in Crete, can only point doubtfully to the ancient site of Troy.

Yet that event, and its cause, fair Helen of Sparta, may be said to mark
the beginning of national life for the Greeks. Perhaps it was more than
two thousand years before Christ when all the little peoples of Greece
first joined themselves against barbarian Asia. Troy fell; and although
the victory brought little material reward to the Greeks; though they
sailed back to their island homes poorer and sadder than when they left,
they had in fact achieved momentous gains. For the struggle had first
taught them the strength of unity: it had launched them on their long
and triumphant feud against barbarism; and it had laid the base from
which they might go on to build, through the long, slow centuries, the
civilization that we inherit.

There was no historian to record the event. But it lived on, in memory
and in legend; and as the people became more settled, wandering bards
made songs about it. The rich Mycenæn Age flourished and died; and the
Homeric civilization took its place. Probably it was then that the
floating fragments of the Tale of Troy first were woven together,
providing material for the Homeric epics that we know as the _Iliad_ and
the _Odyssey_. Probably they were not written down at first. They were
composed, and recited, in separate parts, in the halls of the great
lords, who loved to look back on this glorious event of their national
life, and to hear the names of their remote and half-mythical ancestors
brought into the story. Thus Homer, no matter who he or his school may
have been, comes to represent a high stage of civilization. His poems
have a lofty tone, a chivalrous spirit, a sweet cleanliness of thought
and of word, which do not belong to a primitive, uncivilized people.
They do not, as a fact, belong naturally to the early period of which he
sings. In the time of that grim struggle before the dawn of history,
there must have been much that was ugly, dark and barbarous. This is
proved to us by the survival of some of the older legends upon which
Homer worked. They tell of unnatural crime and of deeds of horror such
as he never mentions; and they give us, too, a very different
interpretation of the story of Helen. Homer puts aside all these
vestiges of a primitive past. He is composing lays for a people who have
a keen sense of honour, a supreme ideal of beauty and a love of home;
who have a religious feeling strong enough to reverence the gods,
despite their many hieratic quarrels, and who hold womanhood in high
esteem. So when we come to him to hear about Helen, we find a very sweet
and gracious figure, quite unlike the Helen of the later poets. With
them she was degraded from her rank of demi-god. She was regarded as a
real figure, brought down to the level of ordinary existence, and judged
by the common standard. The romantic charm of the Homeric conception
faded; and her name had for centuries an evil sound. It has passed
through many vicissitudes since. In late Greek literature, one or two
poets tried to return to the reverent attitude of Homer: but in the
Middle Ages she became again a byword and a reproach. At the
Renaissance, something of her early worship as an ideal of beauty was
revived, and our own Marlowe has passionately expressed the thought of
that age about her:

           _Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
           And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
           Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss....
           Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air,
           Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars._

It is this vision of Helen, as the supreme ideal of beauty, that modern
poets and scholars have tried to recapture. They have put aside the
varied allegorical and ethical and realistic conceptions of her, as the
efforts of a more sophisticated age; and they have tried to return
directly to the fine simplicity of Homer himself. Only thus, they
believe, can we stand at the right point of view with regard to Helen;
and only thus can we see her as she was to the Greeks, a symbol of
beauty incorruptible. We, who have to make our own choice in the matter,
cannot do better than try to stand at the point where the moderns have
placed us.

We come then at once to the Iliad, where, in the Third Book, Helen makes
her first appearance in the world’s literature. War has been raging
round the walls of Troy for nearly ten years. Now a truce is called; and
in the palace of the old king Priam, word goes round that Paris, the
author of the long feud, is to fight in single combat with Menelaus,
whom he has wronged. For Paris had brought the bane of war upon Ilios.
At his birth, the oracles of the gods had demanded that he should die;
and Priam, his father, sorrowfully handed over the wailing baby to the
priest, to be exposed upon Mount Ida. But first he tied an old ring
about his neck; and when Paris was strangely saved from death, and grew
up to be the fairest and strongest of all the shepherd youths on Ida, he
came one day by accident to Ilios. There, by means of the jewel hanging
from his neck, he was made known as the son of the king. Thenceforward
the poor shepherd was the best beloved of all the princes. Life went
gaily; and for a while he was utterly content. But he had left behind,
amidst the groves of Mount Ida, a sweet wood-nymph who loved him well,
Enone. And when after a time he began to tire of life in the palace, he
remembered her and thought longingly of the freshness and beauty of the
mountain. So one day in summer he went to seek Enone. All day long he
searched the forest, but could not find her; and coming tired at evening
to a fragrant glade, he fell asleep. When he awoke, night was hushed all
around, and stars peeped through the slender branches overhead. It was
midnight and there was no moon; but it was not dark. The glade was
filled with a soft radiance such as he had never seen before, and when
he raised his wondering eyes, he saw the majestical figures of goddesses
shining upon him: Hera, queen of Olympus, Athena, the wise maid of Zeus,
and Aphrodite, the laughing goddess of love. Sweetly they smiled on him;
and as he stood in wondering awe, the deep, rich tones of Hera sank upon
his spirit, promising him greatness and power, and the lordship over
many lands. Then Athena, resting her starlike gaze upon him, promised
him wisdom and courage; and Aphrodite, with a little mocking laugh at
power and at wisdom, promised him the fairest woman in the world. Only,
and this was to be the price of the gift, he was to be the arbiter
between them: he was to declare which was most beautiful.

There was only one answer possible to Paris. Ambition had no lure for
him. Why fight and strive and spend the happy days in effort merely to
be called great? And wisdom had no appeal for him either; she seemed
austere and cold. What had she to do with the joy and grace and
sweetness that his soul loved? To the sublimity of Hera he bent in awe.
The shining purity of Athena smote his glance to the earth. But the
voice of Aphrodite wooed him, and her winsome smile set him trembling
with delight. He reached out to her the golden prize of beauty.

So Paris was to gain the fairest woman in the world. It seemed an honest
promise, full of the happiest portent; and the young prince soon set out
upon his search for a bride over the western seas. But Aphrodite was no
better than a cheat, and had invoked on Paris, though he did not know it
then, the curse of guilty love. For the exquisite child who was to be
the world’s queen of beauty had grown up in the home of Tyndareus, king
of Sparta; and even while the goddess gave her word to Paris, was
happily married to Menelaus there. To her and to her husband Paris came
in his wanderings, led unwittingly by the laughter-loving goddess, and
clothed by her in beauty like a god. They feasted him and did him
honour; and sitting at the banquet which they made to him, he told the
strange tale of his life and his quest.

Helen listened to his story with a sudden prescience of what was to
come; and rising softly, left the banqueting hall and went away to
implore the goddess to avert the doom. But she was no match for
Aphrodite. Anger and entreaty could not move the wanton Olympian, but
she would grant one boon—Helen should be oblivious of all her past.
Under the spell, the love of husband and child faded out; and even the
memory of them vanished when on that spring morning in the garden of the
palace, Paris met her beside the stream, ‘’twixt the lily and the rose.’

            _Then either looked on other with amaze
            As each had seen a god; for no long while
            They marvell’d, but as in the first of days,
            The first of men and maids did meet and smile,
            And Aphrodite did their hearts beguile,
            So hands met hands, lips lips, with no word said
            Were they enchanted ‘neath the leafy aisle,
            And silently were wooed, betroth’d and wed._[1]

Together they fled in the dewy morning, Paris urging his horses with
guilty haste to the ships. And there, with Menelaus thundering along the
road after them, they set sail for Troy, fulfilling the old prophecy,
and lighting a brand by their deed which should burn the sacred city to
the ground. For Tyndareus, when he chose a husband for Helen amongst her
many suitors, had won a promise that they would all defend the one who
gained her. Agamemnon, brother to Menelaus, and the great overlord of
the Hellenic princes, now summoned the allies to avenge his brother, and
for ten years they toiled at fitting out a fleet. Then they ‘launched a
thousand ships,’ and sailed to punish Ilios for the sin of Paris.



  _Lord Leighton_

  _By permission of Henry Graves & Co Ltd_

Meantime, Helen had wakened sadly from the spell of Aphrodite. Little by
little memory of her home came back, and with it came remorse. She was
lonely too, and disillusion crept upon her. The Trojans, who at first
had welcomed her as a goddess, soon began to look askance at her when
rumours came of the great siege that was preparing. Mothers and wives of
the Trojan princes held aloof; and soon the only friends left to her
were the kind old king and Hector, the noble defender of the city. But
there was worse behind. Little by little the truth dawned that Paris,
for whom she had lost so much, and who had seemed so godlike in his
strength and beauty, was very poor humanity indeed. The story of Enone
was told to her; and that showed him unfaithful. And when the Leaguer
actually lay beneath the walls, she soon found that Paris was a coward

Now, in this Third Iliad, we find that the cruel siege had wasted Troy
for nearly ten years. The armies, reduced by death and pestilence and
famine, were beginning to murmur against the worthless cause of all
their misery; and Paris, for very shame, could no longer shelter himself
within the city. At this eleventh hour he issued out to meet Menelaus in
single combat. Helen was sitting in her inner hall, weaving a purple web
and embroidering upon it the battle scenes which ebbed and flowed around
the walls. Time and sorrow had only given her beauty an added charm. She
was still young, fresh, and exquisitely fair, as on that spring morning
in Lacedaemon when Aphrodite graced her for the meeting with Paris. To
her, as her sweet face bent over the web, the goddess Iris brought the
news of the impending combat: “They that erst waged tearful war upon
each other in the plain, eager for deadly battle, even they sit now in
silence, and the battle is stayed, and they lean upon their shields, and
the tall spears are planted by their sides. But Paris and Menelaus dear
to Ares will fight with their tall spears for thee; and thou wilt be
declared the dear wife of him that conquereth.”

At the name of Menelaus a wave of homesickness filled Helen’s heart.
Great tears flooded her eyes, and drawing on a shining veil, she left
her embroideries and hastened out to the Skaian gates to watch the duel.
But there, sitting upon the tower, were Priam and his counsellors; and
Helen and her maids hesitated at sight of them. They were feeble old
men. The fire and strength of youth had gone, leaving in their place the
cold wisdom of age. They and their people had suffered deeply because of
Helen; and they had every cause to hate her. Yet as she approached,
veiled and slackening her pace from fear when she saw them, all their
wrongs were forgotten in wonderment at her beauty. They who had potent
reasons to revile her were saying softly among themselves, almost in
awe, as those who had seen a vision: “’Small blame is it that Trojans
and well-greaved Achaians should for such a woman long time suffer
hardships; marvellously like is she to the immortal goddesses to look
upon.’ ... So said they; and Priam lifted up his voice and called to
Helen: ‘Come hither, dear child, and sit before me, that thou mayst see
thy former husband and thy kinsfolk and thy friends. I hold thee not to
blame; nay, I hold the gods to blame who brought on me the dolorous war
of the Achaians’.” “And Helen, fair among women, spake, and answered
him: ‘Reverend art thou to me and dread, dear father of my lord. Would
that sore death had been my pleasure when I followed thy son hither, and
left my home and my kinsfolk and my daughter in her girlhood and the
lovely company of mine age-fellows. But that was not so, wherefore I
pine with weeping’.”[2]

Then Helen pointed out to the king and the elders the great heroes of
the Greek line: “This is wide-ruling Agamemnon, one that is both a
goodly king and mighty spearman. And he was husband’s brother to me, ah
shameless me; if ever such an one there was.” Odysseus, too, and Ajax
and Idomeneus, she can see; but two whom her eyes seek longingly are not
there, her twin brothers, Castor and Pollux. “Either they came not in
the company from lovely Lacedaemon; or they came hither indeed in their
seafaring ships, but now will not enter into the battle of the warriors,
for fear of the many scornings and revilings that are mine.”[2]

Presently, Paris and Menelaus are engaged in fight below the walls, with
Helen looking on from above in fearful expectancy. It was an unequal
fight. Aphrodite had joined the side of Paris; and when, despite her
tricks, Menelaus was gaining on his opponent, the goddess enveloped
Paris in a cloud and carried him off. In plain words, he ran away; and
Helen, shamed and indignant, received a summons from Aphrodite to go to
her cowardly lover. She turned in wrath upon the goddess: “Strange
queen, why art thou desirous now to beguile me? Go and sit thou by his
side, and depart from the way of the gods; neither let thy feet ever
bear thee back to Olympus, but still be vexed for his sake and guard him
till he make thee his wife or perchance his slave. But thither will I
not go—that were a sinful thing—to array the bed of him; all the women
of Troy will blame me hereafter; and I have griefs untold within my

Aphrodite triumphs, however, menacing Helen with terrible threats; and
leads her back to the house of Paris. Meanwhile, the gods ‘on golden
pavement round the board of Zeus’ had decreed that Troy should fall:
Hera and Athena were to wreak their vengeance upon it, for the insult of
Paris. The truce broken, the armies rushed into conflict again, and two
of the gods who were warring for Troy, were driven back to Olympus. Then
Hector came into the palace to rouse his brother, and found him sitting
in Helen’s room, polishing his armour. To the scornful reproaches of
Hector, Paris gave only puerile answers, and Helen turned from him to
Hector in passionate scorn. “Dear brother mine, would that on the day
that my mother bare me, a billow of the loud-sounding sea might have
swept me away before all these things came to pass. Howbeit, seeing that
the gods devised all these ills in this wise, would that then I had been
mated with a better man, that felt dishonour and the multitude of men’s
reproachings. But as for him, neither has he now sound heart, nor ever
will have; therefore deem I moreover that he will reap the fruit.”[2]

Hector answered her with a gentle word, and went out, bearing on his
shoulders the doom of Troy. In his chivalrous kindness to Helen, he is a
worthy son of Priam; and when he was slain at last, fighting for his
beloved city alone with the terrible Achilles, Helen joined her lament
to those of his mother and his wife, in perhaps the most noble tribute
to his memory: “Hector, of all my brethren of Troy, far dearest to my
heart. Truly my lord is godlike Paris who brought me to Troy-land; would
that I had died ere then. For this is now the twentieth year since I
went thence and am gone from my own native land, but never yet heard I
evil or despiteful word from thee; nay, if any other haply upbraided me
in the palace halls, whether brother or sister of thine or brother’s
fair-robed wife, or thy mother, then wouldst thou soothe such with words
and refrain them, by the gentleness of thy spirit and by thy gentle
words. Therefore bewail I thee with pain at heart, and my hapless self
with thee, for no more is any left in wide Troy-land to be my friend and
kind to me, but all men shudder at me.”[2]

Almost with these words the poem closes, telling us nothing of the
dreadful sack of Troy by the Achaians, after they had entered the city
through the device of the wooden horse. Our last glimpse of Helen in the
Iliad is as she wails her mournful threnos over the body of Hector.

          _And Helen’s sorrow brake into lament
          As bursts a lake the barriers of a hill,
          For lost, lost, lost was that one friend who still
          Stood by her with kind speech and gentle heart._[1]

We hear no word of the Greek calamity in the fall of Achilles, or how
Paris was slain by the arrow of the outcast Philoctetes, with perfect
poetical justice. Nothing is told of the massacre of Priam and his sons;
of the burning of the city; of the carrying off of its wealth and of its
fair women when the Greeks, sated with revenge at last, set sail for
Argos. And we hear no word of the most amazing fact of all—the
reconciliation of Helen and Menelaus. We know from the _Odyssey_ that
they were reconciled, but how, Homer does not say. Legend and song have
been busy with the theme, however, and the most beautiful story has been
woven by Andrew Lang into his _Helen of Troy_. There we see how
Aphrodite in the midst of the slaughter and outrage, led Helen in safety
to the ships, while Menelaus raged through the city seeking her, grimly
determined to give her over to the vengeance of the army.

            _But Helen found he never where the flame
            Sprang to the roofs, and Helen ne’er he found
            Where flocked the wretched women in their shame
            The helpless altars of the gods around...._

            _So wounded to his hut and wearily
            Came Menelaus; and he bowed his head
            Beneath the lintel neither fair nor high;
            And lo, queen Helen lay upon his bed,
            Flush’d like a child asleep, and rosy-red,
            And at his footstep did she wake and smile,
            And spake: “My lord, how hath thy hunting sped?
            Methinks that I have slept a weary while.”_[1]

Lulled again by the arts of Aphrodite, Helen has completely forgotten
all that has happened in the dreadful interval of the years since she
last fell asleep at Lacedaemon. But Menelaus feels the fierce anger rise
in his heart against her. He seizes and binds her, and carries her off
to deliver her to the vengeance of the people. He reminds them of all
they have endured and suffered, and calls upon them to mete to her the
just death for such an one as she. But when the soldiers in their rage
would have stoned her; when Menelaus rushed upon her with uplifted
spear, Aphrodite drew the veil from before her matchless face.

            _And as in far-off days that were to be,
            The sense of their own sin did men constrain,
            That they must leave the sinful woman free
            Who, by their law, had verily been slain,
            So Helen’s beauty made their anger vain,
            And one by one their gathered flints let fall;
            And like men shamed they stole across the plain,
            Back to the swift ships and their festival._[1]

So Helen went home to Lacedaemon again, the dear wife of Menelaus. And
when we take up the second great Homeric epic, the _Odyssey_, we find
her the serene and gracious hostess of young Telemachus. All the hateful
past is purged away, and chaste as the moon-goddess,

            _Forth of her high-roofed, odorous chamber came
              Helen, like golden-shafted Artemis._[3]

She still remembers the horror of those days; and when Menelaus is
wondering who the stranger prince is who has sought their hospitality,
Helen’s quick wit perceives how like he is to Odysseus. Is not this, she
asks, the son whom Odysseus left in his house as a new-born child when
the war began?

              “_And for the sake of me who knew not shame
              Under Troy town your host Achaean came._”[3]

It is indeed the son of Odysseus; and by the irony of fate he has come
to inquire from the very author of his sorrows, news of the father who,
for aught Helen knows, has long ago been driven by Poseidon to the House
of Hades.

              _Wept Argive Helen, child of Zeus, and wept
              Telemachus, and with him at the word
              Wept Menelaus._[3]

But the ready tears of heroes are soon dried. They cheer Telemachus so
far as they may by tales of his father’s craft and courage before Troy;
and Helen mixes for him the cup of Nepenthe, which steeps memory in a
mist and banishes care and calls a smile to the lips. She does not
herself taste of the magic drink, however; she has no wish to forget.
Secure now in the peace of home and enfolded by generous forgiveness,
she will always remember, until she comes to pass through Lethe on her
way to the Elysian fields. And there, when the time came, she was
translated ‘where falls not rain, or hail, or any snow.’ A shrine was
built to her, and Greek men and maidens worshipped her as one of the
immortal gods themselves.

         _O’er Helen’s shrine the grass is growing green,
         In desolate Therapnae; none the less
         Her sweet face now unworshipped and unseen
         Abides the symbol of all loveliness,
         Of Beauty ever stainless in the stress
         Of warring lusts and fears; and still divine,
         Still ready with immortal peace to bless
         Them that with pure hearts worship at her shrine._[1]


Footnote 1:

  From Mr Andrew Lang’s _Helen of Troy_ (G. Bell and Sons Ltd.).

Footnote 2:

  From Messrs Lang, Leaf, and Myers’s translation of the _Iliad_
  (Macmillan and Co. Ltd.).

Footnote 3:

  From Professor J. W. Mackail’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (John

_Homer: Andromache_

Andromache was the young wife of Hector, Priam’s warrior son and
defender of Troy. Over against the figure of Helen in the _Iliad_ her
gentle integrity stands in mute reproach. It is as though Homer, whose
chivalry to Helen will not permit him to censure her, yet feels the
claim of a larger chivalry—to womanhood itself. So he seems impelled to
create this type of gracious purity, vindicating wifely honour and
motherly tenderness; and proving at the same time that if his race had a
high ideal of beauty, it had also a profound regard for domestic ties.

Helen and Andromache, therefore, stand side by side in the action of the
poem. Their destinies are linked: their lives are passed within the same
walls: they own the same relationship to king Priam and to Hecuba the
queen; and they are united in suffering. But always they are as far
apart in spirit as conscious guilt on the one hand and indignant
rectitude on the other ever held two daughters of Eve. Andromache, like
all the men and women of heroic poetry, was very human. And we have the
feeling that she could not rise to Hector’s generosity toward the
Spartan woman for whose sake Paris had brought the war on Ilios. Perhaps
the reason was that she had suffered more deeply on Helen’s account. And
if she had joined in those reproaches which Helen wailed about in her
threnos over Hector’s body, it was from bitter cause.

Andromache had been happy, and a princess, in her girlhood days, before
Paris brought a Greek bride from Sparta. Her father was Eëtion, king of
Thebes, in ‘wooded Plakos’; and in those times she had a gentle mother
and seven strong brothers. But the Greeks came, and in the long years
when the Leaguer lay beneath Troy, their terrible hero Achilles had
ravaged the countries around, and had taken the city of Thebes. He had
slain Eëtion her father and the seven fine youths who were her brothers.
Her mother, too, though ransomed from the Greeks for a great price, had
died of grief; and Andromache, utterly forlorn, had found refuge in the
halls of Priam. She found a mate there too; and in the love of Hector,
her father and mother and brothers were all given back to her.

Homer makes the tender devotion of this noble pair stand out in gracious
contrast to the stormy passion of Paris and Helen. Yet he does not tell
us much about Andromache. He does not describe her—indeed, he very
rarely draws a picture of his women—but we know that she is beautiful.
In some subtle way there is left on our mind an impression of blended
grace and dignity, of sweetness and tenderness and fidelity; but we are
not directly told that she possesses these qualities. We do not even see
her till, in the Sixth Book of the _Iliad_, the time has come for her to
part from her husband.

The Greeks were at the very gates of Troy, and the last phase had come
for the sacred city. Diomedes had driven their god Ares from the field,
bellowing with the pain of a wound; and Hector, who saw the end was
coming, hurried into the palace to rouse his followers and beg the queen
to pray for the cause of Troy in the Temple of Athena. Then, before
returning to the fight, he snatched the opportunity to see his wife and
child once more. At first he could not find them. Andromache was not in
the palace, nor in the Temple of Athena where the matrons of the city
were propitiating the goddess. She had heard that the Trojans were hard
pressed, and in fear for her husband she had gone down to the tower to
watch the battle from the walls.

“Hector hastened from his house back by the same way down the
well-builded streets. When he had passed through the great city and was
come to the Skaian gates, whereby he was minded to issue upon the plain,
there came his dear-won wife running to meet him.... So she met him now,
and with her went the handmaid bearing in her bosom the tender boy, the
little child, Hector’s loved son, like unto a beautiful star.... So now
he smiled and gazed at his boy silently, and Andromache stood by his
side weeping, and clasped her hand in his, and spake and called upon his
name. ‘Dear my lord, this thy hardihood will undo thee, neither hast
thou any pity for thine infant boy, nor for me forlorn that soon shall
be thy widow; for soon will the Achaeans all set upon thee and slay
thee. But it were better for me to go down to the grave if I lose thee;
for never more will any comfort be mine, when once thou, even thou, hast
met thy fate, but only sorrow’.”[4]

So she weeps to him, forgetting the heroic, as heroes often do in
overwhelming human sorrow. Hector is human too; and as she pours out all
the pleas that touch him most nearly—her love for him, his love for her,
and their mutual love for their child—he cannot utter the reply of the
soldier and defender of his people. Andromache thinks she sees an
instant of wavering in his eyes; she catches at it wildly, and rushes on
to tell of a place where he and his men may screen themselves from the
enemy. But that word has lost her cause. Hector’s great refusal is brave
and gentle: “Surely ... I have very sore shame ... if like a coward I
shrink away from battle. Moreover mine own soul forbiddeth me.... Yea of
a surety I know ... the day shall come for holy Ilios to be laid low....
Yet doth the anguish of the Trojans hereafter not so much trouble me,
neither Hekabe’s own, neither king Priam’s, neither my brethren’s ... as
doth thine anguish in the day when some mail-clad Achaian shall ... rob
thee of the light of freedom.... But me in death may the heaped-up earth
be covering, ere I hear thy crying and thy carrying into captivity.”[4]

Andromache can find no answer, and there is silence between them as
Hector turns to caress his boy. But the child shrinks to his nurse in
fear of the shining helmet and nodding crest; and the parents laugh
through their tears.

“Then his dear father laughed aloud, and his lady mother; forthwith
glorious Hector took the helmet from his head, and laid it, all
gleaming, upon the earth; then kissed he his dear son and dandled him in
his arms, and spake in prayer to Zeus and all the gods, ... ‘Vouchsafe
ye that this my son may likewise prove even as I, pre-eminent amid the
Trojans, and as valiant in might, and be a great king of Ilios. May men
say of him, “Far greater is he than his father,” as he returneth from
battle; ... and may his mother’s heart be glad’.”[4]

In his warrior-prayer Andromache cannot join; and to us who know the
fate of Hector’s son, there is appalling irony in this appeal to the
gods. She takes her boy into her arms, smiling tearfully.

“And her husband had pity to see her, and caressed her with his hand and
spake and called upon her name: ‘Dear one, I pray thee be not of
over-sorrowful heart; no man against my fate shall hurl me to Hades....
But go thou to thine house and see to thine own tasks ... but for war
shall men provide, and I in chief of all men that dwell in Ilios.’

“So spake glorious Hector, and took up his horsehair-crested helmet; and
his dear wife departed to her home, oft looking back, and letting fall
big tears.”[4]

But the end had not quite come for Hector and his beloved Troy. For a
time the tide of battle rolled back against the Greeks, and while
Achilles fumed idly in his tent, Hector pressed upon them until he had
forced them back to their ships. The immortals came into the field
again; and success swayed to one or the other side, as Zeus to the
Trojans or Hera to the Greeks lent aid. Then Hector slew Patroclus, the
dear friend of Achilles; and that event drew the Greek hero forth at
last, raging in grief and anger. Furnished with new armour by his
goddess-mother Thetis, Achilles went out against the Trojans like a
destroying flame. He drove them into the city with terrible slaughter;
and then faced Hector alone outside the Skaian gates, and slew him

Meanwhile Andromache had won a little hope again, from the past few days
of success to the Trojan arms. She knew nothing of the duel, and her
husband’s fate at the hands of Achilles; but was sitting quietly within
her hall, while the maids prepared warm baths for his return.

“Then she called to her goodly-haired maids through the house to set a
great tripod on the fire, that Hector might have warm washing when he
came home out of the battle—fond heart, and was unaware how, far from
all washings, bright-eyed Athene had slain him by the hand of Achilles.
But she heard shrieks and groans from the battlements, and her limbs
reeled, and the shuttle fell from her hands to the earth. Then again
among her goodly haired maids she spake: ‘Come two of ye this way with
me that I may see what deeds are done ... terribly I dread lest noble
Achilles have cut off bold Hector from the city by himself and chased
him to the plain and ere this ended his perilous pride that possessed
him, for never would he tarry among the throng of men but ran out before
them far, yielding place to no man in his hardihood.’

“Thus saying she sped through the chamber like one mad, with beating
heart, and with her went her handmaidens. But when she came to the
battlements and the throng of men, she stood still upon the wall and
gazed, and beheld him dragged before the city:—swift horses dragged him
recklessly toward the hollow ships of the Achaians. Then dark night came
on her eyes and shrouded her, and she fell backward and gasped forth her

We must not dwell upon the grim vengeance which Achilles took upon the
dead body of Hector, for the life of his friend; nor the wonderful
funeral rites for Patroclus; nor the pitiful story of old Priam’s visit
to Achilles at dead of night, to beg for the body of his great son:

              _Before the throne of great Achilles see
              The broken king kissing the deadly hands
              Whereby his house is left him desolate._[4]



  _Lord Leighton_

  _By permission of the Berlin Photographic Co. 133 New Bond St. W._

But when the poor insulted body was at last recovered, all the city went
out to meet it and bring it in with lamentation. Andromache led the
women, wailing in her grief: “Husband, thou art gone young from life,
and leavest me a widow in thy halls. And the child is yet but a little
one, child of ill-fated parents, thee and me; nor methinks shall he grow
up to manhood, for ere then shall this city be utterly destroyed. For
thou art verily perished who didst watch over it, who guardest it and
keptest safe its noble wives and infant little ones. These soon shall be
voyaging in the hollow ships, yea and I too with them, and thou, my
child, shalt either go with me unto a place where thou shalt toil at
unseemly tasks, labouring before the face of some harsh lord, or else
some Achaian will take thee by the arm and hurl thee from the
battlement, a grievous death.... And woe unspeakable and mourning hast
thou left to thy parents, Hector, but with me chiefliest shall grievous
pain abide. For neither didst thou stretch thy hands to me from a bed in
thy death, neither didst speak to me some memorable word that I might
have thought on evermore as my tears fall night and day.”[4]

Andromache’s foreboding was only too completely fulfilled, for although
Homer does not tell us of it, we know that when the truce for Hector’s
funeral was over, Troy fell into the hands of the Greeks. The horrors of
that day are related over and over again by the poets—the ruthless
massacre of Priam and his sons, the capture of the women and children
and the burning of the city. Euripides tells us in his _Troades_ what
befell Andromache. This drama, written centuries after the _Iliad_, has
been called by Professor Gilbert Murray, “the first great expression of
pity for mankind in European literature.” The subject was, indeed, one
to evoke profoundest pity, and the poet, reflective and humane, seems to
select it purposely to reveal the dreadful underside of war. He brings
the figure of Hecuba upon the stage, weighed down under innumerable
woes: Cassandra, too, in a dark prophetic frenzy, foretelling her own
doom and that of Agamemnon: Helen, confronted at last by Menelaus; and
Andromache, borne in the chariot of her captor, with the baby Astyanax
in her arms.

LEADER OF CHORUS.      _O most forlorn
             Of women, whither go’st thou, borne
             Mid Hector’s bronzen arms, and piled
             Spoils of the dead, and pageantry
             Of them that hunted Ilion down?_

ANDROMACHE.  _Forth to the Greek I go,
             Driven as a beast is driven._

HECUBA.      _Woe! Woe!..._

ANDROMACHE.  _Mother of him of old, whose mighty spear
             Smote Greeks like chaff, see’st thou what things are here?_

HECUBA.      _I see God’s hand, that buildeth a great crown
             For littleness, and hath cast the mighty down...._

ANDROMACHE.       _O my Hector! best beloved,
             That, being mine, wast all in all to me,
             My prince, my wise one, O my majesty
             Of valiance!..._

                                       _Thou art dead,
             And I war-flung to slavery and the bread
             Of shame in Hellas, over bitter seas._[5]

But the crowning horror remains. As Andromache and the queen are taking
mournful leave of each other, a hurried messenger arrives from the Greek
leaders. His message is almost too dreadful to utter; but he stammers it
at last—the victors have resolved that Andromache’s son must die. They
will spare no slip of Priam’s stock to be a future menace; and Astyanax
is to be cast down therefore from the city towers.

To Andromache it is an appalling blow, worse than all that she has yet
suffered. She cannot realize it at first, and answers the herald in
broken, incredulous phrases. But when the man, ruefully trying to soothe
her meanwhile, at last makes it clear to her that her child must die,
all her gentleness is suddenly swept away in fierce wrath against her

              “_O, ye have found an anguish that outstrips
              All tortures of the East, ye gentle Greeks!
              Why will ye slay this innocent, that seeks
              No wrong?_“[5]

Her own wrongs, though deep and shameful, she could bear; but the
cruelty to her child is insupportable. All the graciousness and dignity
of her nature break down under it; and carried beyond herself, she calls
down wild curses upon her conquerors, and upon Helen, the origin of all
her woes. Then, suddenly realizing the futility of her rage and her
powerlessness to save Astyanax, she yields him to the Herald in a
poignant outburst of grief:

         “_Quick! take him: drag him: cast him from the wall,
         If cast ye will! Tear him, ye beasts, be swift!
         God hath undone me, and I cannot lift
         One hand, one hand, to save my child from death!_“[5]

So Andromache was taken alone into captivity. Of all that befell her
there we do not know; but there are hints and fragments which suggest
that the gods must have relented a little, at sight of her misery. For
long afterward, when the Trojan prince Æneas set out to found another
Troy in Latium, he anchored his fleet one day in the bay of Chaonia. And
there, as he wandered upon the shore, he found Andromache. Her cruel
captor was dead; and she was married to Helenus, the brother of Hector.
But she had not forgotten her hero-husband, and when Æneas and his
companions came upon her first, she was paying devotions at his tomb:

            _Within a grove Andromache that day,
            Where Simois in fancy flowed again,
            Her offerings chanced at Hector’s grave to pay,
            A turf-built cenotaph, with altars twain,
            Source of her tears and sacred to the slain—
            And called his shade._[6]


Footnote 4:

  From Messrs Lang, Leaf, and Myers’s translation of the _Iliad_
  (Macmillan and Co. Ltd.). 1909 Edition.

Footnote 5:

  From Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation of the _Troades_ (George
  Allen and Co. Ltd.).

Footnote 6:

  From E. Fairfax Taylor’s translation of the _Æneid_ (Everyman’s

_Homer: Penelope_

We come now to the _Odyssey_, the second Homeric epic; and to its
heroine, wise Penelope.

Nominally, we have left the _Iliad_ behind by a space of several years.
Troy had fallen, and the Greeks were homeward bound, fewer in number and
sadder at heart than when the fleet had sailed ten years before. Some
few of them reached home in safety. But for the most part, the return
voyages were only accomplished with tremendous hardship and peril; and
many who had escaped death at Troy found it at the hands of Poseidon,
earth-shaking sea-god. Of proud Agamemnon, and the fate that awaited him
in his palace at Mycenæ, we shall hear presently. We are concerned now
with the wanderings of Odysseus, and how he won home at last to the
faithful love of Penelope.

But after all, the connexion between the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ is
only nominal. The links between them, although they seem strong and real
at first, do not in any sense unite the two poems. It is true that there
is the imaginary relation of time; that the _Odyssey_ relates the
subsequent adventures of one of the heroes who actually fought at the
siege of Troy; and, more important still, that it shows him to possess
upon the whole the same qualities which he possessed in the _Iliad_. But
when that is said, there remains the fact of a contrast between the
poems which almost persuades us that in the _Odyssey_ we are in a
different world. This contrast is best seen in the antithesis between
the two heroes of the poems; and indeed between the two great heroines
too. In the _Iliad_, Achilles stands for physical beauty and strength,
young enthusiasm and ardent courage. When Odysseus appears there, as he
sometimes does, he is overshone by the splendour of Achilles. Although
he is the brain of the enterprise, he is in quite a secondary place to
the physical magnificence of the younger hero. When we come to the later
poem, however, we find that intelligence has risen to the higher plane.
Odysseus is now the hero—not, like Achilles, an ideal of bodily strength
and beauty: not a man of wrath, flaming over the battlefield in
vengeance for his friend: not merely a warrior, product of a warlike
age. Odysseus is by no means lacking in courage; and he has not outgrown
the need for war. But he has many other qualities besides, and his
fighting is usually prompted by necessity.

It is significant that the character of Achilles is developed in
conflict with the war-god, Ares; while Odysseus is whelmed in a ‘sea of
troubles,’ literally heaped upon him by Poseidon. Struggling constantly
against the rage of the elements, Odysseus becomes alert and cautious,
patient and painstaking and resourceful: a great constructive energy, as
contrasted with the destroying fury of Achilles. The poet’s epithet for
Odysseus is ‘subtle’ as that for Achilles had been ‘swift’; and the
emphasis is always laid upon his qualities of brain and nerve. He is not
a very imposing figure, and has little physical beauty. When his friends
would praise him, it is gifts of mind rather than of body to which they
refer. He is ‘the just one’ who does no injury ‘as is the way of
princes’; the kindly ruler, who is ‘like a father’ to help his people;
the faithful husband who can flatter and cajole his goddess-gaoler, in
desperate anxiety to be home with his dear wife; the loyal comrade who
will risk the enchantments of Circe rather than forsake his men without
an effort; the gracious master whose servants ‘mourn and pine’ because
of his long absence. And all the way through the poem, in passages which
are too numerous to quote, there is a running tribute to his wisdom.
Zeus himself, with other gods and goddesses; kings and queens; nymphs,
naiads and enchantresses; swineherds and domestic servants; soldiers and
sailors; strangers and homefolk; friends and enemies, all add their word
to the eulogium of his wit.

Now Penelope, who is the perfect mate for such a man as this, is for
that very reason contrasted with Helen as strongly as her husband is
contrasted with the hero of the _Iliad_. It is not merely that her
personality is totally unlike Helen’s, although that is true. The
contrast is rooted in something deeper—in the whole conception of the
poet, the manner of life out of which the poem came, the theme of which
it treats. In the _Iliad_ we are quite literally moving amongst
demi-gods. Helen, reputed daughter of Tyndareus, is really the child of
Zeus; and Achilles has the nereid Thetis for his mother. Something of
their divine origin clings to them, making them awful and magnificent.
In all that they do and are they are greater than mere human folk. They
move majestically, and they are not to be approached too nearly, or
judged by the common standard, or compared with the ordinary race of
men. Troy itself, to which their names cling, was a city built by gods.

But Odysseus and Penelope are frankly mortal; and in that one fact they
approach nearer to us by many degrees. They are no longer colossal
figures hovering, as it were, about the base of Mt. Olympus, and driven
this way and that in the surge of Olympian quarrels. They are a man and
woman, with their feet firmly planted upon the earth, and their
affections rooted there too. They claim no kinship with the gods: they
take no part in Olympian warfare: they have no care for the issues which
are called great. Their story, reduced to its elements, is of the
simplest kind: the call of dear home ties upon the man, the fidelity and
prudence of the woman. And in this ‘touch of common things,’ Penelope
becomes a much more real figure than Helen.

Of course that is not to say that Penelope is ‘real’ in the technical
sense of the word. She is in fact almost as much a creature of romance
as Helen is. But she appears before us as a living woman with human
hopes and joys and sorrows; with human virtues too, and certain very
human weaknesses. We can never regard the heroine of the _Iliad_ just in
this way. If we could, and if we dared to lift the veil which the poet
always interposes between us and the character of Helen, it would stand
revealed slight and trembling in its amiability: fatally soft, with no
vein of essential strength. Now it is that essential strength which
characterizes Penelope. The wooers realized it; and Antinous made it the
chief point of his defence:

                        _Athena has bestowed on her
                Wisdom of mind and excellence of skill_

                _In beautiful devices manifold
                Beyond all others, such as is not told
                Even of those famous in the former time,
                Achaean women lovely-tressed of old,_

                _Tyro, Alcmena, and Mycene crowned—
                Even among these the equal was not found
                In wise devices of Penelope._[7]

There is a significant silence about Penelope’s beauty; and she has not
eternal youth as Helen has. But when we have seen her eyes light upon
her boy Telemachus, and the radiance of her face as the strange old
beggarman told her about her husband, we shall waive the question of
æsthetics. We shall be prepared to maintain Penelope’s beauty against
all-comers; and we shall not be much concerned that the poet rather
avoids the subject. For he would not dream of a soul which did not know
that sweetness and dignity and a gentle heart, grief endured patiently
and love unswerving, would make for themselves a worthy habitation.
Beside Helen’s exquisite fairness, Penelope would seem a little faded;
and her sweet gravity would be almost a reproach. She cannot compare for
one moment with Calypso, as Odysseus had to confess when the goddess
blamed him for his homesickness:

             “_Goddess and mistress, be not wroth with me
             Herein: for very well myself I know
             That, set beside you, wise Penelope_

             “_Were far less stately and less fair to view,
             Being but mortal woman, nor like you
             Ageless and deathless: but even so,
             I long and yearn to see my home anew._“[7]

The keynote of the _Odyssey_ is struck here; and here too we may find a
hint of all that Penelope means. The thought of home is to dominate the
poem, as something so dear and sacred that innumerable toils are
suffered and infinite perils undergone to win back to it. And this
shining ideal of home is to be incarnate in Penelope. She is to
represent in her own person all that sweetens and comforts life: all the
domestic virtues which establish and perpetuate it. Thus, beside Helen
as the ideal of beauty—of physical perfection—Penelope stands as the
ideal of mental and moral worth.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Telemachus, whom Odysseus had left at home as a baby twenty years
before, had been sent by Athena to seek his father. The goddess had
appeared to him as he sat in his father’s hall in Ithaca, lowering upon
those unbidden guests who were his mother’s suitors. She had asked what
the unseemly revel might mean; and he had told of the long absence of
his father.

 “_Ah but the spirits of storm to a death inglorious swept him,
 Vanished, unseen and unheard of; and nothing but mourning and anguish
 Me he bequeathed! Nor now do I sorrow and make lamentation
 Only for him; for the gods send other and grievous afflictions.
 All of the chief of the men who as princes rule in the islands....
 All come wooing my mother and wasting the wealth of the homestead.
 She dares neither reject their hateful proposals of marriage,
 Nor can she end it; and thus do the men, consuming, devouring,
 Ruin my home...._”[8]

The goddess counselled immediate action—to go and seek Odysseus; and
while the minstrel sang to the carousing suitors, Telemachus inwardly
resolved that he would set sail as soon as might be for Pylos and
Sparta, whither Athena directed him for tidings of his father. But he
knew that he must act quietly; and above all, that his purpose must be
kept a secret from his mother. She would certainly prevent his going,
did she know, fearing to lose son as well as husband.

Meantime, as he pondered the matter, Penelope was listening from her
lofty bower to the minstrel’s song in the hall below. He sang of the
return of the heroes from Troy; and the words reawakened in her the old
pain of longing for her husband. At last she could not bear to hear it
any longer:

 _Straightway leaving her room by the high-built stair she descended;
 Neither alone did she go; two maidens followed behind her.
 So when at last she had come to the suitors, that fairest of women
 Stood by the post of the door of the massively builded apartment,
 Holding in front of her cheeks soft folds of her glistering head-dress.
 There as she stood, with a trusty attendant on this and on that side,
 Suddenly bursting in tears to the godlike bard she addressed her:
 “Phemius, ...
         ... desist, I beseech, from the strain thou art singing,
 Pitiful story, that ever the heart in the depths of my bosom

She is a touching figure, as she ventures out among the revellers and
begs the old man to change the theme of his lay. But Telemachus was not
in the mood to see the pathos of the scene. The charge that Athena had
laid on him had suddenly given him his manhood; and in the new sense of
responsibility, he spoke a little harshly to his mother, bidding her go
back to her loom and housewifery.

  _Full of amazement she turned her to go to the women’s apartment,
  Hiding the masterful words of her son deep down in her bosom.
  So to her upper apartment ascending with maiden attendants
  Here she lamented Odysseus her well-loved husband, till gently
  Slumber was poured on her lids by the grey-eyed goddess Athene._[8]

While his mother slept, Telemachus lay awake in his own inner room
revolving plans whereby to carry out the command of Athena. He
determined first to confront the suitors publicly, before a formal
assembly of the Ithacans, and charge them with their insolence and
riotous greed. So, with the first light of morning, he summoned the
people to a meeting in the market-place, and called upon the wooers to
cease their persecution of his mother and quit his house. Antinous,
answering haughtily for them all, invented a coward’s excuses for their
conduct. Penelope was to blame, he said, for she would not decide
between them; but constantly put them off with various cunning devices.
With one pretext alone—that of weaving a shroud for Icarius—she had kept
them in suspense for many months.

 _Thus then all of the day at the spacious loom she was weaving;
 During the night she unravelled the web with the torches beside her.
 Three long years with her secret device she befooled the Achaeans;
 Till, when the fourth year came, and as season was followed by season,
 Then at the last (since one of her women, who knew it, had told us),
 While at the loom her magnificent web she unravelled, we caught her.
 Thus was she forced, though sorely unwilling, to finish her labour._[8]

Therefore, declared Antinous, because Penelope had deceived them in this
manner, they would not depart until she had chosen a husband from among
them. Telemachus might spare his protests; indeed, he would be better
advised to coerce his mother, since they were determined to remain in
his house and devour his substance, until Penelope should yield. But
Telemachus was a child no longer, and could not be threatened with
impunity. And to their base suggestion that he should favour them
against his mother, he gave a spirited reply. Nothing should induce him
to give Penelope in marriage against her will:

             “_Such word I will not utter. But for you,
             If you take shame at all this wrong you do,
             Quit these my halls...._

             “_But if you deem it worthier still to sit,
             As now, devouring one man’s livelihood
             And rendering no recompense for it,_

             “_Waste on: but to the deathless gods will I
             Make my appeal, if haply Zeus on high
             Repayment of your deeds exact from you.
             So in this house you unavenged shall die._“[7]

The assembly broke up; and Telemachus hastily fitted out a ship and
sailed to seek Odysseus, all unknown to Penelope. The suitors continued
their carousals day after day, rioting and making merry, in feigned
contempt of Telemachus and his quest. But when after a time he did not
return, they grew uneasy. They had jeered at his threats of vengeance,
deeming him an untried boy; but who knew what might happen now, since he
had sailed with a crew of the stoutest fellows in the island? Might he
not return with help and drive them out? Antinous took counsel with his
friends, and determined on a murderous plan. They would man a ship, sail
after Telemachus, and lie in wait for his return, between the islands of
Ithaca and Samé; and that should be the last cruise that Telemachus
should make.

Meanwhile Penelope, busy with her household duties, believed her son to
be away with the flocks. She stayed within the women’s rooms; and except
for the clamour of the wooers, or the occasional song of the minstrel,
nothing came to her ears. But now Medon the herald heard of the plot
which was afoot against his young master, and came to warn her of it.
She greeted him with a bitter question. Had he come to order her maids
to spread the banquet for the suitors? Would that they might never feast
again! Had they not shame to deal so unjustly with her absent husband—he
who had always dealt justly with them, who had never in word or deed
done injury to any? But Medon had a harder thing yet to say; and as
gently as might be, he told her of the going of Telemachus and of the
suitors’ plot to slay him.

 _Thus did he speak, and with knees and with heart all quaking she stood
 Speechless long she remained, struck mute, while gathering teardrops
 Flooded her eyes, and the flow of her clear-voiced utterance failed,
 Till at the last she recovered her speech and addressed him in answer:
 “Wherefore, herald, I pray, is my son departed? He nowise
 Needed to mount on a ship—on a swift-paced vessel that sailors
 Ride as a horse and traverse the watery waste of the ocean.
 Wills he that even his name no longer remain in remembrance?”_[8]

Penelope is overwhelmed with grief, and Medon’s explanation of her son’s
errand does not soothe her. She believes that he is lost to her for
ever, like his father; and when the herald has left her, she throws
herself down upon the floor of her room, wailing:

         “_... sorrow hath Zeus the Olympian sent me
 Passing the sorrows of all the friends and the mates of my childhood.
 Erstwhile lost I a husband—my lord with the heart of a lion....
 Now is my dearly belovèd, my son, swept hence by the storm-blasts,
 Vanished from hearing and home....
 Had I but known he was making him ready to fare on a journey,
 Verily either at home he had stay’d, though bent on departure,
 Else he had left me behind him dead in the halls of his homestead._“[8]

She casts about in her mind as to how she may save her son; and it seems
to her best to send a trusty messenger to the father of Odysseus, for
help and counsel. But the old nurse Euryclea gives good advice. She
confesses that she had known of the departure of Telemachus; but he had
sworn her with a great oath not to reveal it. It is of no use to mourn
about it; and since they can do nothing to bring him back, the better
way is to go and supplicate their guardian goddess, Athena, the Maid of
Zeus, for his safety. For her part, she believes that Telemachus will
not be forsaken in his need. Penelope wisely takes the advice of the old
nurse. She bathes, puts on clean raiment, and taking in her hand an
offering of barley-flour, she ascends to her own chamber and makes
supplication to Athena:

                     “_Hearken to my prayer this hour,_

             “_Thou who hast thunder-bearing Zeus for Sire,
             Maiden whose might no labour can out-tire!
             If ever subtle-souled Odysseus here
             Within these halls consumed upon the fire_

             “_Fat thigh-pieces of ox or sheep to thee,
             Remember it this day for good to me,
             And save my son, and from us thrust away
             The suitors in their evil surquedry._”

             _Calling aloud so spake she, and her call
             The goddess heard._[7]



  _Patten Wilson_

Even while Penelope prayed, Athena was busy on her behalf; and was
bringing home to her both husband and son. Odysseus she had convoyed
safely to Ithaca, and was now leading him in disguise to the swineherd’s
cottage. And to Telemachus she had shown a way to escape the murderous
suitors, and was bringing him swiftly to the father whom he had never
seen. Of their meeting, and of their cunning plan for vengeance on the
suitors, it would take too long to tell. But in the morning, Penelope
was gladdened by the return of her son; and a little later, a poor old
beggar (no other than Odysseus himself) came among the suitors as they
sat in the hall. They glowered upon him angrily, and proud Antinous set
the vagabond Irus to fight him, for their sport. But the old beggar had
unexpected strength, and Irus was defeated. Whereon the suitors began to
bait Odysseus with jeers and taunts; and one hurled a stool at him. At
this impious deed, the guests were horrified; and Penelope, hearing of
it where she sat among her women, longed to make amends to the old man
for the cruel act. She descended into the great hall, and spoke
reprovingly to Telemachus for allowing one who had sought the shelter of
their home to be treated so basely.

              “_What thing is this that hath befallen us
              Within our halls that once were prosperous,
              That you have suffered one who is your guest
              To be despitefully entreated thus?_“[7]

But Telemachus hugged his secret knowledge of the beggar’s identity, and
kept silence, while Penelope returned to her bower. The hall was cleared
at last, and then he and his father laid their plans for the slaying of
the suitors on the following day. The noisy crew had all gone to rest;
and when Odysseus and his son had agreed upon a plan of action,
Telemachus followed them, leaving his father alone in the great hall. It
was a moment for which Penelope had been waiting; and she came down from
her room again, to question the beggar of his wanderings. There was no
light in the hall but that of the fire; and she ordered a cushioned
chair to be brought near, so that the old man might sit while she talked
with him.

 “_Firstly of all, O stranger, I wish thee to answer a question:
 Whence and what mortal thou beest? Tell too of thy city and

Cunning Odysseus evaded her question. She might ask him anything but
that, he said; for it gave him too much sorrow to think of his country
and his race. Penelope was only too willing to be turned aside, burning
as she was to ask for news of Odysseus. So she told the old man of her
husband, and of his sailing for Troy, and of how she was pining for his

   “_O that he came once more, and had care of my life as aforetime!
   So were fairer my fame, and my lot more happy; for alway
   Now I am sad—such woes hath a deity sent to assail me....
   Wherefore little I care for my guests, or if beggars entreat me,
   Little for heralds I care, who work for the weal of the people;
   Wasted away is my heart as I yearn for Odysseus...._“[8]

She told him about the wooers, and the device of the shroud, which
gained her three years’ respite. But a treacherous servant had betrayed
her, and she had been compelled to finish her task.

 “_Now can I neither escape from a marriage, nor yet am I able
 Further device to discover; and urgently also my parents
 Bid me to marry; and vexed is my son as they waste his possessions._“[8]

But having related so much of her own story, she asked again for the old
man’s name and race; and above all, would not he say whether he had seen
or heard aught of her husband? Odysseus needed all his subtlety now, as
he invented a tale of Crete and the great city of Cnossos, and Minos the
king who was his ancestor; and how on one occasion her husband had
indeed taken shelter with him there.

 _Thus in the likeness of truth he related a tissue of falsehood.
 Meantime, weeping she listened, her cheeks all flooded with teardrops,
 Like as the snow when it melteth away from the heights of the mountains,
 Thawed by the breath of the Eurus—the snow that the Zephyr hath

                                   _... And Odysseus,
 Touched to the heart by the grief of his wife, felt tender compassion;
 Yet did his eyes keep fixed, as of horn they had been or of iron,
 Motionless under the lids. Tears came, but he skilfully hid them._[8]

There was one thing more which Odysseus must do before he could reveal
himself; and meantime he could only comfort Penelope by assuring her
that her husband still lived and was even now on his way home to her.
She shook her head sadly: that was too good to believe: the kind old man
was only trying to comfort her. But it was time for him to go to bed;
and because he disliked the giddy young serving-maids, Penelope called
up the old nurse Euryclea, and bade her wash the beggar’s feet with as
much care as if he were her master returned at last. That he was indeed
her master the nurse divined the instant that her fingers touched an old
scar upon his foot. But Odysseus hastily whispered her to say nothing of
what she had discovered; and soon the palace was asleep, with the old
beggar stretched upon sheepskins in the forecourt.

At dawn next morning Odysseus awoke, and prayed to Zeus to help him in
the great deed that he was to do that day. Soon the suitors were astir,
and the usual preparations were begun for the banquet. Penelope herself
came down from her room, to watch what would happen. For, as she had
told the beggar the night before, she could not withhold her decision
any longer. This day she must choose between the suitors. And because
they were all alike hateful to her she would decide the question by a
test: she would consent to take for her husband that man who could shoot
with Odysseus’ bow.

            “_I now the suitors to that feat will call
            Of axes, that he used to set in hall
            Twelve in a row, like ship-stays, and far back
            Standing would shoot an arrow through them all._

            “_Now therefore to the suitors I will shew
            This feat; and whoso in his hands the bow
            Shall bend most easily, and down the line
            Of the twelve axes make the arrow go,_

            “_Him will I follow, putting far from me
            This house of my espousals, fair to see
            And full of substance, that I think in dreams
            I shall remember through the days to be._“[7]

She went up into the high Treasure-chamber, and sorrowfully took down
the great bow that a friend in Sparta had given to Odysseus long ago.
She carried it forth among the suitors; and Telemachus, who was eager
for the contest which he knew would end for them in a shameful death,
swiftly set up the twelve axes in a row, through which they were to
shoot. Odysseus leaned silently against the door-post, still in his
beggar’s disguise; whilst one after another of the suitors tried to bend
the bow. But one after another miserably failed to bend it, although a
great fire was lit and a cake of lard was brought to make the bow
supple. At last, in rage and despair, they had to abandon the attempt;
and then Odysseus humbly asked if he might be allowed to try. This was a
pre-arranged signal between father and son; and in the instant outcry
that arose at the old man’s presumption, Penelope and her maids were led
away. Then Odysseus, with his son and two faithful serving-men who were
in the secret, made a bold attack upon the suitors. They were greatly
outnumbered, but their plans had been laid warily, and Athena was on
their side. Through a grim struggle they prevailed at last, and did not
cease until vengeance was complete and every evil suitor had been slain.
But Penelope, although she heard the horrible din in the hall below, had
no idea of its cause. It was probably, she thought, another of the
frequent brawls between these tumultuous wooers. She was still
completely ignorant of Odysseus’s return; and when the old nurse came
running to her with the joyful news, she believed her to be mad. She had
looked so long and so despairingly for this event that now it had come
she was utterly incredulous. Even when she heard all the ghastly story
of the slaying of the suitors, and came into the hall where her husband
stood awaiting her, she could not realize that it was he.

 _Then from her room she descended, and deeply she pondered in spirit
 Whether to hold her aloof from her lord and to test him with questions
 Or to approach and embrace him and kiss him on hands and on forehead.
 So, when at length she had entered the hall and had stept from the
 Fronting Odysseus she seated herself, in the light of a brazier,
 Close to the opposite wall; and with eyes cast down he was sitting
 Nigh to a pillar that rose to the roof; and he waited expectant,
 Hoping his beautiful wife would speak when she saw him before her.
 Long while silent she sat, with her spirit amazed and bewildered._[8]

Telemachus could not comprehend the reason for his mother’s silence, and
broke into impulsive chiding. He could not see that the very
steadfastness of her nature would not allow her to be lightly convinced.

              _Then answer made Penelope the wise:
              “My child, the soul is dizzy with surprise
              Within me; no word can I speak to him,
              Nor question him nor look him in the eyes._

              _“But if he comes indeed, and this is he,
              We shall know one another certainly.
              For we have tokens that from all men else
              Are hidden, and none know but only we.”_[7]

Truly, it is Greek meeting Greek, in this encounter between the wit of
Penelope and that of the man she dare not hope is really her husband.
Odysseus grows angry at last, and that gives the victory to his wife.
For when he orders that a bed shall be made for him apart, she says
cunningly to the maid:

           “_Now, Eurycleia, lay the goodly bed
             Without the chamber firmly-stablished
           That his own hands made: take it out from thence,
           You and the women, and upon it spread_

           _The broidered blankets, that he soft may lie,
             And rugs and fleeces._“[7]

Now Odysseus had built the bed himself, literally round the trunk of a
standing tree; and by this token she is trying him. In his answer she
perceives that he truly is her husband, for none but he could know how
wonderfully their bed was built.

 “_Verily, wife, this word thou hast spoken is grievously cruel.
 Who hath removed it—the bed that I built? ‘Twere difficult truly
 E’en for a man right skilful, unless some deity helped him.
                                   ... Great is the secret
 Touching that fine-wrought bed—for I made it myself and in private.
 Once was a long-leaved olive that stood inside the enclosure,
 Thriving and grown to the full; and its stem was as thick as a pillar.
 Round it I built me a chamber and laboured until it was finished._“[8]

Odysseus is indignant at the suggestion that his wonderful handiwork has
been destroyed; but Penelope does not mind about his anger, for she is
convinced at last that he is indeed her husband.

 _Then as he spake were loosened her knees and the heart in her bosom,
 Since to herself she confessed that the token was sure that he gave her.
 Bursting in tears, straightway to Odysseus she ran and embraced him,
 Casting her arms on his neck and kissing his head and exclaiming:
 “Gaze not upon me in anger, Odysseus! In all thou hast shown thee
 Wisest of men—and thou knowst that the gods have sent us affliction,
 Jealous to see us abiding in happiness one with the other....
 Ever and ever again hath my heart in the depths of my bosom
 Shuddered with fear lest any with tales might haply deceive me....
 Now ... I believe! for thou giv’st me a token unerring—the secret
 Touching the bed....
 Yea, I believe! thou hast conquered my heart, however unloving!”_[8]

Odysseus’s anger quickly melts as he clasps his sweet wife in his arms;
and so we may leave Penelope in her happiness. Homer has one word more
to say about her, however. It occurs, with apparent naïveté, almost like
a curious little afterthought, in the last book of the poem. But there
is really exquisite art in it. The souls of the suitors have gone
wailing on their way to the World of the Dead; and there they meet the
great Greek heroes who died at Troy. There too, they meet the haughty
spirit of King Agamemnon, murdered by his wife on his return to Mycenæ.
To him the suitors tell their tale of the faithful wife of Odysseus, and
their ignominious end. And then from Agamemnon’s lips, bitterly
contrasting his wife with Penelope, falls what is perhaps the noblest
and most impressive tribute to her:

                    “_O fortunate Laertes’ son,
              Odysseus many-counselled, who a wife
              So virtuous and so excellent have won!_

              “_How rightly minded from of old was she,
              Icarius’ child, unblamed Penelope!
              How well remembered she her wedded lord
              Odysseus! Therefore undecayed shall be_

              “_Her fame for worth, among mankind so long
              Shall the immortals make a lovely song
              Of chaste Penelope._“[7]


Footnote 7:

  From Professor J. W. Mackail’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (John

Footnote 8:

  From Mr H. B. Cotterill’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (Harrap & Co.).

_Homer: Circe_

Penelope is not the only woman in the _Odyssey_, although she is far the
most prominent. Round her are grouped three other woman-figures—Calypso,
Circe, and Nausicaa; and although two of them are goddesses rather than
women, they seem none the less deliberately chosen, with the sweet
youthfulness of Nausicaa, to enhance the dignity of Penelope.

They come into the story as incidents in the adventures of Odysseus, as
he is driven from point to point on his weary voyage homeward. Calypso
and Circe, dwelling each in a lonely island of the sea, lure him and
hold him from Penelope against his will. But it is of no avail to change
his purpose. They have many charms, and they can sing sweetly to ease
the heart from pain. They live a dainty and a joyous life, which he may
share if he will; and which he does share for a time. They are more
beautiful than Penelope; they have strange lore, and a knowledge of
enchantments; they have, too, eternal youth and kinship with the
immortals. But when all is said, they cannot compare with the dear human
soul who is waiting for Odysseus in Ithaca; and this contrast the poet
makes us clearly see, in the way in which Odysseus always turns with
longing to the thought of Penelope.

So it is, too, with Nausicaa. This fresh young daughter of King
Alcinous, just a fair mortal girl, might be Penelope’s very self, when
twenty years before Odysseus had taken away Icarius’s child to be his
wife. One would think that there must be something quite irresistible
about her to the toil worn man just escaped from death. She is so brave
and helpful; and so prudent too, as she tells him a little wistfully
that he must not enter the city in her company. Yet, though we feel that
Odysseus cannot but admire this spirited young creature, she does but
serve to remind him of one in whom similar beauty and wisdom have grown
to maturity.

Thus we have another comparison from which Penelope gains; and thus all
three of these other women of the _Odyssey_ serve to throw the heroine
into stronger relief. The poet accomplishes this very cunningly. He does
not bring them into direct contact with Penelope: they are never, so to
speak, on the stage together. That would be too severe a contrast—one
from which Penelope would suffer, as well as they. But at distant times
and places, each is brought separately into the circle of Penelope’s
life, by rivalry for the love of her husband. So they stand in the poem,
not only as a graceful setting to the figure of the heroine; but they
occupy in relation to Odysseus the same position which the suitors
occupy in relation to Penelope. There is a perfect balance of the poem
here, and one can only marvel at the art which built it so. For the
suitors serve on the one hand to show Penelope’s fidelity; and on the
other hand, by their arrogance and brutality, they make a complete foil
to the just and subtle Odysseus. Penelope cannot cope with them; she
knows them too well to dare the effect of a downright refusal; and she
sets her wits to work to keep them at bay, while she longs and prays for
her husband’s return. In conflict with them, her loyalty shines; and
there are developed all her many merits as queen and housewife and
mother. But in the conflict we get at the same time, through their
sensuality and impiousness, a sense of the absolute contrast with

The three minor women of the _Odyssey_ serve a similar double purpose.
They stand to the hero as the suitors stand to Penelope. If Odysseus’s
loyalty to his wife does not come perfectly scathless through the
ordeal—if we cannot hold him entirely blameless for the year spent with
Circe—the test does nevertheless reveal his essential constancy. That is
indeed the poet’s purpose; as well as to give a bright and graceful
touch to an exciting story of adventure. But he had also another
purpose, which we have already seen—to make of these rivals of Penelope
a charming setting, in which she should shine with added lustre.

We hear all about Circe when Odysseus is telling the story of his
adventures to King Alcinous. He relates how he had sailed a second time
from Aeolia, sadly and wearily, because of the folly of his men. For
they had been well within sight of their beloved Ithaca, and Odysseus,
worn out with his long vigil at the main-sheet, had dropped asleep. It
was an evil opportunity for the curious crew, who were burning to know
what was contained in the great skin sack that their commander had
stored below so carefully. Within a trice the Bag of the Winds was cut,
letting loose on them havoc and destruction.

They fared back to King Aeolus, and humbly begged his help once more.
But he would not a second time labour to imprison the winds for men on
whom the gods had obviously laid a curse of foolishness; and they had to
sail away unfriended. For six days they rowed hard against adverse
weather; and on the seventh their evil fortune lured them to the land of
the Laestrygonians. Not one of the ships that entered the harbour ever
came out again. Only Odysseus and his own men, who lay outside awaiting
them, were saved from the hands of that cruel race.

             _Thence we sailed onward, joyful to have fled
             With life, but for our fellows perished
             Grieving at heart: then came we to the isle
             Aeaea, where abode a goddess dread,
             Circe, of mortal speech and tresses fair._[9]

Such was the coming of Odysseus to the land of Circe; and of all the
strange and terrible things that had yet befallen him, the strangest and
most terrible he was to receive at her hands. At first all went well.
The ship ran smoothly into a fair haven: they landed in safety, and for
two days and nights they rested on the shore, Odysseus himself shooting
them venison for their food. In all this time no human creature had been
seen; but Odysseus in his explorations had seen one sign of habitation—a
curl of smoke rising from an oaken coppice. That gave at least some hope
of succour; but when he called his men to search the wood with him, he
found that their courage had been completely broken. Their sufferings
from the savage Cyclops and the Laestrygonians had taught them to fear
the unknown rather than to hope from it; and none would volunteer for
the expedition. So a council was called, lots were cast, and those on
whom the lots fell went off most unwillingly, led by Eurylochus.

The island lay low upon the sea, with only one hill-peak; and when they
climbed the hill the circling waters could be seen stretching away to
the horizon’s edge, without another glimpse of land. It would seem that
they were utterly cut off: that there was no possible succour anywhere
but in the mysterious valley below them; and the knowledge spurred them
to seek out the dweller in the wood, and so perhaps find help and

In a wide and shallow valley, where the oaks had been cleared away and
the sun streamed hotly upon a southern slope, they came upon the house
of Circe, daughter of the sun. No human figure could be seen:

                                           _But beasts alone,
           Hill-wolves and lions, over whom the witch
           With evil drugs had her enchantment thrown._[9]

Even these creatures made no sound to break the silence that was like a
menace, while the sailors stopped awe-struck at the sight. The great
house, with its many halls and shining marble pillars, fascinated their
sight; and the strange beasts which leapt and fawned around them seemed
to invite them to enter. But while they stood in doubt, dreading to
advance and yet withheld from flight by some impalpable, resistless
power, the sound of a sweet voice rose upon the air. Softly at first it
floated out to them, in trembling notes; and they stole forward, drawn
by the exquisite melody, until they stood upon the very threshold of
Circe’s house.

          _And now upon the fair-tressed Goddess’ floor
          They stood, and from the porches through the door
          Heard Circe singing sweetly, as within
          She wrought, the deathless high-built loom before._

                _... They called aloud and cried.
          Then issuing forth she straight threw open wide
          The shining doors and called them; and they all
          Went in their folly trooping at her side._[9]

Circe, with a lurking smile of malice on her lips, came forward to
welcome them. She was very lovely, with the youthful, changeless beauty
of the immortals; but though Homer does not tell us so, we know that
there was sensuality in the curving fullness of her mouth and a cruel
gleam in the eyes over which the white lids drooped. With sweet words
and fluttering movements of her soft hands, she brought them in and bade
them sit; and busied herself, with swift and stealthy eagerness, to mix
and pour a luscious drink of Pramnian wine and honey. But before she
gave the cup into their hands, she furtively dropped into it one of her
secret baneful drugs; and as they greedily drank, their human shape was
instantly transformed to that of swine.

One of the crew, however, had not entered; and when his comrades did not
return, he ran back to the ship to tell of what had happened. Odysseus,
suspecting some evil, slung on his sword, seized his bow, and sped away
to Circe’s house. But suddenly in his path stood the god Hermes,
Messenger of Zeus, in the likeness of a handsome youth. The god held up
an arresting hand.

                                     “_Ah, whither do you go
           Across the wolds, O man unfortunate,
           Alone amid a land you do not know?_

           “_Your fellows here in Circe’s palace pine,
           Close-barred and prisoned in the shape of swine;
           And come you hither to release them? Nay,
           Yourself you shall not save, as I divine._“[9]

Then Hermes foretold all that should befall Odysseus in Circe’s house,
thinking to deter him. But when he would persist in the attempt to save
his men, the god gave Odysseus a plant that should be an antidote to
Circe’s poison.

            _Thereafter to far-off Olympus he
            Passed from the island set with many a tree,
            But I to Circe’s house; and as I went
            Many a thing my heart revolved in me._

            _Then by the fair-tressed Goddess’ portals nigh
            I stood and called her, and she heard my cry,
            And issuing forth at once flung open wide
            The glittering doors and called me in: and I_

            _Followed as one who goes his doom to meet:
            Forthwith she led me in, and on a seat
            Fair, carven, silver-studded, set me down
            And laid a footstool underneath my feet._[9]

Below her courtesy an evil intent was lurking, as Odysseus knew too
well; and presently she served to him the same poisoned drink with which
she had bewitched his men. But the plant of moly that Hermes had given
him made him proof against her drugs. The wine failed of its effect, and
Circe, angrily taking her wand, smote Odysseus with it, crying: “Begone
now to the sty and couch among your band.”

            _So said she: but the sharp sword from my thigh
            I drew, and leapt at Circe suddenly
            As purposing to slay her; and she shrieked
            Aloud, and under it ran in anigh,_

            _And caught my knees, and winged words anew
            She uttered: “Who and whence of men are you?
            Where is the city of your ancestry?
            I marvel greatly how this cup I brew_

            _“You drink, and yet its sorcery have withstood:
            For unbewitched has none of mortal brood
            Drunk of it yet or let it pass his lips;
            But your breast holds against bewitchment good._

            _“Wandering Odysseus truly you must be,
            Who in his swift black ship across the sea
            Ever the golden-wanded Shining One
            Said should from Troy returning visit me.”_[9]



  _Patten Wilson_

Her mischievous purpose faded on the instant, and she became full of
fawning admiration and wonder. Her malice was changed; but something
even more dangerous took its place. She began with sweet words to smooth
away Odysseus’s anger, fondling him and begging him to remain with her
and be her husband. But Odysseus remembered the warning of the god, and
at first he would not yield. He was sullen and suspicious, and would not
answer her gently until she had sworn to release his men.

                                      _Thereat immediately
            Out through the palace, rod in hand, went she,
            And opened the sty-doors and drave them out
            Resembling swine of nine years old to see._

            _Thereafter all in front of her stood they,
            While she passed down along their whole array,
            Smearing another drug on each of them;
            And off their limbs the bristles fell away,_

            _That the first baleful drug from Circe’s store
            Had made to grow upon them; and once more
            Men they became, and younger were to see
            And taller far and goodlier than before._[9]

Then the ship was hauled into a cave, and their companions were induced
to come up to Circe’s house, where they all joined in feasting and
merriment. Cautious Eurylochus tried to dissuade them; but Odysseus
would give no heed to his warning; and there followed a long interval of
riotous pleasure over which Circe and the river-nymphs who were her
handmaidens presided as queens. The days went by uncounted in luxurious
ease; and if, in rare moments, Odysseus had an uneasy flash of memory,
Circe’s caressing voice would flatter and soothe him into complacence
again, persuading him to stay yet a little longer.

                                             “_Myself I know
           What sorrows you have suffered in the deep
           Wherein the fishes travel to and fro;_

           “_And likewise what the hands of hostile men
           Of scathe on land have dealt you. Sojourn then
           Here with me, eating food and drinking wine
           Till the hearts rise within your breasts again_

           “_As when at first you from your home were lorn,
           Rough Ithaca: but feeble now and worn
           With long hard wanderings are you, and your hearts
           Forget all gladness; for you much have borne._“[9]

So she would cajole them, and so the blandishments of Circe proved far
more effectual than her drugs. For a whole year the thought of home and
friends was driven away, while jollity filled out the indolent hours.
But satiety came at last, and memory began to reawaken. With rough
home-truths, the sailors broke the spell that Circe had cast upon their
commander. They called him out from her odorous, shadowy halls; and
under the clear sunlight that suddenly made Circe hateful, they
reproached him with his dalliance, and bade him flee at once if he would
save his soul alive. There was no withstanding them; and indeed Odysseus
had no wish to do so.

When evening came, he claimed from Circe the fulfilment of her promise
to send them safely back.... He would be sad at leaving her, he said,
since the time had passed so pleasantly in her sunny island; but now his
men are beginning to complain and he himself (though that he did not
tell her) had suddenly grown weary and remorseful. It all seemed very
simple: and he had not much misgiving. Circe had only to speak the word,
that they might have safe convoy, and return to Ithaca. Surely the gods
must have laughed in irony at the man who thought to part from Circe so
lightly, knowing as they did the whole cost of that parting for him.
Circe was not to be cast off and forgotten, as a mere incident of
Odysseus’s adventures. Her reply was proud, and of ominous import. Since
they wished to go, she would not detain them; but let Odysseus summon
all his courage:

                                  “_Not against your will
              You and your fellows longer shall abide
              Within my house; but you must first fulfil_

              “_Another journey yet, the house to see
              Of Hades and renowned Persephone._“[9]

The awful words fell horribly on Odysseus’s ear. So they might not then
simply hoist sail and away, gaily bound for Ithaca? Instead, there was
yet to make the bitterest voyage that even Odysseus had made—a dark and
awesome journey to the nether world, there to see and hold converse with
the dead prophet, Tiresias.

              _So spake she; but my heart was rent in me,
              And sitting on the bed I bitterly
              Wept, and no longer did my soul desire
              To live, or yet the light of day to see._[9]

But so it was decreed, and since all his grief and horror could not
alter it, he begged of Circe at least to tell him how he might find his
way to the dread World of the Dead, and how he might return in safety
from it. Circe smiled inscrutably. She knew that the passage there is
all too easily won.

          “_Take no concern, for pilot need you none._

          “_Hoist but your mast and spread the sails of white,
          And sitting let the North wind’s breath aright
          Bear her: but when on shipboard you have crossed
          The Ocean-river, there will come in sight_

          “_The tangled groves of Queen Persephone,
          A low shore set with the tall poplar tree
          And willow that untimely sheds her fruit;
          There run your ship abeach out of the sea,_

          “_Beside the Ocean-stream’s deep-eddying flow,
          And to the mouldering house of Hades go

She told him all that he must do there; how he must pass right through
the crowding shadowy forms, and where two loud-thundering rivers meet he
must dig a trench and pour out a drink-offering before the dead. But he
must not let them partake of it, and must keep them at bay with drawn
sword till the prophet Tiresias should appear and prophesy to him of his

          _So spake she, and Dawn straightway rose and shone
          Gold-throned; and in my shirt and cloak anon
          I clad me, and the nymph herself a great
          White mantle, thin and beautiful, put on;_

          _And round her loins a golden girdle fair
          She drew, and cast a kerchief on her hair;
          But I throughout the house to everyman
          Went with soft words, and bade my crew prepare._[9]

The crew set cheerily to work, but they did not know all yet; and when
Odysseus told them of the dreadful voyage they had now to make at the
bidding of the goddess, they were filled with despair. Perhaps Circe too
was ruthful at heart; and one act of grace at least she did them. For
when all was ready to launch the ship, they found that an unseen hand
had placed beside it the animals that they would need for sacrifices in
the World of the Dead:

             _But when at last the margent of the sea
             And the swift ship we reached in misery,
             While from our eyes the heavy tear-drops ran,
             Circe, before us gone invisibly,_

             _By the black ship a ram and a black ewe
             Had tethered, lightly passing by our crew.
             For mortal eyes a god against his will
             Hither and thither going may not view._[9]

Circe did not say farewell, because she knew that they would meet again.
For the first spirit to greet Odysseus when he reached the dark
Underworld was the restless ghost of Elpenor, one of his own crew. In
the hurry of their departure, Elpenor had fallen from a gallery and had
been killed. His untended body still lay in Circe’s house, and the poor
ghost could not rest until it was buried. So when the dreadful journey
to the dead was accomplished, Odysseus sailed back to Aeaea to perform
the funeral rites.

              _Thus all the rites we ordered as was due:
              But Circe well of our returning knew
              From the Dark House, and very speedily
              Arrayed herself and down anigh us drew._[9]

She made Odysseus tell her all that had befallen him, and all that he
had seen in the House of Hades; and then she gave him directions for his
homeward voyage. He was to beware of the Syrens, and of Scylla and
Charybdis; but above all he must prevent his men from doing injury to
the sacred Oxen of the Sun.

              “_But if you harm them, I foretell herein
              Destruction to your ship and all your crew;
              And though yourself to Ithaca may win,_

              “_Late and unhappy shall your coming be,
              And all your crew shall perish._“[9]

Her black prophecy was fulfilled to the uttermost; and indeed Circe
seems destined always to be a baleful augurer to Odysseus. Yet she
herself is quite untouched by these mortal woes. When the ship was
manned she came down to the sea to speed them away; and our last glimpse
of her is as she stands upon the shore, her garments and the tendrils of
her hair lightly fluttering, and her lovely body drawn to its height as
she raises white arms and cries to the winds to follow them.

             _They got them in and took their seats again,_

             _And sitting at the benches in array,
             Smote with their oars upon the water grey;
             Until the fair-tressed goddess terrible,
             Circe of mortal voice, to speed our way,_

             _Behind the blue-prowed ship sent forth anon
             A following wind, a good companion._[9]


Footnote 9:

  From Professor J. W. Mackail’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (John

_Homer: Calypso_

Calypso is a statelier figure than Circe, although they have much in
common. Looking casually at the two characters, we are inclined to
wonder why Homer should have given them so many points of resemblance.
Both are immortals—Circe a daughter of the sun, and Calypso a daughter
of Atlas. Both are skilled in sorcery; both live on islands set far away
amidst the sea; both are ‘fair-tressed’ and beautiful and have sweet
singing voices; both love Odysseus and desire him for a husband.

But our first thought is corrected the instant we look at the two
goddesses a little more closely. In fact, the likeness between them only
helps us to realize the art which has given to each of them a distinct
individuality. We shall find that Calypso is gentler and more dignified;
a sweeter and more gracious creature than Circe. There is nothing
sinister or malign about her; and if she loves Odysseus, and strives to
keep him at her side, it is that she may make him immortal, like
herself. She has no evil intent toward him; and when the messenger of
Zeus bids her to release him, she sets herself the task of helping him
away. Odysseus has not now to pay a gruesome penalty for willing
bondage, as when he left Circe in Aeaea; but wins his way by Calypso’s
aid to the friendly land of Phæacia.

In a “far isle amid the sea” Calypso dwelt alone. The blue sky bent over
it to embrace the bluer sea; and round its base a spray of foam
perpetually laved the rocks with snowy fingers. Out of the sea tree-clad
cliffs rose steeply, and the scent of pines hung like incense in the
warm air. Deep chasms here and there rent the cliffs apart, and gave
access to the sea; but their sides were clothed with olives and trailing
vines; and far down below could be heard the whisper of a little stream
as it ran to join the murmuring waves on a strip of golden sand. At the
head of one of the ravines was Calypso’s cavern.

  _Close to the cavern and clustered around it was growing a coppice;
  Alder was there and poplar and cypress of delicate perfume.
  Many a long-winged bird in the copse found covert at night-time,
  Many a falcon and owl, and crook-billed chattering sea-crows,
  Birds of the brine which busy themselves with a life on the ocean.
  Here too, stretching in front of the hollow mouth of the cavern,
  Trailed a luxuriant vine rich-laden with many a cluster.
  Four bright runnels of water arose from a neighbouring fountain,
  Each one nigh to the other but turned to a different channel.
  Spreading around soft meadows with violets blossomed and parsley
  Richly bedight—yea e’en an immortal, if haply he came there,
  All might wondering view and rejoice in his heart to behold it._[10]

Here it was, then, that Calypso, standing one morning in the sunny
entrance to her cave, first saw Odysseus. The prophecy of Circe had been
fulfilled. His crew had impiously laid hands on the sacred Oxen of the
Sun, and smitten by an avenging storm sent by the wrathful Apollo, had
every one paid the penalty with his life. Odysseus only had been spared;
and for nine days and nights he had struggled alone with the waves on a
shattered raft.

            _And on the tenth at night out of the sea
          To that Far Island the Gods drifted me,
          Calypso’s home, the fair-tressed mortal-voiced
          Dread Goddess; and my friend and stay was she._[11]

Calypso rescued and tended the shipwrecked man who was thrown upon her
shores; and after his awful peril and hardship he was content to forget
everything for a time. Days and weeks and months slipped quickly past
and Odysseus remained, charmed by the beauty of the island and the
gracious society of Calypso. Sometimes, reclined on the yellow sands
where he had been washed ashore, she would listen eagerly to the tales
of his wanderings. Sometimes, when the evening breeze blew chill from
the sea, they would sit together in the cavern:

             _Where from a brazier by her, burning well,
             A fire of cloven cedar-wood and pine
             Far through the island sent a goodly smell._

             _And in it she with voice melodious sang,
             While through the warp her golden shuttle rang
             As to and fro before the loom she went._[11]

As Calypso sang her strange sweet melodies in the fire-lit gloom, the
memory of Ithaca and Penelope grew faint. But one day the spell was
broken. Standing on a cliff and looking out to sea, he suddenly
remembered home and wife and friends; and from that time onward he did
not cease to long and pray for release. But year after year dragged
wearily on, and Calypso tried by arts and endearments and promises of
deathless gifts, to win him to stay with her. All her persuasion was
fruitless, however, and Odysseus

                                          _Sitting far apart
          On the sea-beach, as oftentimes before,
          Fretted with tears and sighs and bitter smart,_

          _Out seaward to the barren ocean-rim
          Kept gazing, and his eyes with tears were dim._[11]

Meanwhile, in high assembly of the gods upon Olympus, Athena the loyal
friend of Odysseus stood out and pleaded his cause before them all. This
austere daughter of great Zeus despised the wiles by which Calypso would
keep the hero at her side; and begged her father to release him.

           “_But for Odysseus wise I am ill at ease,
           That man unhappy who amid the seas
           Far from his friends affliction bears for long,
           Within the sea-girt island set with trees;_

           “_The island in whose bounds a goddess dwells,
           Daughter of Atlas of the guileful spells...._

           “_But for his land Odysseus longs so sore
           That even the smoke upcurling from its shore
           Fain would he see and die...._

           “_Did not Odysseus on the gods bestow
           Guerdon of sacrifices long ago,
           Down in wide Troy beside the Argive ships?
           Why does your wrath, O Zeus, afflict him so?_“[11]

Zeus gently reproved his splendid daughter. Is it to be supposed that he
has forgotten wise Odysseus, famed for his piety, and the constant
friend of gods and men? But there are reasons—partly the foolishness and
rashness of the hero and his men—why all these delays and reverses have
fallen upon him; and but for Zeus they would have brought on him
destruction long ago. Athena may set her mind at rest, however: the hour
has come for his deliverance. The great Father of the Gods turned to his

 “_Hermes,—for ever as herald thou bear’st the behests of immortals—
 Bring to the fair-tressed nymph our will’s immutable verdict,
 Even that patient Odysseus return and arrive at his homeland....
 Thus is he fated his friends once more to revisit and once more
 Win to his high-roofed home and arrive at the land of his fathers._“[10]

Swift as light itself, Hermes sped down to Calypso’s island and passed
up through the flowering garden that embowered her cavern. He paused a
moment before entering, to let his glance roam over the peaceful beauty
of the scene and to breathe the delicious fragrance of the evening air.

 _Till at the last, when his spirit was fully contented with gazing,
 Into the wide-mouthed cavern he entered; and standing before her
 Straightway known was the god to the beautiful goddess Calypso,
 Seeing that never unknown is a deity unto another,
 None of the spirits immortal, not e’en if he dwells at a distance._[10]

Calypso greeted him gladly, not divining the cruel message that he was
charged to deliver. And while she hospitably set before him the
deathless food of the gods, she eagerly inquired the reason of his
unwonted visit.

           “_Why come you, Hermes of the Rod of Gold,
           Gracious and dear? You come not oft of old.
           Speak, and most gladly to my power will I
           Do your desire, if fate have so controlled._“[11]

Hermes was reluctant to tell his errand, knowing the pain that it would
cause Calypso; and not until the meal was over did he reveal it. He had
come against his will, he said, with a decree of Zeus concerning the
hero whom she is detaining in her island. Odysseus must be released.

            _So spake he; but aghast thereat his word
            The bright of Goddesses Calypso heard,
            And answering, spake a winged word to him:
            “Jealous you are, O Gods, to envy stirred_

            _“Beyond all others, and can never brook
            On loves of Goddesses and men to look...._

            _“Yet I it was who rescued him, while he
            Clung round the keel, alone, when mightily
            Zeus shattered with a fiery thunderbolt
            His racing ship amid the purple sea._

            _“There his good comrades perished; him alone
            Hither by flood and driving tempest blown,
            I loved and nourished, and had thought to keep,
            Deathless and ageless always for my own.”_[11]

The love of Calypso, of which she spoke so simply and frankly to Hermes,
was something deeper than caprice. It was rooted in that heroic act when
she had toiled to drag him up out of the fiercely beating surf, and had
brought him back from the brink of death to the cheerful light of day.
She had given him his life, and her love with it; and ever since she had
striven to keep him at her side, thinking to win his love in return. But
she was no witch, to wreak evil spells over an unwilling heart; and
though the blow that Hermes had dealt her was a bitter one, she replied
with dignity. She would consent to the will of Zeus, not merely because
he might not be withstood, but because it was her desire to do good to

          “_Let him go hence across the barren sea;
          Howbeit his convoy cannot come from me,
          Since oared ships I have not to my hand,
          Nor any mariners his crew to be_

          “_Over the ridges of the broad sea-floor:
          Yet will I gladly teach him all my lore,
          And naught will hide of counsel, so that he
          Free from all harm may reach his native shore._“[11]

So the Messenger of Zeus departed; and Calypso went sadly across the
island to the spot where she knew Odysseus was sitting. As she came near
she could see him, gazing out to sea, home-sick and despairing. So he
had sat this many a day, turning from her in coldness or in anger to go
and mourn for far-off Ithaca and his mortal wife. Why could he not be
content to remain with her? Was Penelope then so very beautiful—more
beautiful than she, a goddess? Had she not offered him immortality? Had
she not lavished tenderness upon him? And now she knew that at the first
word of her hateful news he would joyfully prepare to go, and leave her
alone with her regret. As she came up and stood by his side, her heart
was sore at the perversity of fate. But there was no rancour in it; and
having given her word, she would fulfil it generously. So she put her
hand upon his shoulder gently as he sat with averted face:

            “_No more, unhappy man, sit mourning there,
            Nor let your life be wasted; for to-day
            Myself unasked your journey will prepare._

            “_Up therefore, hew long beams, and skilfully
            Fit them with tools a broad-floored raft to be;
            And build aloft a spar-deck thereupon
            To carry you across the misty sea._

            “_But water I will store on it and bread,
            And the red wine wherewith is comforted
            Man’s heart, that you be stayed from famishing;
            And lend you raiment; and your sail to spread_

            “_Will send a following wind, that free from ill
            Home you may win, if such indeed the will
            Be of the Gods, who hold wide heaven, and are
            Greater than I to purpose and fulfil._“[11]

The great good news was too wonderful for Odysseus to believe.
Bewildered and doubting, he forgot his usual courtesy, and uttered an
ungracious speech. Is she not deceiving him? Does she not intend some

  “_Other is here thy device, O goddess—not homeward to send me—
  While on a raft thou bidd’st me retraverse a gulf of the ocean
  Such in its terrors and perils that never a well-built vessel
  Voyaging swiftly and gladdened by Zeus-sent breezes will cross it.
  Ne’er will I mount on a raft—still less if it give thee displeasure—
  Art thou not willing to swear me an oath and solemnly promise
  Never against me to plot a device that is evil to harm me._“[10]

Odysseus had suffered so much at the hands of angry gods that he could
not give credit to Calypso’s generosity. He suspected her of anger too;
and rather than risk the perils of an awful voyage like the last, he
would remain here upon the island. His words would have embittered a
smaller soul; but Calypso saw what was passing in his mind, and answered
him playfully:

                          “_The Goddess bright and bland
          Calypso, smiling, stroked him with her hand,
          and spoke a word and answered: “Verily
          A rogue you are, and quick to understand,_

          _Such words are these you have devised to say!”_[11]

And then, knowing that he was really apprehensive of danger, her voice
dropped to a deeper tone, as she gave him the solemn oath of the great

           “_Now Earth I take to record here to-day,
           And the wide heaven above us, and the dread
           Water abhorred that trickles down alway,_

           “_(Which is the mightiest and most dread to break
           Of all the oaths the blessed Gods may take)
           No practice for your hurt will I devise,
           But take such thought and counsel for your sake_

           “_As for mine own self I would reckon good,
           If in the like extremity I stood.
           For my own heart is righteous, nor my heart
           Iron within me, but of piteous mood._“[11]

He was convinced at last; and together they went back to the cavern for
the evening meal. Calypso served to Odysseus his mortal food, and her
handmaidens set before her the deathless wine of the immortals. And
while they ate, she suddenly realized how soon she must part from him.
Her brave mood faded as she thought how lonely she would be when he had
gone; and thought too of the struggles which Odysseus had yet to make
before he reached his home. Again the haunting question came—Why need he
go at all? Why would he not stay with her? And though she knew there was
no hope, she pleaded with him once more.

          “_Odysseus, may your longing nought withhold
          To your own land so straightway to be gone?
          Then fare you well; but had your heart foretold_

          “_How many woes the fates for you decree
          Before you reach your country, here with me
          You had abode, and in this house had kept,
          And been immortal, howso fain to see_

          “_That wife for whom through all your days you pine:
          Yet deem I not her beauty more than mine.
          Since hardly mortal woman may compare
          In shape and beauty with my race divine._“[11]

Odysseus had recovered his gallantry now. He begged Calypso not to be
wroth with him for desiring to go, and acknowledged that Penelope was by
no means so fair as she. As to the ill that he had still to suffer, he
would incline his heart to endurance: “And now, let this too follow
after, if it will.”

Under his courteous manner lay a stern resolve; and as soon as morning
came, Calypso set herself to prepare his going. Though her heart was
very sore, she helped him readily.



  _Patten Wilson_

 _... The nymph threw round her a garment of glistering whiteness,
 Delicate, lovely; and over her waist then fastened a girdle,
 Beautiful, fashioned of gold; and her head in a hood she enveloped.
 Then she bethought her to send on his way great-hearted Odysseus.
 Firstly a great wood-axe, in his hands well-fitted, she gave him,
 Fashioned of bronze, two-edged. ...
                             ... and going before him
 Led to an end of the isle where tall straight timber was growing;
 Alder was there and poplar and pine which reacheth to heaven,
 Dry long since, well-seasoned and buoyant to float on the water._[10]

Odysseus wrought joyfully at the raft, building with infinite care and
skill a strong, seaworthy vessel. Calypso brought out to him the store
of fair cloth that she had woven upon her loom, and of this he made the
sails, with “brace and sheet and halyard.” When all the strenuous toil
was completed, he drew the raft on rollers down to the sea and made
ready to sail.

 _Now was the fourth day come, and all of his labour was ended;
 So on the fifth day sped his departing the goddess Calypso,
 Bathing him first and arraying him freshly in fragrant apparel.
 Then to the raft she conveyed dark wine in a bottle of goat-skin
 —One was of wine and another, a greater, of water—and viands
 Stowed in a wallet; and many a toothsome relish she added.
 Then did she send him a favouring breeze both gentle and kindly._[10]

So Calypso was left alone again on her little island; and Odysseus,
speeding before a favouring wind, was too absorbed to give much thought
to her. Freedom and the thought of home filled him with exultation; and
all his care was bent to navigate the boat. But a grateful memory of her
survived in aftertimes; and often he would recall her words to him, when
she had given him the vow of good faith:

              _For my own mind is righteous, nor my heart
              Iron within me, but of piteous mood._[11]


Footnote 10:

  From Mr H. B. Cotterill’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (Harrap & Co.).

Footnote 11:

  From Professor J. W. Mackail’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (John

_Homer: Nausicaa_

Nausicaa was the only daughter of Alcinous, King of Phaeacia. Young and
beautiful, reared amid abundant wealth, the idol of parents and stalwart
brothers, she is yet simple and sweet and quite unspoiled. Her father
was lord over a rich seafaring folk; a kindly, generous, impetuous man.
Her mother, Queen Arete, was a star among women; so wise and noble that
the people saluted her as a god, and Alcinous worshipped her with
absolute devotion. There is hardly anything in Homer more beautiful than
the loving description that Nausicaa gives of her mother sitting beside
Alcinous in the great hall like a benign goddess, ready to stretch a
welcoming hand to the stranger and the suppliant. Even the great goddess
Athena had words of praise for Arete, when she met Odysseus on the road
coming up from the harbour:

              “_Her Alcinous took to wife,
        And honoured her as living woman none_

        “_Of wedded wives is honoured upon earth:
        Such is the worship paid her (and her worth
        No less) by King Alcinous our lord
        And by the children who from them have birth._

        “_Yea, all her people, when she goes abroad,
        Salute her and account her as a god.
        For of so excellent a wit is she,
        Her woman’s wisdom puts a period_

        “_To strife of men who in her favour stand.
        And if to you she reach a helping hand,
        Hope you may have to see your friends, and reach
        Your high-roofed house, and your own native land._”[12]

Nausicaa, as we shall see, is worthy of her parentage. The gods were
gracious at her birth, and gave her the fine qualities of both father
and mother. Yet courage and resource and a wise generosity sit lightly
on the youthful figure that flits through the Sixth Book of the
_Odyssey_. She is a mere girl, fresh and untried, with an irresistible
gaiety of heart and a tender regard for home ties. Her changing moods
and caprices are like dancing sunlight, and now and then there falls
upon her a soft shadow of wistfulness, cast by the ‘long, long thoughts’
of youth.

Her pretty head holds its own romantic visions, which she cannot, from
girlish shyness, bring herself to talk about freely, even to the dear
indulgent father. So for fear of his teasing and laughter, she practises
a little harmless deceit on him; which, however, does not deceive him in
the least, because his love can look right through it.

So she moves before us, a creature of grace and beauty, of fineness and
strength; but withal so happy and human that the thought of her has the
bracing sweetness of upland meadows, or the breath of the summer sea.
Yet it is this fresh young girl whom we have to consider for a moment as
the unconscious rival of Penelope. The idea of such a rivalry seems
absurd, in connection with Nausicaa. And so it is, taken clumsily out of
its setting and robbed of the poet’s delicate art. Yet the suggestion is
clear; and the marvel is that Homer has contrived to bring her out of
the ordeal with her young innocence quite untouched. The beats of the
love-god’s wings only fan her in passing, and she is left unhurt by a
single barb. For a happy instant she glimpses him in flight, and
stretches a welcoming hand in naïve pleasure. But the moment after, he
has fled in jewelled light and she is left, wondering and wistful, but
scathless yet.

So Nausicaa lives, a peerless girl in Homer’s group of immortal women.
She has served his purpose in the epic plan—to link the story with
Penelope and to enhance her dignified maturity. She has served too, in
the strongest way, to accentuate the chivalry and constancy of the hero.
But in doing this, the tenderest care has been taken that she shall not
be despoiled of her exquisite charm.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Poseidon the Sea-god was still wrathful with Odysseus for the injury
done to his son, the Cyclops. But having gone on a long journey to the
land of the ‘blameless Æthiopians,’ Athena had compassed in his absence
the escape of the hero. He had sailed joyfully from Calypso’s island,
and for seventeen days had fared onward steadily, with a following wind.
The wine and food that Calypso had given him were still unspent, when on
the eighteenth day there loomed before him the island of Phaeacia, vast
and shadowy in the morning mist. Here, he knew, were friendly hands and
hearts; people who had never been known to refuse safe convoy to
distressed mariners. And Odysseus, feeling that now at last the end of
his struggles had come, steered straight ahead. But he reckoned without
Poseidon. For that angry god, speeding on his homeward journey from
Æthiopia to Olympus, looked down from the mountains of the Solymi and
spied the raft of Odysseus, making for the safety of a Phaeacian
harbour. Amazement smote him; then indignation, and then a furious
desire for instant revenge. So this was what the immortals had been
doing in his absence—plotting to befriend the man who had so foully
mis-used his son. But no matter! If Athena must needs win in the end—and
even the might of Poseidon could not eventually withstand her calm
wisdom—her success should be at bitter cost to this artful rascal whom
she favoured. So:

                       _The clouds at his command
           Gathered, and with the trident in his hand
           He stirred the sea and roused the hurricane
           Of all the winds, and blotted sea and land_

           _With clouds: night swept across the firmament:_

                     _... a monstrous wave abaft
           Came towering up, and crashed into the raft:
           And the raft reeled, and off it far he fell,
           And from his hand shot out the rudder-shaft._[12]

It would take long to tell all that Odysseus suffered from that awful
storm. Only the lion-heart that he was could have endured the terrible
strain of it. The raft was lost, and for two days and nights the fury of
the storm lashed him unceasingly. He was buffeted out of his course, and
when at last a calm fell and he saw land ahead, he had only just enough
strength left to strike out for it, with a great prayer in his heart for
deliverance from the wrath of Poseidon.

It is this exciting incident, told with tremendous vigour, which is the
prelude to the story of Nausicaa. For on the very night when the waves
flung Odysseus ashore on her father’s island, she had a strange dream. A
goddess stood by her bedside, in the likeness of a girl friend; and with
hints of a happy marriage, bade her rise and go down to the washing

          _The grey-eyed Goddess, inly counselling
          Odysseus mighty-hearted home to bring;
          To the richly-carven chamber went
          Where slept a maid, the daughter of the king,_

          _Like any deathless goddess fair and bright,
                    ... “Nausicaa,” said she, “why
          Thus idly does your mother’s daughter lie,
          The garments wrought with bright embroideries
          Unheeded? yet your wedding-day draws nigh;_

          _When clad in goodly raiment you must go,
          And on your marriage train the like bestow._

                ·      ·      ·      ·      ·

          _Not long shall yet your maidenhood be worn.
          Even now, amid the land where you were born,
          Phaeacia’s princes woo you. Up, and bid
          My lord your father yoke at break of morn_

          _A mule-team and a cart whereon to lay
          Girdles and gowns and broidered blankets gay.”_[12]

We who are watching behind the scenes know quite well who is this
celestial visitor; and that the whispered words which have set
Nausicaa’s cheeks tingling are a mere ruse of Athena to bring help to
the luckless Odysseus. But Nausicaa has no hint of this; and waking with
the morning sun streaming upon her, she smiles in wonder and hope. Then
she dresses quickly and goes down to find her parents, musing upon the
words of the goddess. The queen is sitting in the great hall, amid her
handmaidens, winding the ‘dim sea-purple’; and the king, coming out to
join the princes in council, meets Nausicaa on the threshold. Is there
anywhere a more charming scene than this?

         _“Papa dear, will you let me have to-day
         A high wheeled waggon yoked, to take away
         The goodly clothes and wash them in the stream?
         For in the house all lying soiled are they._

         _“Now for yourself it is no more than fit
         That, when the councillors at council sit,
         In clean array among your lords you go:
         Also your house has five sons born in it,_

         _“Two of them wedded now, but three are yet
         Young bachelors, who evermore must get
         New-washed attire when to the dance they go;
         And now on all this charge my mind is set.”_

         _So spake she, for her mouth for maiden shame
         To her own father marriage might not name.
         Howbeit he understood and answered her:
         “Go, child: I grudge not any wish you frame,_

         _“Mules or aught else: this thing my thralls shall do,
         And yoke the high wheeled tilted wain for you.”_[12]

As we see, Alcinous can deny nothing to his fair young daughter. The
lightly running mule-cart is ordered out, and Nausicaa and the maids set
busily to work. It is refreshing to see this only daughter of a ‘king’
carrying out the linen and fleecy blankets that have been daintily
wrought with needlecraft by her own hands. Alcinous, of course, is not
to be regarded as possessing the power and state of a modern monarch;
perhaps he was not a king at all, in our sense of the word. But there
can be no doubt that his state was that of a rich and mighty lord, for
he lives in a magnificence which makes the simple practical usefulness
of his daughter all the more remarkable. She helps the servants to load
the wagon, while the Queen herself places upon the box a skin of wine
and many dainty things to eat at their midday meal, together with a
golden flask of oil for their use when they wish to bathe.

When all is ready, Nausicaa drives off merrily, her women running at the
side of the cart. Far out of the city they go, past the embattled walls
and the market-place and the harbour: then on through farms and sloping,
shimmering olive-gardens, until they reach the sea and the
washing-pools—the very spot, in fact, where ‘toil-worn, bright Odysseus’
is sleeping the sleep of exhaustion, after his heart-breaking struggle
with the waves. The mules are unyoked and the clothes are brought out of
the cart and flung into the dark water. Then the girls bare their white
feet, catch up their fluttering garments, and tread the clothes in the
gushing water, gaily chattering the while. When all are cleansed, they
are spread out in the sun on the pebbly beach, while the girls bathe and
take their dainty meal upon the shore.

All this while there lay in a thicket quite close to them, the prostrate
figure of Odysseus, like one dead. But when the afternoon was wearing
on, the girls joined in a merry game of ball, before starting on their
homeward journey. The lovely group lives before us as we read, fresh
from their sea-bath, with crisping ringlets floating, cheeks touched to
a rosier hue by exercise and fun, and all the charms of youth and beauty
revealed as white arms throw the ball and twinkling feet run hither and
thither after it, upon the yellow sand. Homer, in one of his rare
exceptions, lingers a moment to tell us how Nausicaa looked on this
occasion. But, characteristically, he does this by imagery, and imagery
in motion.

            _But when their hearts with food were comforted
            Their kerchiefs they undid to play at ball;
            And in the game white-armed Nausicaa led._

            _Artemis the Arrow-showerer even so
            Rejoices on the mountain side to go
            All down the long slope of Taÿgetus
            Or Erymanthus, while before her bow_

            _Wild boar and fleet-foot deer flee fast away,
            And round her move the wild-wood nymphs at play,
            Daughters of Zeus the Lord of Thunder-clouds;
            And Leto joys at heart; for fair are they,_

            _Yet fairest of them all the child she bred;
            And over all the rest her brows and head
            Rise, easily known among them. Even so
            Among her women shone the maid unwed._[12]

This is the moment for which Athena has been waiting, to bring help to

           _Thereat the princess to a handmaiden
           Threw the ball wide, and missed her, and it fell_

           _In a deep eddy. From them all outbroke
           A long shrill cry: and bright Odysseus woke;
           And sitting up he pondered inwardly:
           “O me, what land is this of mortal folk?”_[12]

He is dazed by his long, long sleep. Where is he? What land is this?
Whose are those young figures that he can just see by peeping through
the leafy thicket in which he lies? Are they the nymphs of the river
along which he was drifted out of the sea? Or are they human maidens who
may be besought to help? He does not hesitate long. At all hazards he
must speak to them, for he is in desperate need. So, hastily breaking
off a leafy bough to hide his nakedness, he strode out of his lair. His
uncouth figure struck amazement and terror into the hearts of the girls.

            _Dreadful to them the sea-stained man drew nigh:
            And up and down they ran dispersedly
            Along the jutting beaches; only then
            The daughter of Alcinous did not fly:_

            _Such courage put Athena in her breast:
            Unfaltering she stood up and undistressed,
            And faced him._[12]

For once Odysseus is at a loss. How shall he address her? He is almost
naked, haggard, and sea-worn, a terrible object to girlish eyes. Shall
he go up close, and in the attitude of the suppliant, clasp her knees?
Or will not his touch and his close approach startle and shock her? But
his wits are not long to seek. He decides that it will be better not to
come too near, but to address her gently, from a little distance. “I
kneel to you, Protectress. God are you, or mortal?” Thus he speaks
first, gracefully complimenting her beauty and courage.

                         “_If a god indeed you be
           Of those who in wide heaven abide in bliss,
           Unto none else than very Artemis,
           Daughter of Zeus Most High, I liken one
           So tall and fair and beautiful as this;_

           “_But if a mortal, such as dwell on earth,
           Thrice fortunate are they who gave you birth,
           Father and mother, and thrice fortunate
           Your brethren; surely evermore great mirth_

           “_And joyance fills them, while with hearts elate
           They see a thing so lovely delicate
           Upon the dancing-floor. But far beyond
           All others is that man most fortunate,_

           “_Who loading you with many a precious thing
           May woo you and to share his home may bring._“[12]

Cunning Odysseus’s words are winged with a deeper significance than he
knows, for all his subtlety and tact. Does Nausicaa recall her dream,
just at this point? We cannot tell. But when he goes on to relate at
length about the dreadful voyage on the raft through the vengeful storms
of Poseidon, she pities and longs to help him. She has gauged him
shrewdly, too. This eloquent stranger, with his air of frank deference,
is no rogue nor fool; but whoever and whatever he may be, he is a
suppliant whom it is the will of Zeus to succour. So she speaks cheerily
to him, to allay his anxiety, telling him that he is in the land of a
friendly people, whose king, Alcinous, is her father. She will herself
guide him to the palace and see that he is cared for. Then she turns to
reproach the silly fear of her maids:

            “_Stand still, my women! Why so timorous
            At a man’s face? You do not surely think
            This man is here with ill intent to us?_

            “_That living mortal is not, nor shall be,
            Who to Phaeacia bearing enmity
            May come: for very dear to heaven we are,
            And dwell apart amid the surging sea._

                        “_... But to our abode
            We must make welcome this poor wanderer.
            Strangers and beggars all are dear to God._

                        “_... With this stranger be it so.
            Give him to eat and drink, and make him bathe
            In shelter, down the windswept bank below._“[12]

So Odysseus is bathed and clothed and fed; and Nausicaa, looking shyly
at him as he reappears, is astonished at the wonderful change that has
come over him. She speaks apart to the women, a little wistfully.

             “_Listen, O white-armed girls, to what I say.
             Not without warrant of the Gods’ array
             Who hold Olympus, does this man arrive
             In the divine Phaeacian land to-day._



  _Batten Wilson_

           “_Uncomely at the first he seemed to be
           But now the Gods are not more fair than he,
           Who hold wide heaven: I would that such an one
           Dwelt here and bore a husband’s name to me._“[12]

A little timid hope is dawning in her heart. Is it possible that this
may be the lover of whom she dreamed? But she will not let him know her
thoughts; and as she offers to guide him to the city, she tells him with
modest dignity that he must not ride with her in the wagon. He must
follow behind with the maids; and when the city walls are in sight, and
they are near the houses of men, he must draw away from them and
continue his journey alone. She is not discourteous, she explains; but
it is not seemly for her to be seen by the people driving a strange man
into the city.

           “_And taunting speech from them I fain would shun,
           Hereafter flung at this that I have done.
           Proud-hearted are our people; and of them
           Meeting us, thus might say some baser one:_

           “_’And who is this, the stranger tall and gay
           That here beside Nausicaa takes his way?
           And where may she have found him? Aye, no doubt
           She brings a husband back with her to-day!...’_

           “_So will they say; and to my shame would be
           That word, as I myself would think it shame,_

           “_If any other girl in suchlike way
           While her own parents lived, should go astray
           In a man’s company._“[12]

But she gives him minute directions, so that he may find her father’s
palace after she has left him. He will pass Athena’s grove, and the
well, and the king’s park, before he comes to the town and the gate of
the palace. He is to go right into the palace, and not to hesitate.

           “_But when the forecourt and the palace-wall
           Have hidden you, pass quickly up the hall
           Straight to my mother. In the firelight she
           Sits by the hearth, while off her distaff fall_

           “_The threads of dim sea-purple, strand by strand,
           Marvellous; and her maids behind her stand,
           By the hall pillar, and my father’s chair
           Next hers, where he, the wine-cup in his hand,_

           “_Sits like a God. Yet pass him by, nor stay
           Till round our mother’s knees your hands you lay.
           For thus, although from very far you come,
           Quickly shall dawn your glad returning day._”[12]

It all falls out as she has said. They start off as the sun is setting,
and Odysseus follows behind the mule-cart at a little distance until
they reach the sacred grove of poplars that Nausicaa has indicated.
There he waits behind for a space, while she drives on to the palace.
Her handsome young brothers come out to meet her, with hearty greetings
and questions as to how the day has fared. But she does not make much
response to them, leaving them to unharness the mules and carry out the
clothing while she slips away to her room and the society of her old

                  *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Odysseus makes his way to the palace alone and is amazed at
its size and magnificence.

                                           _The brazen walls
           Athwart and endlong from the threshold went_

           _Even to the inmost chamber up the hall;
           And a great frieze of blue ran round the wall;
           And golden doors the stately house within
           Shut off, and silver doorway pillars tall_

           _Out of the brazen threshold sprang to hold
           The silver lintel; and the latch was gold;
           And gold and silver hounds on either hand

To this gorgeous palace, Alcinous and Arete give Odysseus a royal
welcome. They are charmed with their guest: and when the queen,
recognizing her handiwork on the robe that he is wearing, elicits an
account of his meeting with Nausicaa, the king flames into anger.

         _Answered and said Alcinous: “Sooth to tell,
         Guest, in this thing my daughter did not well,
         That hither with her maids she brought you not
         Herself, since first before her feet you fell.”_

         _And subtle-souled Odysseus answer made:
         “Prince, on that faultless maiden be there laid
         No blame herein: for with her hand-maidens
         She bade me follow; but behind I stayed_

         _“For fear of shame, lest haply should you see,
         Your mind might deem some hateful thought of me.”_[12]

This is not exactly what had happened, as we know; but we do not love
Odysseus any the less for the chivalrous lie. The most loving father can
be unreasonable sometimes, and Alcinous would not have the sacred laws
of hospitality broken, even for the maidenly prudence of his own sweet
daughter. Impetuously he tries to make amends:

                                “_Nay, O guest,
              Not so is framed my heart within my breast,
              To be stirred up to anger without cause.
              In all things to observe the law is best._

              “_Fain were I—Zeus our Father hear me vow,
              And thou, Athena, and Apollo, thou!—
              Such as you are and minded as I am,
              You took to wife my daughter even now,_

              “_And were called son-in-law of me the king,
              Abiding with us._“[12]

But Nausicaa’s dream was a lying vision; and the fine tact of Odysseus
is sorely put to it to find words for the inevitable refusal. He is
silent for a time; and then, beginning the recital of all his eventful
story, he gradually reveals to them who he is, and tells about his home
and the gentle wife to whom he is longing to return. To the king and
queen his answer causes little regret. It means that they may keep their
fair daughter a little longer; and are there not many Phaeacian princes
from whom they may choose a mate for her when she is ready? But
Nausicaa, to whom the nurse brings word of what is passing as she sits
in her beautiful chamber, hears the reply of Odysseus with a little pang
that she has never felt before. It does not linger very long, however,
and when the day comes for Odysseus’ departure, and the guests are
trooping into the hall for the last banquet in his honour, she steals
out among them to bid him farewell. It is the last time we see her.

            _But by the doorway of the stately hall
            In godlike beauty stood Nausicaa;
            And eyed him marvelling, and bespake him so:
            “Fare well, O guest, that when you homeward go,
            Me too you may remember, and that first
            To me the ransom of your life you owe.”_[12]

Odysseus’ reply is gallant; but it is not mere gallantry. He vows that
he will never forget her. Only let great Zeus and Hera bring him safely

                      “_Then would I alway
              To you, O maid, who rendered me my life,
              As to a God, in that far country pray._”[12]


Footnote 12:

  From Professor J. W. Mackail’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (John

_Æschylus: Clytemnestra_

We come now to the heroines of Attic Tragedy. The women of Homer, with
all their romantic beauty and charm, gleam on us from a far distance. A
new type of heroine has arisen, reborn out of the legends of the remote
past into a new age; and evoked by a poetic genius which is greatly
different from that of the Homeric epics.

In the interval which had elapsed since the epics were composed,
civilization had advanced, life had grown more complex, and women had
attained to a fuller and freer existence. It was the Great Age of
Greece; and as in our own Elizabethan Age, the poetic genius of the time
was impelled to find expression in dramatic form.

From all these causes, we shall find that the women of Attic Tragedy are
possessed of a stronger and more vivid personality than their Homeric
forerunners. They are resolute, purposeful, passionate—women of action
as well as of feeling. Physical beauty they do possess, as well as grace
and charm. Neither do they lack the gentler qualities which are usually
supposed to be peculiarly feminine. Indeed, we could probably find an
eminent example of every so-called feminine virtue if we went through
the range of the heroines. But the stress is not now laid merely on
beauty and the gentler graces. It is laid rather on a combination of
these qualities with strength of intellect and will, generous emotions,
and a soaring spirit.

Such a change would appear to be right and natural—in fact, almost
inevitable. We should expect that the passage of the centuries in an
advancing civilization would give the woman time and space ‘to bourgeon
out of all within her’; and that with a more harmonious development she
would definitely gain in mental height. We should expect, too, that the
dramatic genius would create a more clear-cut individuality than that
given by the epic poet in a long narrative chiefly concerned with the
doings of menfolk. So that we are not surprised to find the women of
tragedy possessed of great vitality, and occupying a very large share of
the dramatists’ attention. What does surprise us, however, is to
discover that many of these newer heroines are the very women whom we
have already met in the Homeric poems: that they have been taken
straight over from the heroic age, out of the ancient heroic themes, and
made to live over again, a new and vastly different life.

This brings us to a point which it is well to keep in mind. Sometimes
the heroines of Greek Tragedy do very terrible things and are placed in
situations of appalling horror. Those acts, and the circumstances out of
which they spring, not only repel us but seem to be at variance even
with the spirit of the poet himself. Sometimes the heroine is the victim
of tyrannic physical force, and frequently again there is the clash of
motive, for which death seems to be the only solution. Strange crimes,
unheard of and almost unthinkable, sometimes darken the atmosphere
around them. Age-old curses and hereditary feuds pursue them: the
terrible gift of beauty weighs them down; and over all broods fate, a
lurking, indefinable power against which, in the last resort, they are
powerless to stand.

There is then, sometimes in the heroines themselves and almost always in
their environment, an element of barbarism which troubles us. The touch
of savagery repels us all the more from its contrast with the exquisite
poetry in which it is enshrined, and the noble spirit of that poetry. We
wonder why the dramatist should have placed creatures so sensitive and
highly wrought in situations which are so crudely appalling; and the
incongruity is not shaken off until we remember the nature of the
material upon which the poet is constrained to work. For the Attic
dramatists went for the subjects of their poetry directly to stories out
of the primitive past—old legends which, though sometimes very
beautiful, nearly always contain elements of cruelty and horror. The
reason why they did this is interesting, and explains some curious
points about Greek Drama.

To us it seems strange that these poets, whose ideas were probably as
‘advanced’ to their contemporaries as our modern Drama is to us, did not
take their themes out of the vastly interesting and even momentous life
of their own day. Very occasionally they did this, as we know from the
drama of Æschylus called _The Persians_, which deals directly with that
tremendous event of Greek history the Persian Invasion. But almost
always, as we have said, they turned away from their own time, and
looked back upon the ancient past for the subject-matter of Drama. It is
probable that poetical motives influenced them to some extent—the same
that made Milton turn back to the Hebrew story of the creation, and
Tennyson occupy himself for nearly fifty years with the Arthurian
legend. But there was another, and more compelling reason; and it lay in
the religious character of the Attic theatre.

Greek Drama was a ritual, performed in honour of the gods. It had its
origin in the worship of the Thracian god Dionysus or in a still older
cult of ancestor-worship; and it had an established convention that its
themes should be taken from legendary heroic subjects. So that the poet,
however he might modify character, was bound by tradition to the main
outline of the early stories. As we shall see, he imbued those themes
and characters with new significance. Just as Milton puts the
Reformation spirit into the story of Adam and Eve, and Tennyson makes
the Arthur of Celtic legend into an ideal of modern gentlehood, Æschylus
and Sophocles and Euripides vitalize the old legendary forms with the
spirit of their own age. The spirit of that age was profoundly
interested in religion—perhaps because it was beginning to lose its
religion. It was passing out of unquestioning belief in the old Olympian
hierarchy; but it had not yet attained to a new belief with any
clearness. And an extremely interesting fact is that here in the drama,
in the very cradle of religion, the new thought begins to manifest
itself quite clearly, despite the trammels of convention. Each of the
three tragedians represents some phase of it; each shows, in greater or
less degree, evidence of the transition period in which old superstition
was being broken down; but each steadily maintained, through the crash
of falling faith, the sanctity of the moral law. It is this clear view,
this austere purpose and steady aim at the highest, which gives Attic
Tragedy its grandeur, and the women of Attic Tragedy their surpassing

                  *       *       *       *       *

What has been said above about the barbarity of the legends on which
Greek Drama is based, applies particularly to the story from which the
figure of Clytemnestra was taken. It was a history of wrongdoing, of
foul guilt going back for generations: or rather, the history of a sin
which, to use the words of the poet himself, begot more sin in each
succeeding generation. Æschylus wrote his greatest work around this
theme, a trilogy of three dramas called the _Agamemnon_, the
_Choephorœ_, and the _Eumenides_. The first two of these dramas furnish
the material for the story of Clytemnestra. The last deals with the
remorse of Orestes, her son, and the atonement by which the long record
of crime is finally closed and a new era of hope begins. Clytemnestra
is, as it were, the last sacrifice demanded by the Furies which had
pursued the house of Tantalus so long, and she represents in herself the
two forces by which that vengeance had always been effected—a wrong done
and a wrong suffered. For Æschylus makes us see that it is not only by
the first sin of Tantalus that all his descendants have been
relentlessly pursued; but that each in his turn has added something of
his own—some crime of passion or of pride—to bring the penalty on

It is from this standpoint that we must look at Clytemnestra and judge
of her action. She was the instrument of a power beyond herself, the
dread fate which had marked Agamemnon the king, her husband, as another
victim of the hereditary curse. But she was not merely an instrument.
She had fallen prey to her own unlawful passion, and when she struck the
blow which fate ordained, it was not impelled by the single motive of
revenge for the sacrifice of Iphigenia, but a confusion of passionate
anger and conscious guilt.

The _Agamemnon_ opens with the joyful announcement of the fall of Troy.
The scene is laid in the wealthy city of Mycenæ, in the palace of
Agamemnon the king, where a watch had been kept for many months for the
return of the Greek fleet. Ten years before, when the fleet had sailed
for Troy to avenge the carrying-off of Helen, there had been left behind
in the royal home a mother stricken by an awful grief. For the King
Agamemnon, delayed at Aulis by adverse winds, and in brutal haste to be
gone, had offered up to the gods a human sacrifice—the sacrifice of his
own young daughter Iphigenia. The prayers of Clytemnestra the queen, and
the tears of the beautiful girl herself, could not prevail upon him.
Iphigenia’s life was forfeited to a hideous superstition, and the host
sailed away, leaving Clytemnestra overwhelmed with sorrow and wrath.
Here then are the two contributing elements to the tragedy—the wrong
done and the wrong suffered. Agamemnon, driven on by the curse which lay
over his house, blinded by his own pride and headstrong impatience to
the true nature of the crime that he was committing, was forging the
weapon of his own destruction. And here too we have the deed which
accounts for and explains Clytemnestra—making of her not the mere savage
murderess of tradition, without a touch of humanity, but an outraged
mother, the avenger of her child.

It is necessary to emphasize this point a little because we have been
used to regard Clytemnestra as a mere monster of cruelty. It is
therefore a shock of surprise, when we come to Æschylus for her story,
to find that he has made her quite human. He is not concerned in her
case, any more than with the other persons of his Drama, to expose
intricate motive, or to paint delicate shades of character. In his task
of hewing out dramatic form—of virtually creating Drama—he left subtlety
and ingenuity and stagecraft to be perfected by his successors. Hence he
is not exercised very much about making his plot a plausible one, or to
explain how its incidents are effected. He has a great religious
purpose; and this, with the ritual form in which he had to work,
subordinates the purely dramatic elements. But he does clearly let us
see—and this is all the more important from his usual reticence—that the
whole course of Clytemnestra’s action was determined by Agamemnon’s
inconceivable cruelty.

This point eludes us often, because we accept the sacrifice of Iphigenia
as an act belonging to a barbarous age. So it is, but we forget that the
age of Agamemnon had practically left barbarism behind it. The slaughter
of Iphigenia must have been almost as revolting to the ideas of that
time as it is to us; and although in times of national crisis fanatical
minds may have been capable of reviving the savage custom of human
sacrifice, that is no justification of Agamemnon. And that he submitted
to the superstitious frenzy, and offered up the life of his child, was
the act which armed Clytemnestra against him.

The deed was, however, of a piece with his character. He was haughty,
passionate, headstrong, brooking no resistance and no rivalry: a man of
tremendous force of character who had grown too great and who in his
pride had even dared to dishonour Apollo himself in the person of his
votaries. To such a man, who after ten years’ preparation found his
fleet hindered by unfavourable gales, the slaying of his daughter was
merely an unpleasant step toward the fulfilment of his purpose. Her
beauty and her youth were of little account, and her mother’s tears and
entreaties were brushed aside as weakness.

                     _Sin from its primal spring
           Mads the ill-counselled heart, and arms the hand
           With reckless strength. Thus he
           Gave his own daughter’s blood, his life, his joy,
           To speed a woman’s war, and consecrate
           His ships for Troy._[13]

The story of Clytemnestra, then, rightly begins here. She too was
passionate and proud, with a will of iron: a nature of strangely blended
strength and tenderness. When the blow came from the hand which should
have shielded her, it struck dead her gentler self. She gave herself up
to thoughts of revenge; and hearing from Troy as the years passed
tidings of Agamemnon’s infidelity, the last link between them was
broken. Other news would come to her ears: of sedition amongst the
people, left so long without a ruler; of the country suffering from the
need of its strongest men, who were all away at the war; and of a
certain Egisthus, her husband’s enemy, who had returned from exile.
There would be a bond of sympathy between Clytemnestra and this
Egisthus. Had he not a feud against her husband? Was he not wronged by
Agamemnon, too? Had his father not suffered at the hands of Agamemnon’s
father? There would be a meeting between them, followed by other
meetings, while they made common cause against the king; and presently
the two were united, not only in a plot for Agamemnon’s overthrow, but
in the bonds of guilty love.

When the news came of the fall of Troy and the return of the army,
Clytemnestra had matured her plans for vengeance. For years she had
nursed her wrath, and plotted with all the subtlety of her mental
powers. And for years she had hoped for and dreaded the day which would
bring back the king to Mycenæ. Her love for Egisthus was common
knowledge in the palace. Her sin would doubtless be proclaimed to
Agamemnon immediately after his arrival, even if he did not already know
of it; and she knew that the penalty of it would be death. So every
instinct and impulse of her nature, and every consideration of
self-defence too, demanded instant action. Vengeance for the murder of
her daughter, her love for Egisthus, and the need of self-preservation
all combined to nerve her for what she had to do. Agamemnon’s arrival
was imminent; she must be ready, and when the moment came she must not
falter. But meanwhile, before the old senators who had gathered to
welcome him (and who form the Chorus of the drama) she must play the
part of a loving wife.

When the first part of the Trilogy (the _Agamemnon_) opens,
beacon-lights announce the fall of Troy. The news flies through the
palace, and there is instant excitement. The old senators come thronging
out; and as they sing, wonderingly and half-doubting, Clytemnestra the
queen suddenly enters. She stands for a moment to confirm this amazing
news, and the old men turn to address her. But she makes no answer: it
is as though she has not heard them—as though nothing but the words “The
king is coming” clamour in her ears, and bring a rush of emotion that
stifles speech. She goes out silently; but while the old men are singing
of the doom of Troy, she reappears. Her entrance now is resolute and
majestical: her purpose is taken, and in firm tones she declares to the
Senators that the news they have heard is true. As she speaks, the tide
of emotion rises again and carries her on to utterance that is almost

CLY.         _This day Troy fell. Methinks I see’t; a host
             Of jarring voices stirs the startled city,
             Like oil and acid, sounds that will not mingle,
             By natural hatred sundered. Thou may’st hear
             Shouts of the victor, with the dying groan,
             Battling, and captives cry....
             ... Happy if the native gods
             They reverence, and the captured altars spare,
             Themselves not captive led by their own folly.
             May no unbridled lust of unjust gain
             Master their hearts, no reckless, rash desire._

CHO.         _Woman, thou speakest wisely as a man,
             And kindly as thyself._[13]

Clytemnestra’s speech is significant. She knows the nature of the king,
and she fears that his victory over Troy has been a brutal one, pushed
even to the last extremity of insult to the country’s gods. That impious
pride is her uppermost thought; with it, she steels her heart; and when
the herald arrives, she listens in ominous silence as his tale confirms
her utmost fears.

HER.                               _Agamemnon
             Comes, like the sun, a common joy to all.
             Greet him with triumph, as beseems the man
             Who with the mattock of justice-bearing Jove
             Hath dug the roots of Troy, hath made its altars
             Things seen no more, its towering temples razed,
             And caused the seed of the whole land to perish.
             ... His hand hath reaped
             Clean bare the harvest of all bliss from Troy._[13]

If anything were needed to confirm Clytemnestra’s resolution, surely it
lay in these words. Agamemnon, the ruthless slayer of his daughter, the
destroyer of Troy, who had no fear of the gods and no pity for man,
would have no mercy upon her. She must kill or be killed; and she must
act quickly.

Even while the herald spoke came the sound of the procession which was
bringing the king up from the ships. First, his own chariot, surrounded
by his guard and by the people who had gone out along the road to
welcome him. Then, following close behind, a chariot containing the
solitary figure of a woman, seated amid the spoils of war. She was
Cassandra, a prize of battle, brought home by Agamemnon to be his
slave-wife. But she was no ordinary slave. Daughter of Priam, King of
Troy, and virgin priestess of Apollo, she had been torn from the altar
of the god by her captor; and Clytemnestra, watching her wild eyes, knew
that Agamemnon had filled up the measure of impiety to the gods and
insult to herself.

Agamemnon uttered a laconic greeting to the people, while the queen
stood tense and still. By no word or sign did he acknowledge his wife:
only, in perfunctory terms, hailed his country and his country’s gods,
and thanked the people for their welcome.

Then Clytemnestra, holding tremendous passions in the leash, began her
formal speech of welcome.

CLY.         _Men! Citizens! ye reverend Argive seniors,
             No shame feel I, even to your face, to tell
             My husband-loving ways._[13]

The hour has come for which she has waited so long: her desperate plan
is formed: all that may have been needed to strengthen it has been
heaped upon her in the pride and insolence of the king. But she must
dissemble a little longer; she must force herself to speak lovingly, to
appear faithful before the people, and to lull suspicion in Agamemnon’s
mind. In her husband’s speech there had been a veiled menace: and now,
after the first conventional phrases of affection, her words, too, take
on a double meaning; and an undercurrent of bitter irony runs through
them. On the surface lies the obvious meaning, to meet the exigency of
the moment; just below it lay another sense, designed to leap to life
and plead for her when the deed that she is contemplating shall be

           “_There comes a time when all fear fades and dies.
                           ... Does any heart but mine
           Know the long burden of the life I bore
           While he was under Troy?_“[14]

The time has indeed come to put aside fear, but for a reason that these
senators cannot see yet, any more than they can conceive the real nature
of the burden that she had borne so long. To say that Clytemnestra’s
speech is not really that of a faithful wife, that it is too loud in its
protestations of joy, too insistent and eager in its avowal of fidelity,
is beside the mark. For not only is Agamemnon in all probability aware
of Clytemnestra’s sin, but she realizes that he may be aware of it.
Hence the deep irony of the situation; and hence too the fact that these
protestations, begun calmly and deliberately with the object of
deceiving the crowd, gradually take on a different tone. The king’s
manner to her from the moment of arrival had been cold, even repellent.
The conviction grows that he has been forewarned, and with that
conviction, the sense of danger to herself is heightened. As her speech
proceeds we seem to feel her quickening pulse and tingling nerve, we
seem to share the rush of fear that sweeps away restraint and carries
her along a torrent of language that is wild, vehement, and almost

                           “_Now with heart at peace
           I hail my King, my watchdog of the fold,
           My ship’s one cable of hope, my pillar firm
           Where all else reels, my father’s one-born heir,
           My land scarce seen at sea when hope was dead,
           My happy sunrise after nights of storm,
           My living well-spring in the wilderness!
           Oh, it is joy, the waiting time is past!
           Thus, King, I greet thee home. No god need grudge—
           Sure we have suffered in time past enough—
           This one day’s triumph._“[14]

At this point she seeks relief in action from the stress of emotion:

                            “_Light thee, sweet my husband
          From this high seat: yet set not on bare earth
          Thy foot, great King, the foot that trampled Troy!
          Ho thralls, why tarry ye, whose task is set
          To carpet the King’s way? Bring priceless crimson:
          Let all his path be red, and Justice guide him,
          Who saw his deeds, at last, unhoped for, home._“[14]

Self-control is clearly returning. There is profound significance in her
closing words, an invocation to Justice to lead Agamemnon to his doom.
There is an inner motive, too, as well as awful irony, in the invitation
to the king to walk on ‘priceless crimson.’ She must contrive that he
will commit himself still further before the people, who are already
stirred by faction and chilled by his hauteur. In the full light of what
she is about to do, she sees that this is Agamemnon’s last public act;
and has determined that the man of blood shall walk to his death along a
crimson path. The deed is almost sacrilege; but after some protest,
Agamemnon yields to her entreaties.

            “_If you must have it so, let some one loose
            The shoe that like a slave supports my tread;
            Lest, trampling o’er these royal dyes, some god
            Smite me with envious glances from afar._“[15]

He has a consciousness of what he is doing, and his mind misgives him;
but he who could deny to the mother the life of her child, cannot refuse
this indulgence to his pride. Clytemnestra, in exultation that she can
hardly conceal, reassures him. In lines of exquisite poetic beauty, but
weighted with a meaning that he does not see, she declares that this
honour is his due; that it is a sacrifice for his return. Then, as
Agamemnon passes within the palace, she remains for one instant outside.
The fire of exultation dies away. She forgets the people standing round,
the need for dissimulation, the danger of discovery. One thought sweeps
everything else away—the thought of the stupendous deed that she is
about to attempt, its horror and its peril. She raises her hands and
utters an awful prayer:

           “_Zeus—thou fulfillest all—fulfil my prayer!
           And take good heed of all thou doest herein!_“[15]

Then she follows Agamemnon into the palace. But there remains one person
whom she has overlooked, Cassandra, priestess and prophetess of Apollo.
As the Chorus takes up a lovely song full of foreboding, the queen
returns and calls to Cassandra to come within. But there has fallen upon
Cassandra a prophetic vision of the crime. She is distraught with fear
and horror, and can find no answer to the imperious queen. Clytemnestra,
to whom every moment is of infinite importance, suddenly loses all her
dignity in mere rage at the silent, helpless girl.

            “_I have not time to waste out here with her.
            By this the victims at our midmost hearth
            Stand ready for the slaughter and the fire;—
            Rich thank-offerings for mercies long despaired.
                              ... I’ll not demean myself
            By throwing more words away._“[15]

As Clytemnestra passes a second time within doors, the poor captive
begins to wail a prophecy of what is about to be enacted there. She
mourns for the awful curse upon the house.

                        “_There bides within
          A band of voices,—all in unison,
          Yet neither sweet nor tuneful, for their song
          Is not of blessing. Ay, a revel-rout,
          Ever emboldened with new draughts of blood,
          Within these walls, a furious multitude,
          Hard to drive forth, keep haunt, all of one kin.
          They cling to the walls; they hymn the primal curse,
          Their fatal hymn._”

She foresees the death of Agamemnon, and her own fate beside him. Twice
she approaches the palace and twice recoils in horror. But at last,
committing herself to Apollo, she rushes within; and instantly there
rises a dreadful cry. It is the voice of the king.

        “_Ah! Ah! I am mortally stricken, here, in the palace!_”

The old men stand paralysed with fear; and before they can move a step
to help, the agonized voice cries a second time:

              “_Oh me! Again I am smitten, to the death!_”

There is an instant uproar and outcry. The palace becomes noisy with
hurrying feet and clamorous voices; the old men feebly rush this way and
that, unable to decide, in their weakness and senility, how to act. In
the midst of the disorder, the doors of the palace are thrown open, and
Clytemnestra is revealed, weapon in hand, bending over the body of
Agamemnon. A dreadful hush falls; and the queen, drawing herself up
before the people, deliberately confesses to the deed and declares her

         “_I, who spake much before to serve my need,
         Will here unspeak it, unappalled by shame.
                   ... Time, and thought still brooding
         On that old quarrel, brought me to this blow.
         ‘Tis done, and here I stand: here where I smote him!—
         I so contrived it,—that I’ll ne’er deny,—
         As neither loophole nor defence was left him....
         Such—O ye Argive elders who stand here,—
         Such is the fact. Whereat, an if ye will,
         Rejoice ye!...
                         Such a cup of death
         He filled with household crime, and now, returning,
         Has drained in retribution._”

But to the Senators only one thing is clear. A terrible crime has been
committed: their king has been foully slain. All Clytemnestra’s pleas in
extenuation of the deed are wasted words. To them the situation is
tragically simple: her guilt is plain; there is but one word that fits
her—murderess. There is no question for them of reason or of motive.
What she claims to be a righteous judgment upon Agamemnon, they declare
to be a crime demanding punishment. But they are not strong enough to
enforce their will; and when they threaten Clytemnestra with banishment,
she answers with scorn.

          “_That is your sentence. I must fly the land
          With public execration on my head.
          Wise justicers! What said ye, then, to him
          Who slew his child, nor recked of her dear blood
          More than if sacrificing some ewe-lamb
          From countless flocks that choked the teeming fold,
          But slew the priceless travail of my womb
          For a charm, to allay the wind from Thrace?..._”

              “_Then hear my oath. By mighty Justice,
          Final avenger of my murdered child,
          By Atè and Erinys, gods of power,
          To whom I sacrificed this man, I look not
          For danger as an inmate, whiles our hearth
          Is lightened by Aegisthus, evermore,
          As hitherto, constant in love to me;
          My shield, my courage!_“[15]



  _Hon. John Collier_

  _By permission from the original picture in the Guildhall Art Gallery_

Then, as the elders mourn the death of the king and the demon of
vengeance that haunts the house, Clytemnestra, in passionate conviction,
declares that she has been merely an instrument of that spirit of

                                  “_But I
          Here make my compact with the hellish Power
          That haunts the house of Atreus. What has been,
          Though hard, we will endure. But let him leave
          This roof, and plague some other race henceforth
          With kindred-harrowing strife. Small share of wealth
          Shall amply serve, now I have made an end
          Of mutual-murdering madness in this hall._“[15]

She comforts herself with the thought that now at last the Furies are
appeased. No doubt of her own motives assails her: no warning hint that
crime is not cancelled by fresh crime. In the first glow of triumph she
has no premonition of the return of an avenging son. She proposes to
herself a reign of peace with Egisthus which shall erase all memory of
the past.

 “_Might but this be all of sorrow, we would bargain now for peace....
 I and thou together ruling with a firm and even hand,
 Will control and keep in order both the palace and the land._“[15]

On this note of false security the _Agamemnon_ closes; and for the fate
of Clytemnestra, which now becomes bound up with the story of Electra,
we must go to the second drama of the trilogy, the _Libation-bearers_.


Footnote 13:

  From Professor J. S. Blackie’s translation of the _Agamemnon_
  (Everyman’s Library).

Footnote 14:

  From Professor G. Murray’s translation of part of the _Agamemnon_ in
  his _Ancient Greek Literature_ (William Heinemann).

Footnote 15:

  From Professor Lewis Campbell’s translation of the _Agamemnon_
  (Clarendon Press).

_Æschylus: Electra_

The Æschylean Trilogy pauses at the point of Clytemnestra’s triumph. The
first drama, the _Agamemnon_, ends there. We left the queen tasting the
joy of revenge, but by no means gloating heartlessly over Agamemnon’s
fall. She was conscious of the magnitude of the event; and the awfulness
of her deed would have daunted even her strong spirit had she not been
confident that she was the instrument of destiny in striking down the
proud and cruel king.

The friends of Agamemnon, the loyal faction which should have risen
against her, must have been few and weak. They were evidently soon
subdued. They could not stand against the force of her powerful will;
and, moreover, she combined with her strength a wise tact and a keen
sense of justice. Doubtless these qualities had gone far to establish
her government in Agamemnon’s long absence. Her sway was no new thing to
the people of Argos; and when she resumed it with Egisthus as her
consort, she took up the thread of her former life, with little outward
sign to mark the change.

Underneath the surface of national life, wrath and horror at the murder
of the king must have smouldered. Inside the palace itself, as we shall
see presently, there was a small party ardently devoted to his memory
and to the cause of his absent son, Orestes. But they were no match for
Clytemnestra; and she in her turn, having shaken off the nightmare of
fear in which she had lived for so many years, proposed to herself a
future that should cleanse and sweeten all the past. Her first emotion
was one of intense relief, not only from the long strain of suspense,
but from the fact that now, as she firmly believed, the old curse upon
the house of Atreus had at last been fulfilled. Her hand had dealt the
final blow; the last life demanded by that implacable spirit had now
been offered up. Henceforward it only remained to wipe out the past by
just rule and sober living.

So for a time—we do not know quite how long—she lulled herself in false
security. Years may have passed in this ominous calm: memory fell
asleep, and she lived serenely in a present that was full of such
interest and action as her mind delighted in. In such a mood, she would
not observe, or would disregard, small signs of disaffection around her.
Day by day she would see the sad face of her daughter Electra; but until
some shock came to awaken her sleeping soul, Electra’s accusing eyes
would fall upon her unheeded. The awakening came at last, however; and
it is at this point that Æschylus opens the second part of his Trilogy,
in the drama called the _Choephorœ, or Libation-Bearers_.

The scene is laid outside the Royal Palace at Mycenæ, before that tomb
of Agamemnon which archæologists within recent years have brought to
light on the ancient site of the city. The time is morning, and two
young men, who have evidently travelled far, approach the tomb. One is
Orestes, the son of Agamemnon whom Clytemnestra had sent away as a
child. The other is his dear friend Pylades. Orestes has returned
secretly to Argos, bidden by the oracle of Apollo to avenge his father’s
death. But he has no army: he does not know that he has a single friend
in Mycenæ; and his purpose is fraught with extreme danger. How he will
accomplish it he cannot yet imagine; but he must first try to discover
if there are any in the palace who will befriend him.

As they reach the tomb, Orestes calls upon Hermes, the god who guides
the shades of the dead, and invokes his father’s spirit.

             “_O Hermes of the Shades, that watchest over
             My buried father’s right, be now mine aid.
             I come from exile to this land. Oh save me!_

                   ·      ·      ·      ·      ·

             _Father, here standing at thy tomb I bid thee
             Hear me! Oh hear!_“[16]

Then, according to a solemn custom of the heroic age, Orestes begins to
clip the locks of hair from his head and place them upon the tomb as a
votive offering. As he is thus engaged, a train of mourning women slowly
emerge from the palace, carrying vessels in their hands with libations
for the dead. They are slaves, captive Trojan women whom the poet uses
as the Chorus of his Drama; and they are followed at a little distance
by the drooping figure of a girl, whom Orestes rightly believes to be
his sister Electra. They are coming to pour offerings at the tomb of the
king. This in itself is a sign of encouragement to Orestes. But he dare
not show himself until he is assured that they are friendly to his
cause; and he and Pylades hastily withdraw, where they may hear and see
the ceremony without being seen.

The women are singing; and as their lovely parodos rises and falls, we
learn why they are coming thus early to the neglected tomb of the
murdered king. The astounding fact reveals itself that they are sent by
Clytemnestra. Clearly, the awakening has come to her at last. In the
night that has just passed she had been visited by a dream that seemed
to her a dreadful portent. She had started from her bed, screaming with
horror, and had called for lights. But the crowding women with their
lamps could not drive away the vision of the fearful serpent-birth that
had turned and rent her breast. And Clytemnestra, her conscience
suddenly shaken into life, had sent for the interpreters. They had no
comfort for her, however, in their reply:

            _They cried, aloud, by heavenly sureties bound,—
            “One rages there beneath
            Menacing death for death....”_

So the interpreters confirmed her fear, that this dream was an omen sent
from the unquiet spirit of her husband. Remorse assailed her. The shade
of Agamemnon, neglected hitherto, must be propitiated. As soon as
daylight came, libations should be poured upon the tomb; and that they
should be acceptable, Electra should perform the rite. She might not
herself call upon that dread spirit in the underworld; but Electra, with
her grief-marred face and her loyal love to her father, would be a
fitting suppliant.

Thus it happens that Electra, in the first light of early morning,
stands at the tomb. Her heart is filled with bitter grief. She loathes
the task that she is commanded to perform—the rite which, after years of
callous neglect, is only now offered to the injured shade because some
beginning of fear has come into her mother’s mind. In all this time,
none of the dues that are sacred to the dead had been permitted for
Agamemnon. No libations had been poured, no locks had been shorn from
the head; and even the mourning of Electra and her women had had to be
hidden away from sight and sound of the queen. Now, suddenly, from no
motive of love or reverence to the dead, from no sense of tenderness to
her daughter, from no reason that Electra can perceive save a
premonition of danger to herself, Clytemnestra orders that the proper
ceremonies shall be observed.

Electra cannot see the real motive which sways the queen. Partly from
her very youth and innocence, partly because there is in her a tinge of
the iron temper of her father, she is blind to everything but
Clytemnestra’s guilt. She sees her mother in the light of one fact
only—the murder of the being whom she had loved most dearly. And looking
back upon the past, all its events are viewed through that harsh light.
There was the banishment of her brother Orestes; the coming of the
strange man Egisthus whom, for some reason that she could not then
comprehend, she had always loathed; the return and death of her father;
her own subsequent misery and degradation. With the hardness of youth,
she can conceive of nothing which could explain her mother’s action,
much less palliate it. Her sister Iphigenia she could not clearly
remember; and if the story of her sacrifice was known to Electra, her
absolute devotion to her father accepted it unquestioningly. In no case
could she apprehend how that crime would wound her mother; just as she
could not see or understand the darker side of Agamemnon’s character.
Only one thing was painfully realized—that the great king who was her
father, and who had known how to be tender to the little girl he left at
home in Mycenæ, had been done to death by the woman she called her
mother. And now this woman, whom the years had taught Electra to hate,
commanded her to supplicate the wronged dead for peace. Electra cannot,
and will not, entreat the dead in terms like these; and her first speech
is awful with the bitterness in her heart. She turns to the slaves, the
Trojan women who are attending her:

     “_Ministrant women, orderers of the house,
     Since ye move with me to this suppliant rite,
     Be ye my counsellors, how I must perform it.
     When I pour this tribute at the grave,
     What words will be in tune? What prayer will please?
     Shall I say, Father, from a loving wife
     This comes to thy dear soul: yea, from my mother?’
     That dare I not.—I know not how to speak,
     Shedding this draught upon my father’s tomb.
     Or shall I say, as mortals use, ‘Give back
     The giver meet return?—to wit, some evil’?
                                     ... Be kind, and speak._“[16]

Grief and anger make her speech broken and barely coherent, as her
thoughts are. But below the emotion, and almost unconsciously, there is
a hint of some purpose forming. Once for all she puts aside her mother’s
orders; but she is not clear what will take their place. The dawning
thought has not taken shape yet; and the vague counsels of the women do
not at first help her. But presently they speak the name of Orestes, and
bid her look for help to him. She is startled at the name, and the gleam
of hope it brings lights up the underlying thought. She realizes
suddenly what it means.

ELEC.        _Well said and wisely! That most heartens me._

CHO.         _Then think of those who shed this blood, and pray—_

ELEC.        _How? Teach me; I am ignorant. Speak on._

CHO.         _Some power, divine or human, may descend——_

ELEC.        _To judge or execute? What wilt thou say?_

CHO.         _Few words, but clear. To kill the murderer._[16]

Here then is the thought of her own brain, clothed in words and echoed
back to her from the women whom she has implored to advise. But put thus
into cold language, they have a dreadful sound from which she recoils in

ELEC.        _But will the gods not frown upon such prayer?_

CHO.         _Do they not favour vengeance on a foe?_[16]

In this tense dramatic moment, we are shown what the theme of the Drama
is to be. We are shown too, as vividly and almost as rapidly as in a
lightning-flash, the clear outlines of Electra’s character. The
beautiful devotion to her father’s memory: the blind hatred of
Clytemnestra: the desire for revenge vaguely forming, and leaping
full-grown at the first prompting from without; but—and here is the
crux—that desire held in check by a profound religious sentiment. This
reverence for the gods makes the whole tragedy, for Electra and Orestes
both; it provides the dramatist with the inevitable inner conflict round
which the action will revolve; and, most important of all, it has an
ethical significance which will sanctify the revenge of Electra and
Orestes. For while the mere human impulse with them both is to strike
back rapidly and without mercy for the blow that has killed their
father, a higher sense restrains them; and it needs an imperious mandate
from Apollo to nerve them to the deed. This reluctance for the shedding
of blood is a new thing in the age-long record of the house of Tantalus.
When Electra asks whether the gods will not frown upon a prayer for
vengeance, there is the birth of a holier spirit which will atone for
and purify all those old crimes.

But first the final retribution must fall. Electra now lifts her voice
in solemn prayer to the awful gods of the underworld and to the spirit
of her father. She prays for a wiser heart and purer hand than her
mother’s. With almost faltering words—literally constrained thereto, she
says—she prays for vengeance; and she implores that Orestes may return
and claim the throne now occupied by the hated Egisthus.

It is at this moment, just as the prayer closes in the Choral hymn, that
Electra sees the locks of hair upon the tomb. She is amazed, almost
alarmed. There is only one creature in all the world who should bring
such an offering. If any other has placed it here, it is an act of
sacrilege. She takes up the hair, examines it, and speaks about it
rapidly and anxiously to the women. Gradually the conviction dawns that
it can be no other than a votive lock shorn from the head of Orestes
himself. Then he has been here? But where is he now? The thought that he
has indeed returned, that he may even be near at hand at this moment,
drives wild hope and fear alternately through her mind. Holding the lock
within her hand, she says:

               “_Ah! could it but speak, and tell me
           Kind news, I were not shaken thus and cloven,
           Thinking two ways: but either with clear scorn
           I would renounce it, as an enemy’s hair;
           Or being my brother’s, it should mourn with me,
           And pay sweet honours at our father’s tomb._“[16]

Meantime, Orestes in his hiding-place had verified the fact that Electra
was his sister. He had reassured himself, too, on another vital point.
What he had heard and seen had convinced him that this group of women at
least was friendly to his cause. And at its head, holding out against
great odds, and suffering extreme ills in consequence, was this brave
spirit of Electra who, with all her tender and loyal devotion, was
strong enough to dare the uttermost with him. He need no longer delay to
reveal himself. He had heard Electra’s prayer for his return, and for
vengeance on his father’s murderers; and, stepping forward, he came like
an instant answer to her petition.

ORES.        _First tell the gods thy former prayer is heard.
             Then pray that all to come be likewise good._[16]

But Electra cannot recognize in this tall young man the boy who left
their home so many years before. She is startled and incredulous; and
there follows a curious little scene which, if it occurred in a modern
play, would simply cause derision. Orestes gives such quaint evidence of
his identity—the colour of his hair, which matches her own; the length
of their footprints, which is similar; the embroidery on the robe that
he is wearing, which he says was wrought by her own hands before he went
to Athens. The poet is not very much concerned with probabilities. He
has a great religious purpose which dominates all other considerations;
and in the sublime onward sweep of the tragedy we are not troubled by
minor inconsistencies. At this point they are simply lost sight of, in
the keen dramatic interest of the scene when Electra is at last
convinced that this is indeed her brother. What is proof to her is more
than ample proof to us.

ELEC.        _Shall I, in very truth, call thee Orestes?_

ORES.        _You see myself ...
             Nay, be not lost in gladness! Curb thy heart
             We know, our nearest friends are dangerous foes._

ELEC.        _Centre of fondness in thy father’s hall,
             Tear-watered hope of blessings yet to be,
             Faith in thy might shall win thee back thy home!
             Oh how I joy beholding thee! Thou hast_
             _Four parts in my desires, not one alone.
             I call thee Father: and my mother’s claim
             Falls to thy side, since utter hate is hers.
             And my poor butchered sister’s share is thine.
             And I adore thee as my own true brother.
             But oh! may holy Right and Victory,
             And highest Zeus, the Saviour, speed thee too!_[16]

Then Orestes plainly declares the reason for his return, and taking up
Electra’s prayer to Zeus, he cries for help in the vengeance to be
accomplished for his father. He claims that he has a direct mandate from

ORES.               _... Apollo’s mighty word
             Will be performed, that bade me stem this peril.
             High rose that sovran voice, and clearly spake
             Of stormy curses that should freeze my blood,
             Should I not wreak my father’s wrongful death.
             He bade me pay them back the self-same deed
             Maddened by loss of all: yea, mine own soul
             Should know much bitterness, were not this done._

                                   _... For one so slain
             Sees clearly, though his brows in darkness move!—
             The darkling arrow of the dead, that flies
             From kindred souls abominably slain ...
             Should harass and unman me ..._

                                   _... I should have no share
             Of wine or dear libation, but, unseen,
             My father’s wrath should drive me from all altars._[16]

Thus the command of Apollo was clear, definite, and imperative; and the
oracular utterance carried with it terrible penalties, should these two
children of the murdered king dare to disobey. Yet we feel, all through
Orestes’ speech, that the conflict is warring within him too. He cannot
accept the mandate implicitly. In the emphasis that he lays on his
authority, in the precise repetition of the very words of the oracle, in
the horror with which he enumerates the threatened punishments, we know
that he is trying to fortify himself against fear and horror at the
deed. Now that he comes close to his actual purpose, a strange new
questioning spirit arises which he strives to appease—a shuddering
reluctance which compels him to throw himself back upon the divine
mandate. “Was not this a word to be obeyed?” he asks; and then, “Yea!
Were it not, the deed must yet be done.”

But struggle as Orestes may, the doubt will not be quelled. The crime of
mother-murder which they contemplate starts up before them in all its
hideous barbarity; and the burden imposed on Orestes is more than he can
bear. As we know, it will lead him ultimately to madness. All through
the _kommos_ which follows, a long and sublimely mournful hymn chanted
alternately by Orestes, Electra and the Chorus, the brother and sister
seem to be battling with this question of the righteousness of their
action. They appeal to Zeus and to the powers of the nether world: they
cry to the spirit of their father: they remind each other of the cruelty
and shamelessness of Clytemnestra: they recall the greatness of
Agamemnon, and contrast it with his ignominious end: they dwell upon the
wrongs done to Electra, and the sin of Egisthus, and the curse upon
their house. The wave of emotion rises and falls. At one moment a solemn
confidence reassures them that the vengeance is righteous; at another,
the doubt sweeps back and shatters their assurance, and again they are
driven to bewail their wrongs and invoke the name of Justice.

ORES.        _Father, no word of mine, no deed may bring
             Light to the darkness where thou liest below:_
             _Yet shall the dirge lament thy matchless woe,
             And grace the tomb of Argos’ noblest king...._

ELEC.        _Hear me, too, father, mourning in my turn;
             Both thine afflicted ones towards thee yearn.
             Both outcasts, both sad suppliants at thy tomb.
             What dawn may pierce this overwhelming gloom?..._

ORES.        _Where is your power to save,
             Lords of the grave?
             Oh curse, of endless might,
             From lips long lost to light,
             We, last of Atreus’ race
             Implore thy dreadful grace,
             Reft of our halls, and outlawed from our right,
             Zeus, whither should we turn?_[16]

At this point is felt most strongly the undercurrent of doubt and
horror. It brims and rushes, overwhelming for a time the confident sense
of justice and trust in the oracle of the god. And here the Chorus,
expressing, as its function is, the brooding meditation of an onlooker,
echoes their inmost thought in sympathetic strains:

CHOR.        _Again ye make my changeful heart to yearn,
             Listening your plaintive cry. One while I feel
             My soul with dark misgivings shake and reel,
             But by and by the clouds are rolled away
             And courage heightens with new hopes of day._

ELEC.        _Oh mother! Oh enemy! Oh hard soul!
             Like a foe, unhonoured by funeral bowl,
             Though a prince, unfollowed by mean or high,
             Thou didst bury thy husband without one sigh._

ORES.        _Ah! ah! every word there hath stung.
             But shall she not pay
             For each shame she then flung
             On my sire?_



  _Gertrude Demain Hammond R.I._

ELEC.        _Thou hearest our father’s death; but I was driven
             To grieve apart beneath the dews of heaven;
             Chased from the chambers like a thievish hound,
             To pour my grief in tears upon the ground,
             They came more readily than smiles.... Write this in thy
             soul ..._

ORES.        _Father, assist thy children in their deed!_

ELEC.        _Thy daughter’s tears implore thee in deep need!..._

ORES.        _The cause is set. The battle doth begin!_

ELEC.        _Oh gods, be just; and make the righteous win!_[16]

The resolution is taken at last. It remains now only to ask their
father’s blessing, before putting it into effect. Orestes begs for power
to rule well in Agamemnon’s stead, and promises rich sacrifices to his

ELEC.                           _And I will bring
             Choice offerings from all my patrimony
             In day of marriage, and will honour first
             My father’s tomb from the paternal hall...._

ORES.        _Either send justice fighting on our side,
             If thou wouldst gain requital for thy fall,
             Or grant us to catch them as they caught thee._

ELEC.        _Hear this last cry, my father! Look with pity
             On these thy young ones sitting at thy grave,
             And feel for both, the maiden and the man._[16]

The real crisis of the tragedy is in this wonderful ode, although the
action has all to follow. Doubts and fears are now subdued: Orestes and
Electra have risen to a height of stern conviction which will carry them
to the fulfilment of their purpose, although neither it nor the sanction
of Apollo will save them from remorse. The action moves rapidly now, as
though the revenge must be accomplished at once, in the heat of this
terrible purpose. Orestes is told of Clytemnestra’s dream—that she had
borne a serpent which had turned and rent her breast. He welcomes it
gladly, as an auspicious omen for him; and forms a hasty plan of action.
He and Pylades will apply for entrance at the palace gates, with a
feigned story of Orestes’ death. Electra must make ready for them
within, and secure their admittance. They will kill Egisthus first, and
afterward complete the revenge by the murder of Clytemnestra.

It is not a very skilful plot, but it succeeds. Clytemnestra receives
Orestes and his friend, believing them to be strangers from Phokis. She
is grieved and shocked at their story of Orestes’ death; and goes out to
apprise Egisthus of it. Presently Egisthus passes across the stage
alone, on his way to give an audience to the guests and, though he does
not know it, to pay the penalty for his crime. He goes into the palace,
and an instant afterward he is heard to utter a dreadful cry. Attendants
rush forth, calling upon the name of the queen.

CLYTEM.      _What cry is here? What dost thou by the gate?_

ATTEN.       _I say, the dead have slain the living there._

CLYTEM.      _Ay me! I read thy riddle! Oh! undone!
             By guile, even as we slew! Give me an axe,
             A strong one; quickly too! I’ll dare the issue,
             Be it for me or against me! I am come
             To the utterance in this fight with Fate and Doom._[16]

Then there follows an awful scene between Orestes and Clytemnestra, as
she grieves over the body of Egisthus.

ORES.        _Was he so dear to thee? Then thou shalt lie
             In the same grave with blameless constancy._

CLYTEM.      _Oh son, forbear! O child, respect and pity
             This breast, whereat thou often, soothed to slumber,
             Drainèdst with baby mouth the bounteous milk._[16]

For an instant these poignant words make Orestes waver; and he half
turns to Pylades with an appeal for counsel. But the answer is a stern
reminder of the oracular command; and the pitying moment passes.

ORES.        _How should I live with her who killed my sire?_

CLYTEM.      _The destinies wrought there. My son! my son!_

ORES.        _Destiny works a different doom to-day...._

CLYTEM.      _Oh! Wilt thou kill thy mother? O my son!_

ORES.        _I kill thee not. Thy sin destroyeth thee...._

CLYTEM.      _Ah!_

             _I have borne and reared a serpent for my son._

ORES.        _Then is fulfilled the terror of thy dream!_[16]

So Clytemnestra falls at the hands of Orestes; but the vengeance has no
joy for him. Before his mother’s mighty spirit has taken its way along
the road to Hades, a torture of remorse has fallen upon her son. Even
while he stands above the murdered body, her avenging Furies come
thronging about him “with Gorgon faces and thick serpent hair” and he
feels his reason totter.

ORES.        _Hear me declare:—How this will end I know not.
             I feel the chariot of my spirit borne
             Far wide. My soul, like an ill-managed courser,
             Is carrying me away, while my poor heart
             To her own music dances in wild fear._[16]

He cries in anguish to Apollo to justify him; but there comes no answer
from the god; and faster and faster crowd those grizzly spectre forms,
rushing upon him in hideous multitudes, and menacing him with ghastly
torments. And as the tragedy closes, we see Orestes fleeing before the
rout of the Furies to find sanctuary at the shrine of Apollo, while the
Chorus wails:

                             “_When shall cease
           Dread, Atè’s fury? When be lulled to peace?_”[16]

We hear no more of Electra from Æschylus. Measured by action, or even by
language, the part she plays in his trilogy is quite a small one. It is
significant, too, that this her first appearance in Attic Tragedy is not
called by her name, but the _Libation-bearers_. Such a title, while it
serves to remind us of a stage of Greek Drama when the Chorus was the
whole play, indicates also the poet’s conception of the theme. To
Æschylus, the religious act at Agamemnon’s tomb, with all that it
implies, was of much greater import than the figure of the great king’s
daughter. The force of destiny, the amazing mandate of the god and its
conflict with filial love and duty, and the pursuit of the matricide by
the Furies, constitute for him the essence of the tragedy. The spiritual
aspect of the story transcends for him the human interest of it. Hence
his characters, though sublimely great, are great in outline only; and
hence the brief appearance of Electra.

But when we find that Sophocles and Euripides, who wrote about Electra
afterward, have boldly made her the protagonist, and have called their
plays by her name, we are prepared for a change of attitude. The story
is now viewed from a more human standpoint. The protagonist is no longer
a chorus, but a woman: the ruling passion is now not so much a
principle, a moral, a duty, or any idea in the abstract; but strong
human will, intense human love, and mortal hatred. The motive of the
Drama is no longer a religious ceremonial, but the enactment of a tragic
story. And the final result is not now that of a grand moral lesson
conveyed through the lips of shadowy demi-gods, but a really dramatic

It follows, therefore, that with this change the character of Electra
has taken on a stronger and more complete individuality. In the version
of Sophocles, she rises to her greatest height. She is a creature who
can endure to the end and dare the uttermost: of absorbing love and
strenuous hatred: tender and strong. Unbending and uncompromising, she
is in conflict not only with the mother whom she loathes, but with the
weakness of a sister whom she loves. Implacable to her enemies, she is
capable of absolute devotion to the memory of her father and to the
absent Orestes; and in these contrasted qualities Sophocles has made of
his Electra a tremendously dramatic figure. For the finest drama, and
for the most enthralling story we must go to him. But his purpose seems
to have been merely artistic. He takes a hint from the old legend, and
developing its possibilities to the utmost he evolves a play which is
perhaps more powerful as drama and certainly more perfect as art than
that of Æschylus or Euripides. But it has hardly any other significance.
His conception of Electra, while finely complete and harmonious, is of a
being untroubled by ethical considerations, and casting no fearful
glance ‘before and after.’

With Euripides, on the other hand, the character of the protagonist
becomes more deeply significant than even Æschylus had made her. For
Euripides, the mandate of the god was false, and the vengeance taken was
a stupendous crime against humanity. When Orestes and Electra, wrought
up by passion, have accomplished it, Euripides makes reaction come to
them as to any other mortal being. They are not pursued by visible
Furies, from which they may flee to the sanctuary of Apollo, but by
remorse and cankering doubt of their own motives. For him they are
simply human creatures; and the touch of realism, animated as it is by a
daring sceptical spirit, has laid a blight on much that was beautiful in
the earlier conception of Electra’s character. To recover that, we must
go back to the _Libation-bearers_ of Æschylus.


Footnote 16:

  From Professor Lewis Campbell’s translation of the _Choephorœ_
  (Clarendon Press).

_Æschylus: Cassandra_

For the beginning of Cassandra’s story we must go back to the epic
theme. The first word which Homer tells of her is in the Thirteenth Book
of the _Iliad_, where she is called “the fairest of Priam’s daughters.”
But that is late in the Siege; and there is a legend which gives her an
earlier connection with the tale of Troy. Indeed, we find that she was a
link in the chain of events which led Helen and the Greek army to her
native city. When she was still a young girl she had, in some mysterious
way, been beloved by the god Apollo. The god gave her the gift of
prophecy; but because she refused his love he angrily confounded the
gift that he could not recall by decreeing that her prophetic utterances
should never be believed. This is the central point round which our
thought about Cassandra must revolve. She is the virgin priestess who
holds herself inviolate even from the embraces of a divine lover; and
she is an oracle of clear vision and stainless truth, whose divination
is cursed with futility.

The events of her career show blacker and more hideous against the clear
light of her spirit. All through the long agony of the Trojan war we
have a sense of Cassandra at the altar, lifting pure hands in
supplication for her dear city. The fighting raged outside the walls
like an angry sea, while inside the town and away in the Greek
encampment all the passions let loose by war raged no less fiercely than
the battle itself. But Cassandra, withdrawn from sight and sound of the
conflict, continued to pray and sacrifice. Her life was consecrated. And
although the gods themselves seemed sometimes leagued against her;
although she had a perception of what the end must be, nothing could
weaken her endurance nor shake her will. The Trojan princes wooed her in
vain: the love of the great Sun-god himself could not make her swerve.
The glory of her beauty: her gift of vision: her lofty impassioned soul,
were vowed irrevocably to the service of her country and her home.

Yet this idealist and mystic was destined to suffer the worst
brutalities of war in the hour of Troy’s destruction. She was made
captive at her own altar; and was carried away by Agamemnon to be his
slave-wife and the rival of his queen. The mind revolts at the thought:
it is too awful to contemplate, and will not shape itself in cold
reflection. The poets seem to have felt this; and we find that Æschylus
and Euripides, who have both dwelt upon the story of Cassandra’s
downfall, rise to stormy heights of emotion when they tell about it.

Euripides has placed Cassandra in the group of royal women in his
_Troades_. The time of the drama is the morning which follows the
overthrow of Troy; and the action represents the carrying-off of the
princesses by their captors. It is, one would think, a time and a scene
quite unfitted for dramatic presentation. The immense excitement—of
victory on the one hand and defeat upon the other—has ebbed away; and
all that remains to the Trojan women is misery so profound and hopeless
as almost to be beyond the power of expression. The measure of their
pain seems to claim a reverent silence; and we feel that the _Troades_
does need the sanction of the ethical purpose which Professor Murray has
found in it. But once we realize the deep and humane thought behind it:
that the poet has chosen this part of the story expressly to reveal the
hideous suffering which war entails upon women, the tragedy is fraught
with significance.

The final act of Cassandra’s life is given by Æschylus in the
_Agamemnon_. He, no less than Euripides, feels the appalling tragedy of
her story; and both poets have put into her lips lyrics of wild and
haunting beauty. But Æschylus, by removing the action to Mycenæ and by
bringing Cassandra into conflict with Clytemnestra, has wrought a climax
of extraordinary power.

                  *       *       *       *       *

If there be any truth in the legend, it was Cassandra who first
recognized the shepherd Paris for the son of Priam. The stripling who
descended from the glens of Mt. Ida to compete in the games outside the
city was unknown and unloved by the Trojans whom he defeated. They were
jealous of the handsome stranger who carried off the prizes from them;
and he soon found himself embroiled with Priam’s athletic sons. He was
hard beset. The odds were heavy against him; and like a hunted animal he
flung himself before the altar of Apollo for protection.

             _And lo! Apollo’s priestess with a train
             Of holy maidens came into that place,
             And jar did she outshine the rest in grace,
             But in her eyes such dread was frozen then
             As glares eternal from the gorgon’s face
             Wherewith Athene quells the ranks of men._[17]

It was of course Cassandra. She had never before seen this young
suppliant who was clinging to the altar; but as she looked on him now
there came upon her a revelation of his identity. She knew of the old
ring which had been placed about her baby brother’s neck when he was
exposed to death upon the mountain; and taking Paris by the hand, she
touched the chain he wore and slowly drew to light the talisman.

           _This sign Cassandra showed to Priam straight.
           The king waxed pale and asked what this might be?
           And she made answer, “Sir, and King, thy fate
           That comes on all men horn hath come on thee;
           This shepherd is thine own child verily.”_[17]

Here, then, is the real beginning of the story of Cassandra. For the old
king would not be warned against his fate. He welcomed his boy as one
returned from death. A great festival was made in his honour; and of all
the many sons of Priam there was not one so dearly loved. Joy and
merriment filled the city. All the warning oracles which had spoken at
the birth of Paris were forgotten. Nothing but thanksgiving was heard
for the restoration of the fair young prince; and amid it all, Cassandra
knew that when she placed his hand in the hand of Priam, Destiny had
wrought for the fall of Troy.

The years passed speedily at first, untouched by care; and then more
slowly, big with events. First the sailing of Paris. Then, after Helen
came back with him to Troy, an interval when the Trojans waited,
wondering how the Greeks would repay the insult. Finally, the arrival of
the Greek fleet and the beginning of the Siege.

Priam was not unsupported in his long ordeal. Neighbouring princes
joined him against the hostile Greeks, some in the hope of reward and
some for the sake of friendship. There was one warrior, Othryoneus, who
came because he loved Cassandra. He brought no ‘gifts of wooing,’ but
made a promise to the king “of a mighty deed, namely, that he would
drive perforce out of Troy-land the sons of the Achaians.” Priam
consented to his suit; but we are not told what Cassandra thought of it.
Probably she was not consulted. It is conceivable, so tender was her
love of home and country, that to reward the hero who would save them,
she would even consent to lay aside her holy office; to recall her
soaring spirit to dwell beside the hearth. But the eye which saw so far
knew that it need not consider the present problem. Before the end,
Cassandra saw the valiant man who loved her lying pierced by the spear
of Idomeneus.

That was toward the end of the war; and in the penultimate scene of it,
the bringing-in of Hector’s body, Cassandra appears again. She had
watched all that fearful night, when the old king went out to the Greek
camp to beg of Achilles for the body of his great son. And in the cold
light of dawn, straining her eyes from Pergamos and weary with her
vigil, she was the first to see the mournful procession. “Then beheld
she him that lay upon the bier behind the mules, and thereat she wailed
and cried aloud throughout all the town.” The people wakened at her
terrible cry, and coming out of their houses, they followed her down to
the gate to meet the unhappy king.

Hector’s death was the beginning of the end. Troy fell. Its brave men
were slaughtered, its palaces burnt, its altars dishonoured; and worst
of all, its women and children were carried off as slaves. Of this the
_Iliad_ does not speak; but it was an event which seized and held fast
the imagination of the Attic dramatists. The glory of war, which throws
a glamour over the fighting in the epic, gives place in the later poets
to the pain and horror of it. Not because they were less brave: Æschylus
fought at the great Greek victory of Marathon; but because an advancing
civilization had brought a more reflective mind, a more humane temper,
and the birth of sacred pity.

The _Troades_, to which we come next for the story of Cassandra,
breathes throughout the pitiful spirit of the poet Euripides. It relates
what befell the women of the royal household after the sack of the city.
As grey daylight comes we see the figure of the aged queen, prostrate
before the charred walls of the town. She rises feebly, moaning in a
bewilderment of grief and physical weakness. To her approach, one after
another, furtively, the frightened Trojan women who form the Chorus of
the play. Her crying has wakened them, and they steal out to try to
discover what fate is in store for them. Even while they ask, a
messenger Talthybius, arrives from the Greek ships. In curt phrases he
replies to the queen’s anguished inquiries about her daughters. They
have been assigned to certain of the Greek chiefs, he says: Andromache
to Neoptolemus, she herself to Odysseus, and Polyxena (he speaks
ambiguously, to hide a grimmer fact) to serve at the tomb of Achilles.
The stricken queen asks about each in turn.

HECUBA.      _Say how Cassandra’s portion lies._

TALTHYBIUS.  _Chosen from all for Agamemnon’s prize!_

HECUBA.      _How, ...
             The sainted of Apollo? And her own
             Prize that God promisèd,
             Out of the golden clouds, her virgin crown?_

TALTHYBIUS.  _He loved her for that same strange holiness._[18]



  _Solomon J. Solomon R.A._

  _By permission of the Artist_

Hecuba is appalled at this fate that is decreed for her child. She whose
pure spirit had always ranged beyond the things of time and sense, who
was the consecrated priestess of Apollo and set apart for holy service,
is condemned to be the slave-wife of the man who has destroyed their
city. The poor mother wails in horror at the thought: it is too awful,
too sacrilegious a deed even for these proud Greeks, and she cries out
in protest. The herald silences her with a brutal comment on the good
fortune which makes her daughter the bride of a king; and then orders an
attendant to fetch Cassandra from the tents. But there is no need for
the man to go. Even while they are speaking there comes a sudden flash
of strange fire, and the wild figure of Cassandra appears, robed in
white, garlanded with flowers and carrying a blazing torch. The fearful
events of the past night have driven her to a frenzy. Arrayed as for a
happy bridal, she comes singing a hymn to Hymen; but the terror in her
eyes, and the poignancy of the words she utters hold her hearers dumb:

           “_Hail, O Hymen red,
           O Torch that makest one!
           Weepest thou, Mother mine own?
           Surely thy cheek is pale
           With tears, tears that wail
           For a land and a father dead.
           But I go garlanded:
           I am the bride of Desire...._

           “_O mother, fill mine hair with happy flowers,
           And speed me forth.... So liveth Loxias,
           A bloodier bride than ever Helen was
           Go I to Agamemnon, Lord most high
           Of Hellas!... I shall kill him, mother! I
           Shall kill him, and lay waste his house with fire
           As he laid ours. My brothers and my sire
           Shall win again!..._“[18]

Her frenzy gives place now to a more meditative strain. It is as though
the fiery cloud that hung about her brain was pierced for an instant by
the sight of her grieving mother. She tries to find words to comfort
Hecuba; and as the calmer mood deepens she rises to a perception of the
dignity of high failure contrasted with low success. The Trojans dying
for their homes she sees as a nobler thing than the triumph of the

            “_Would, ye be wise, ye Cities, fly from war!
            Yet if war come, there is a crown in death
            For her that striveth well and perisheth
            Unstained: to die in evil were the stain!
            Therefore, O Mother, pity not thy slain,
            Nor Troy, nor me, the bride. Thy direst foe
            And mine by this my wooing is brought low._”[18]

At this point the herald is suddenly roused to reply. He turns upon her
furiously for her ominous forebodings and bids her be silent. If he did
not know her for a mad woman, he says, she should suffer for boding thus
evil to the Greeks. He orders her roughly to follow him; but at his
speech the frenzy rushes over Cassandra again. She turns upon Talthybius
in magnificent anger and scorn. “How fierce a slave,” she cries; and
then the prophetic gift burns in her as she foretells in language of
awful beauty her own doom and that of Agamemnon.

                                      “_Thou Greek King,
        Who deem’st thy fortune now so high a thing,
        Thou dust of the earth, a lowlier bed I see,
        In darkness, not in light, awaiting thee;
        And with thee, with thee ... there, where yawneth plain
        A rift of the hills, raging with winter rain,
        Dead ... and outcast ... and naked.... It is I
        Beside my bridegroom; and the wild beasts cry,
        And ravin on God’s chosen!..._

        “_Mother, farewell, and weep not! O my sweet
        City, my earth-clad brethren, and thou great
        Sire that begat us; but a space, ye Dead,
        And I am with you; yea, with crownèd head
        I come, and shining from the fires that feed
        On these that slay us now, and all their seed._“[18]

Cassandra is led away to the Greek ships, no blessing to the toiling
mariners. For even their own gods are wrath at the crime against her;
and many a heart-breaking struggle is in store for them: many a noble
ship will be lost, and many a hero’s life will pay the penalty, before
their homes are reached. Perhaps to Agamemnon more than most, the
Deities of the Elements were kind. But then they knew the fate awaiting
him, and in ironic pleasure sped him to it. There is no need to recall
the details of his arrival at Mycenæ, or of his welcome by Clytemnestra,
almost distraught by conflicting hope and fear. Agamemnon was weary of
his voyage; weary, too, of the long steep chariot-drive up from the sea.
Yielding to his wife’s entreaty to walk on costly crimson to the palace,
he turns for an instant to Cassandra’s chariot.

                                “_Receive, I pray thee
          This stranger-woman kindly. Heaven still smiles,
          When power is used with gentleness. No mortal
          Is willingly a captive, but this maid,
          Of countless spoils the flower and crown, was given
          To me by the army, and attends me home._”[19]

The moment is crowded with emotion. For the briefest space—merely long
enough, in fact, to make the Trojan woman formally known to
Clytemnestra—these three strong spirits face each other. Cassandra,
wide-eyed and rigid, looks beyond the king and queen, beyond the
crowding people, at _something_ that her vision warns her is beyond the
palace doors. To Clytemnestra, her presence is an insult, and her purity
an intolerable reproach. There is one glance of bitterness and hatred
from the queen which Cassandra does not see; and then the insolent king
enters the palace, Clytemnestra following him. She returns immediately,
however, lashed to a fury in which her dignity goes to shreds.

CLY.         _In with thee too, Cassandra! Get thee in!
             Since Heaven in mercy hath consigned thee here
             To share our household lustral waters, one
             Of many slaves that stand around our hearth.
             Come from that carriage. Be not proud. Descend!_

The speech is cruel; and it has, moreover, an inner meaning which the
poor captive perceives only too well. She does not answer. She listens
in silence, too, when the Chorus address her; and when Clytemnestra,
with that crucial moment imminent, grows wild with impatience. “Sure she
is mad,” ejaculates the angry queen; “I’ll not demean myself by throwing
more words away.” Only when she has gone does Cassandra break silence;
and then by a wail which the sympathetic Elders cannot understand.

                “_Ai, Ai! O Apollo! Apollo!...
                Builder! Destroyer!
                Builder of Troy! Destroyer of me!_“[19]

The old men pity her, and try to calm her frenzy. She looks round on
them, as if awakening from a dream, and asks what house is this. They
reply that it is the Atridæ’s palace, and the word calls up to Cassandra
the long black record of the house of Atreus.

CASS.        _Ah! a hideous den, abhorred of Heaven,
             Guilt-stained with strangled lives.... Ah! faugh!_

CHO.         _Her scent is keen, this stranger’s! Like a hound
             She snuffs for blood. And she will find, I doubt me._[19]

In a long recital, Cassandra recounts the ancient crimes of the Atridæ;
and in dark oracular language moans that there is worse behind. The old
men are perplexed. They cannot follow her meaning, though over and over
again she struggles to make clear the doom that is even now about to

CASS.        _Ah! what is this? Oh me!
             What strange new grief is risen?
             A deed of might ..._
             _An act
             Of hate for love; and succour bides aloof,
             Far, far away._

CHO.         _This prophecy is dark to me...._

CASS.                                  ... _’Twill come,
             ‘Tis here! She lifts her hand; she launches at him
             Blow following blow!_

CHO.         _Thy speech appals me._

CASS.        _Woe! For my hapless doom!
             To fill the cup, I tell my own sad tale!
             Why hast thou brought me to this place? Oh misery!
             To die with thee? What else? To die!... To die!...
             Paris, thy wedding hath destroyed thy house,
             Yea, and thy sister!—O Scamander stream!
             Our fathers drank of thee and by thy shore
             I grew, I flourished. Oh unhappy I!
             But now by dark Cocytus and the banks
             Of Acheron, my prophecies shall sound._[19]

The Elders begin to understand; but still the drift of her message is
only partly clear to them. They realize that she is distraught, fearing
some dreadful fate for herself; they have, too, a glimmering fear of
danger to the king. But they cannot comprehend what it may be; and the
thought of succour never dawns upon their dull old wits. They speak
gently to Cassandra; but again her message seems to tear her with its
force and urgency.

           “_No longer, like a newly married girl,
           My word shall peep behind a veil, but, flashing
           With panted vehemence to meet the day,
           ‘Twill dash, against the shores of Light, a sorrow
           Of mightier volume._“[19]

Then, point by point, she goes with studied clarity over all the “trail
of long-past crime.” So long as this is her theme, the Elders understand
and confirm her words. But when, rising again on the wings of prophecy
and therefore to a rapt and obscure utterance, she foretells the fall of
Agamemnon and her own death, they are again at sea. She pauses for an
instant, baffled; she knows that her end is imminent, and in her despair
she casts stinging words at them for their stupidity and inaction. Never
has Apollo’s ban wrought so bitterly; and in the extremity of her
anguish she declares that she will call upon the god no longer. She
strips herself of the sacred emblems and flings them from her.

           “_Why wear I still these mockeries of my soul,
           This wand, these fillets round my neck? I tear ye
           Thus! Go to your destruction ere I die!
           To pieces with you! Lead the way! I follow!
           Enrich some other life with misery....
           I will go forward! I will dare to die!
           Hail, then, thou gate of Hell!_“[19]

She takes a few steps toward the palace; but her courage fails for a
moment. The reek of blood in her nostrils stifles her, and she recoils.
In her last words passion and strength alike fade out, giving place to a
pathetic human appeal:

                                   “_O strangers! friends!
             I shrink not idly, like some timorous bird
             Before a bush! Bear record in that day
             When I am dead...._“[19]

And the old men, as she passes slowly out of sight, wail over her what
is perhaps her most fitting epitaph:

           _Ah! what is mortal life? When prosperous,
           A shadow can o’erturn it; and, when fallen,
           A throw o’ the wet sponge blurs the picture out._


Footnote 17:

  From Mr Andrew Lang’s _Helen of Troy_ (G. Bell & Sons).

Footnote 18:

  From Professor G. Murray’s translation of the _Troades_ (George Allen
  & Co. Ltd.).

Footnote 19:

  From Professor Lewis Campbell’s translation of the _Agamemnon_
  (Clarendon Press).

_Æschylus: Io_

We turn now from the Trojan legend to that of Thebes. We are still in
the realm of Tragedy; and in some respects the Theban story is more
barbarous than that of Troy. But by some means the tension is slightly
relieved, and the atmosphere is lightened by one degree. Perhaps that is
because, in the dramas which treat of this subject, the poets seem to
have gone back further into the remote past and to have steeped
themselves in the spirit of those early times. Perhaps, too, it is on
account of something wilder and more primitive inherent in the Theban
story itself. Such elements, and such a treatment by the poets, would
tend to remove the persons of the drama a step further from probability,
and would make them to that extent greater or less than human. Thus
their appeal to the emotions would not be so direct, nor so intimate. On
the other hand, the figures so presented gain in sublimity. Their
mythical origin surrounds them with a halo, through which they loom
vast, mysterious, and inaccessible.

Such a being is Io. In the _Prometheus Bound_, the drama in which her
story is given, Æschylus has gone back for his subject literally to the
beginning of things; to the time when Zeus was young and the reign of
Chaos was not long overpast. We must be prepared then for a tale which
in its details is marvellous and incredible: for a naïve account of the
love of the supreme god for a mortal woman: of the anger of Hera, his
jealous queen: of the metamorphosis and long wanderings of the innocent
maid: and of her reward at last, when she becomes the ancestress of the
founder of Thebes, and ancestress too, in a remote generation, of
Heracles, the deliverer of Prometheus.

It is here that we touch Io’s connexion with the Theban legend, into
which as a fact she does not otherwise enter. For her son Epaphus,
wondrously born at the touch of the finger of Zeus, had two grandsons,
Cadmus and Cilix; and a granddaughter, Europa. The well-known legend
tells how Zeus, in the shape of a bull, carried off Europa. Whereupon
her two brothers went in search of their sister and wandered many a long
day. They did not recover her, however, and at length gave up the
search. Cilix settled down in a country which was called Cilicia after
him; and Cadmus, instructed by the oracle at Delphi, followed a straying
cow into Bœotia. On the spot where the animal should happen to lie down
he was commanded to found his city. But his task proved to be no light
one. For there was a dragon to be overcome; and a weird army, sprung
from the earth where the dragon’s teeth were sown, had to be vanquished
in battle before Cadmus could begin his work of founding the city of

This event, as we see, is only remotely connected with Io, although the
connexion is precise and clear. In point of time, if chronology is the
least use in such a case, it is several generations nearer to us than
she is. Yet we have only to cast one glance at the story of Cadmus to
see at once its youthful element of marvel. Its wonders are so crude as
almost to raise a smile—the half amused, half tender smile with which we
turn over in our hand some grotesque plaything of our childhood. It is
indeed only the humorous aspect of these old stories which seizes us
when we look back at them from a detached standpoint, and with minds
bent to the critical attitude. But that was not the poet’s attitude;
not, at least, when he was making poetry. Doubtless there must have been
moments when the Comic Spirit rebelled, since even poets do not live
alone by the emotions. But when tragedy first entered life’s deep waters
its captains bound the mischievous laughing spirit securely under
hatches. It could be of no service in such a stern battle with the

So we find that the tragic poets (except perhaps Euripides occasionally)
treat these strange old stories in what is called ‘the grand manner.’ Do
not be disturbed by something stiff and formal in the expression. Like
all definitions, it is smaller and harder than the thing it tries to
define. For the poet has not the least intention of being ‘grand,’ and
is as far as possible removed from any conscious ‘manner.’ On the
contrary, it is true as a rule that the greater he is, the simpler his
thought and expression are. He comes to these old themes with the eye
and the heart of a child as well as the brain of a great genius; and the
spirit of poetry, with all the knowledge of all the ages, utters its
message through his lips in limpid song. Matters of probability and
questions of logic, which seem so important to the mere intellect, bow
their chastened heads before him. The whole scheme of values is changed,
and that which appeared to the arrogant intellect as wild and ludicrous
is perceived by the poet full of strange beauty and significance.

In this way Sophocles approached the Theban legend, as we shall see when
we come to Jocasta and Antigone, presently. In this way, too, Æschylus
gave us the story of Io in his _Prometheus Bound_. Just when Io is
supposed to have lived we do not know. She is said to have been the
daughter of Inachus; and she was a priestess of Hera in Argos. But
Æchylus has made her coeval with the Titans. In this poem, therefore,
she is a denizen of that early world which saw the overthrow of Cronos
from the throne of heaven, and the rise of his son Zeus. All the Titans
save one had opposed the new god when he rose in rebellion against the
primeval powers. But Prometheus, far-seeing from the first, and knowing
that Zeus must conquer, lent him aid. It was a long and bitter struggle
in the youth of the world. But at last Cronos and the Titans who had
opposed him were hurled by Zeus into Tartarus—“under the misty
darkness ... in a dank place, at the verge of the earth.” Typhon was
buried under Etna; and Atlas, far in the West, was bowed beneath the
pillar of the heavens, “where night and day meet and greet one another,
as they pass the great threshold of bronze.”

All now seemed calm and fair for the establishment of the new Hierarchy.
Too calm and fair; for Zeus, with all his enemies subdued and possessing
absolute power, soon grew tyrannical. With leisure now from Olympian
warfare, he looked down upon the earth and the feeble race of men. It
seemed to him a contemptible thing, struggling weakly against pitiless
forces and groping its way, by minute degrees that were imperceptible
from his lofty height, toward a larger and a better state. It was a mean
and futile and impotent race, he pondered. Surely it would be better to
wipe it out of existence altogether, than let it continue to blot the
face of the fair world.

So concluded the youthful ruler of Olympus, in his haughty strength. But
Prometheus knew mankind better than Zeus. The hills and valleys of earth
were his kin, dear and familiar to him; and he had come to love the
imperfect human soul that had just managed to get itself born in those
rude cave-men. He saw the violent act that the Lord of Olympus was
planning in his mind; and resolved to save humanity. So, as the old poet
Hesiod says in his _Works and Days_, “he stole fire for men from Zeus
the Counsellor in a hollow fennel stalk, what time the Hurler of the
Thunder knew not.” But the boon to man meant sheer disaster to himself,
as he knew when he filched it from Olympus. The purpose of Zeus could
not be thwarted with impunity. Prometheus was condemned to age-long
punishment, chained to a rock on an icy mountain top until such time as
a deliverer should come, and an immortal being could be found willing to
give up life for him. The punishment of Prometheus is the subject of the
present drama. It is believed to have been the middle play of a trilogy,
of which the last was the _Prometheus Unbound_, and the first probably
related the bringing of fire to earth. The _Prometheus Bound_ is not
dramatic in the sense that the _Agamemnon_ and the _Choephorœ_ are.
There is hardly any action in it, for the suffering Titan continues
chained to his rock throughout the poem. From the nature of the theme,
too, the characters are too colossal and remote to make an intimate
appeal to us. Yet the drama is charged with the deepest emotion,
transcending the pity or fear of common experience. If it does not start
into life before our eyes as an actual conflict, that is because it is
rooted in a deeper and more crucial struggle between cosmic forces. And
if the persons of the drama are unapproachable and unfamiliar, it is
from the very reason of their sublimity. We see the protagonist first as
he is being riveted to the rocky wall by the god Hephæstus. The Fire-god
reluctantly performs the task, bidden to it roughly by Force, who is
invested for the moment with the strength of Zeus, but without his
dignity. Hephæstus is indignant at the sentence on his kinsman, the
titan, and declares that he has no heart to chain him in this stormy
mountain region, merely because of his beneficent help to man. But Force
is inexorable: he urges on the work until every limb of the titan is
secured, and an adamantine wedge is driven through his breast. When all
is accomplished, Prometheus is left alone; and then for the first time
he breaks silence. He invokes the elements that are his kindred: the
sky, the winds, the rivers, the smiling sea, the sun, the great

         “_See me tormented by the gods, a god!
         Behold me, what agony
         Through the measureless course of the ages
         Racked, I shall suffer;
         I by the upstart Ruler in heaven
         To captivity doomed and outrage.
         Woe, woe is me!...
                     ... Blessings, that on man
         I lavished, have involved me in this fate,
         And for that in a hollow fennel stalk
         I sought and stored and stole the fount of flame,
         Whence men all arts have learned, a potent help._“[1]

While Prometheus is speaking, there gather softly round him the gentle
sea-nymphs who are to be the chorus of the drama. They question him
tenderly, in words that fall like balm, and elicit all his story. It is
pitiable, they say, and they marvel at the penalty which Zeus imposes on
so kind a creature.

Presently Oceanus himself, god of the dreadful river that circles the
world, approaches in his chariot. He is old and grave and prudent. The
action of Prometheus seems to him rash and daring: his opposition to
Zeus mere pride. He advises the titan to yield, since it is expedient to
bow to the superior power. But Prometheus fiercely rejects such timid
counsel. Nothing shall shake his resistance to the tyrant, and Oceanus
may spare his breath. Let him go save himself: as for Prometheus, he
will endure until it shall please Zeus to relent.

Hot words pass. Oceanus tries in vain to teach prudence to the high
heart of the titan, and departs angrily. Then the sea-nymphs sing a
sweet song of pity; and Prometheus, touched to a softer mood, begs them
not to think him hard and proud. Only, the thought of his wrongs is
intolerable, received at the hand of one whom he himself had helped to
place upon the throne of Olympus. And what had been his crime? None. His
hands are clean: his integrity absolute. His sufferings are an amazing
injustice: the price of beneficent deeds to humanity that he tells over
to the wondering maids.

          “_I will recount you, how, mere babes before,
          With reason I endowed them and with mind ...
          Who, firstly, seeing, knew not what they saw,
          And hearing did not hear; confusedly passed
          Their life-days, lingeringly, like shapes in dreams,
          Without an aim; and neither sunward homes,
          Brick-woven, nor skill of carpentry, they knew;
          But lived, like small ants shaken with a breath,
          In sunless caves a burrowing buried life:
                                  ... The hidden lore
          Of rising stars and setting I unveiled.
          I taught them Number, first of sciences;
          I framed the written symbols into speech,
          Art all-recording, mother of the Muse:
          I first put harness on dumb patient beasts ...
          That they might lighten men of heavy toil,
          I taught to draw the car and love the rein
          Horses, crown of the luxury of wealth.
          And who but I invented the white-winged
          Sea-roving chariot of the mariner?_

          “_For mortals such contrivances I found,
          But for myself alas no wit have I,
          Whereby to rid me of my present pain._”[20]

So he continues to narrate all that he had achieved for the welfare of
man: how he had taught him Medicine, Prophecy and Augury; and had
brought to light the treasure of precious metals that lay hidden within
the earth. Indeed, as the long recital falls from his lips, we know that
the poet has symbolized in him all the great civilizing influences on

But the sea-nymphs, though they sympathize with his sorrow, cannot rise
to the height of his thought. To them mankind is a “fleeting, dream-like
race,” unworthy of the sacrifice that he has made. They chide him
gently. Why has he dared the wrath of Zeus, and why will he bear the
weary ages of torture for such a people? The beauty of the lyric casts a
spell upon us. The thought of the long-drawn agony, endured from century
to century, makes us waver. Might he not have been misguided? Was Zeus
right, perhaps? And would not the titan be wise to make peace with so
powerful a ruler?

Thus the softer mood of the sea-maidens wins upon us. Viewed through it,
the resistance of Prometheus begins to look like stubborn self-will; and
the decree of Zeus a righteous chastisement. But just as the feeling is
gathering strength an episode occurs which reverses the current of
emotion. For there rushes suddenly on the desolate scene a strange wild
creature, half woman and half beast. Under the curling heifer’s horns
there is a fair white brow; and below the brow sweet human eyes,
distraught with fear and pain. This is Io, the maid beloved by Zeus.
Cast out of her home by the god’s command, she has been chased from the
society of her kind, and her fair woman form has been partly changed to
bestial shape. For many a weary league she has been goaded onward by the
gadfly of Hera; and even now she is haunted by the wraith of Argus, the
huntsman of the hundred eyes whom the angry goddess had set to watch
her. Good and beautiful she had been, her serene life gladly given to
the service of Hera in an Argive temple. Yet now she is doomed to wander
restlessly over sea and land, through sun and storm, and by many an
unknown lonely path, without apparent aim and for no apparent cause. As
her feet stumble up the mountain side and she stands before Prometheus,
innocent and mercilessly persecuted, we feel that the moment is crowded
with all the elements of tragedy. If we had wavered before, standing on
that ridge of neutral ground where the cool airs of reason calm the
passions; if the poet meant that we should waver for a moment, giving us
in his unifying purpose some perception of the higher power as it would
ultimately justify itself; he plunges us now into the arena again, with
every emotion clamant to defend these victims of tyranny.

As they confront each other, Io speaks, forgetting her own griefs for
the moment in contemplation of the suffering titan.

              “_What land, what people is here?
              Whom shall I say that I see,
              Rock-pinioned yonder,
              To penance of a living death
              What crime hath doomed thee?
              Tell me, thou luckless one,
              Where have I wandered?_

              “_Ah me, alas, unhappy!
              Frenzied again as by the gadfly’s sting,
              The fatal herdsman with the myriad eyes,
              The giant Argus, I behold ...
              Me he pursues, the unhappy,
              Over sandy leagues of the waste seashore....
              Whither alas, ah woe is me
              When shall my wandering end?_

              “_What, O what was the sin in me,
              O son of Cronos, that thou didst find?
              Why hast thou doomed me thus to suffer
              By the gadfly’s goad still onward driven,
              Weary of fleeing, distraught with dread?...
              Enough I have wandered—
              Wandered afar till my strength is spent;
              And still from my doom escape is none.
              Dost thou mark my speech?
              The hornèd maiden hearest thou?_“[20]

Prometheus does indeed hear and know her, he says, the poor frenzied
daughter of Inachus, whom Zeus loves. As he speaks her father’s name, Io
catches at it eagerly. Perhaps this may be a friend.

IO.          _Who told thee of my sire?
             Tell me, the sufferer—who art thou,
             That thou hast named aright
             One wretched as thyself?..._

PROM.        _This is Prometheus, who gave fire to men._

IO.          _Of all our human kind, proved helper thou,
             Ill-starred Prometheus—what hath earned thee this?_[20]

In rapid interchange of question and answer, the cause of the quarrel,
and its consequence, are related to Io; and then, because she knows that
Prometheus can foresee the future, she begs him to tell her what is in
store for herself. The titan warns her that the knowledge can only bring
fresh pain; and for awhile the prophecy is delayed, as Io, at the
petition of the nymphs, tells her own strange story.

IO.          _Your will is law to me; I must obey.
             ... Albeit I blush to tell.
             Haunting my virgin chamber, night by night,
             Came visions to beguile me while I slept
             With fair smooth words: “O maiden highly blest,
             Be maiden now no more; to whom ‘tis given
             To mate thee with the Highest; thy beauty’s shaft
             Glows in the heart of Zeus, and for his bride
             He claims thee.”_[20]

Her father Inachus sent anxious messages to the oracles at Delphi and
Dodona to inquire what this persistent vision might mean. At first
ambiguous answers came.

           _But at the last to Inachus there came
           A peremptory word, with mandate clear,
           To cast me from my country and my home,
           At the world’s end a wanderer far from men;
           And, if he would not, swift from Zeus should come
           A fiery bolt that should consume his race._[20]

With sorrowful heart, Inachus obeyed the oracular command, constrained
thereto by Zeus. Io was driven out to the pastures of her father’s

       _Then was my feature changed, my reason fled:
       Wearing these horns ye see, with frenzied hounds,
       Pricked and tormented by the gadfly’s sting,
       To fair Kerchneia’s stream and Lerna’s shore
       I hasted. And upon my traces still,
       Of rage unslaked, with myriad eyes agaze,
       The earth-born huntsman Argus followed hard.
       Him unawares a sudden death o’ertook,
       And reft him of his life. From land to land,
       Heaven’s scourge, the unsleeping gadfly, drives me still.
       My tale is told. What time has yet in store
       For me to suffer, tell me if thou canst:
       Not pitying think with lies to comfort me:
       False words I count of maladies the worst._[20]

Io is asking more than she knows, and the prophecy that Prometheus will
make to her is more wonderful than she could ever dream. In careful
detail, and so impressively that she must remember every word, he
indicates the first part of her wanderings. She must turn her face
eastward, and faring through Scythia, pass along the sea-coast, avoiding
the fierce Chalybes. Then on wearily to the range of the Caucasus, which
she must ascend to the very summit; and following afterward a southward
road, she will come to the land of the Amazons and down to the sea which
separates the continents. Here she must boldly ford the strait, which in
later times will be called Bosphorus because she, the cow-maiden,
crossed it; and leaving Europe behind, she will tread on Asian soil.

PROM.                        _... Deem ye not
             That this proud lord of heaven on great and small
             Tramples alike? For this poor mortal maid,
             Enamoured of her love, his godhead dooms
             To wander thus. Thy most imperious wooer,
             Maiden, thou well mayst rue. What I have told,
             Deem that the prelude hardly hast thou heard._

IO.          _Woe’s me, alas, alas!...
             What boots it then to live? Were it not better
             From this hard rock to fling myself outright,
             That dashed to earth I might of all my toil
             Have riddance? Better surely once to die.
             Than all my days to be afflicted thus._[20]

But Prometheus, looking further still into the future, sees some hope
for her, as he contrasts her fate with his. However great her
affliction, it must end some day; he can even foretell just what the
issue will be, and when. But for him, suffering must continue until Zeus
is hurled from his throne.

IO.          _Shall Zeus indeed be downcast from his throne?_

PROM.        _To see that day methinks thou wouldst rejoice._

IO.          _How could I but rejoice, whom he has wronged?_[20]

She begs for a revelation of the fate of Zeus; and the titan tells
briefly of a certain marriage that the god is contemplating, which must
bring him ruin if Prometheus will not interpose.

IO.          _Who then shall loose thee in despite of Zeus?_

PROM.        _One of thine own descendants he shall be._

IO.          _How? shall a child of mine deliver thee?_

PROM.        _Ten generations hence, and three beside._

IO.          _Now hard to read the prophecy becomes._[20]

Io’s mind cannot take so great a leap forward; and Prometheus, resuming
the course of her wanderings in Asia, gradually leads up to the climax
of her story. Having crossed the strait, she is again to bend her steps
eastward. Through the land of the Gorgons she must go, and of the
Griffins, and of Phorcy’s daughters, the three hags with one eye and one
tooth between them. On the golden shores of Pluto she will see an army
of one-eyed horsemen, whom she must carefully avoid; and toiling onward
still, she must follow the course of the river Ethiopia far up to its
very source. Then, at Canopus, a town upon the shores of distant Nile,
she will find rest.

So is completed the tale of Io’s wanderings. And now, before Prometheus
reveals the strangest thing of all, he would convince her that he is
speaking truth indeed. So he recalls to her mind a marvel that had
happened on her way thither, but which she had not spoken when she
related her story.

PROM.        _To the Molossian plains when thou hadst come,...
             And to Dodona’s rock-ridge, to the seat
             And sacred oracle of Thesprotian Zeus,
             Famed for its marvel of the talking oaks,
             That with clear voice and nowise doubtfully
             Hailed thee (sounds this familiar to thine ears?)
             The glorious bride of Zeus in days to come._[20]

The weird music of the oaks came back to her as the titan spoke, phrased
intelligibly now. It had haunted all her journey, but confusedly,
hinting at something she could not clearly understand, and dared not
name. But in the words of Prometheus its meaning pealed. Becoming in
that far Eastern country the bride of the ruler of Olympus, she would
found a splendid race. From her the Danaans would spring, one root of
that Hellenic people which should civilize the Western world. She would
give a line of kings to the Argive throne. But greater and more blessed
than all, from her should come the supreme Greek hero Heracles, destined
to release this suffering titan from his misery.

As she muses on the wonder of it, Prometheus takes up again the thread
of his prophecy. In that rich land which borders on the Nile she may at
last stay her weary feet.

        “_There shall the hand of Zeus, with soft caress
        Upon thee laid, restore thee to thy mind:
        And thou shalt bear, named of his fruitful touch,
        A son, swart Epaphus, whom all that land,
        By the broad Nile-stream watered, shall enrich...._“[20]

From Io’s son Epaphus should descend, generations afterward, a princess.

            “_’The royal line of Argos springs from her.
            Time fails to tell the story to its close:
            But of her strain one valiant shall be born,
            And famous with the bow; he from these ills
            Shall loose me.’ Thus the titaness, my mother,
            Primeval Themis, prophesied to me,
            But of the ways and means too long it were
            To tell thee, and it profits not to know._“[20]

To immortal eyes, seeing the end in the beginning, it was a glorious
destiny; one to compensate perhaps, if not to justify, all that she had
endured. But Io is only a mortal maid. The vision of the future opens
before her in one radiant moment, and then all is dark again, and
nothing remains but her inexplicable pain. Even before Prometheus has
finished speaking the cloud had fallen upon her mind again.

                “_Alas! Woe worth the day!
                Again a thrill, a spasm of frenzy
                Shoots through me, soul-distracting:
                The unforged goad of the gadfly
                Stings me afresh; and my seated heart
                Knocks at my ribs for fear,
                My sight swims, and my senses reel;
                And a frantic gust of madness sweeps me
                Wide of the course...._”[20]

Tormented and distracted, she rushes from the scene as wildly as she had
come; but as the titan and the sea-nymphs sadly watch her go, they see
that her face is set now toward the East.


Footnote 20:

  From Mr Robert Whitelaw’s translation of the _Prometheus_ (Clarendon
  Press, 1s. net).

_Sophocles: Jocasta_

Jocasta, in _Œdipus the King_ of Sophocles, is a very real woman.
Moreover, though she is a splendidly dramatic figure, she is not heroic
in anything save her death. True, she is a queen, deriving royalty
through several generations from Cadmus himself; and possessing the
throne of Thebes so surely that when the king her husband died she had
perforce to marry with his successor in order to establish him in the
kingship. But despite her special royalty, which makes her, as Professor
Murray has pointed out, like one of the consecrated queens of early
times: despite the extreme deference which is paid to her, the weight
that attaches to her counsel, and the sense of brooding fate that clings
about her, she is before all an appealing and convincing human creature.

This vivid reality is a new fact in our study of Greek heroines, and the
reason for it is that we have come now to the Drama of Sophocles. We
have seen, so far, the women of Homer and those of Æschylus; and we have
observed one or two characteristics which distinguish them.

The Homeric women are gracious and beautiful, glowing as it were with
romantic charm. With one notable exception, Penelope, they appear rarely
in the movement of the epic; and then only to form the central figure in
a picturesque group. Reality has never touched them. Generous as their
emotions are, the extremes of passion have not for an instant distorted
their loveliness. When they are called upon to act, they seem always to
move with grace and gentleness; and even in their sorrow they are
serene. If they share in the great stern things of life, its aspiration
and its struggle, they give no sign of the penalty exacted. They are
always young, fresh and fair; except again Penelope, and she has only
gained from age, not lost. A wise maturity has been added to her early
charms. And thus these Homeric women, with their delicate infrangible
bloom, seem to belong to a region just over the boundary-line of our
common humanity.

The women of Æschylus are much greater figures. Clytemnestra is
colossal: Cassandra, Electra and Io are all conceived majestically.
Unlike the Epic women, they are capable of strenuous action: strong
passions sway them, and they are much concerned with the great issues of
life. We know little or nothing about their appearance, and it does not
seem to matter. They do not live in our mental vision pictorially, in
soft, warm tints; but remotely grand, they appeal to a more austere
sense of wonder, awe and reverence. Surrounded by an atmosphere of myth,
and sharing in the elevation of the poet’s spirit, they seem to be
creatures of an older and a bigger world.

There is indeed one woman in the Æschylean Drama, Orestes’ nurse, who is
of ordinary stature and might belong to any age. But she is of minor
importance in the story, and does not move on the heroic plane. She is
therefore beyond the range of that sublimating power of the poetic
spirit which magnified the heroes and heroines to immense proportions.
And as she stands in the clear daylight outside the enchanted circle she
is just an old grey woman taken straight out of common life. But for
that very reason there is a hearty, homely breath about her which is
very refreshing. She is but a nurse: she is quaint and querulous in her
talk, inept, wordy and reminiscent; and peevishly loyal. Yet in her very
weakness and foolishness she is precious, for is she not a flash from
the eyes of the Comic Spirit, naïvely unconscious of its august
surroundings? We feel that we can actually see and hear her, as she
gabbles about Orestes’ babyhood and how she tended him; being nurse,
cook, foster-mother and washerwoman all combined. But she is unique
among Æschylean women, and when we turn to look again on the figures of
his heroines, a thought is suggested by the extreme contrast. Here is
creative genius so strong that it has evoked on the one hand the
grandeur of a Clytemnestra; and on the other, the biting reality of this
old slave. But there does not seem to have been an equivalent artistic
power which, controlling the fervid idealism and combining it with his
keen insight, would have produced types more fully and completely human.

Such types we find first when we come to the Drama of Sophocles. With
Æschylus the ruling passion had been spiritual fervour. In Sophocles the
artist reigned paramount. All the advance which his drama made, in plot,
incident and character-building, was in the direction of a more perfect
art. And although there was some inevitable loss—as for instance the
curtailment of the lyrics by modifying the part of the Chorus; and their
lower poetic flight—on the whole the gain is very great. In the matter
of characterization, with which we are chiefly concerned, the change is
one which brings us out of the region of demi-gods into the world of men
and women.

When we say that the persons of Sophocles’s drama are real people, that
is not to say that they are ‘realistic’ in the narrow sense of the word
which conveys only what is average and actual. But it does mean that
with all their splendour and dignity and fine achievement they are
subject to our common humanity. They are not immune from the defects of
their virtues. The passions which have led them to great deeds are
potent agents of their downfall. It is the flaw within which helps to
betray them.

For this reason, and also because the poet shows his characters moving
in intimate human relationships, the women of Sophocles are intensely
living creatures. Electra in her conflict with Chrysothomis, and
Antigone with Ismene, are of the stuff of life; and the situations thus
created are pure drama. Here two great natures clash. Closely bound by
the ties of blood and affection, but at the opposite poles of
temperament, the struggle between them is all the more bitter from the
intimacy of their relationship. Both claim our esteem and both are
sincerely confident in the purity of their intentions. But each
mistrusts the other, believing her to be fatally misguided or wilfully
blind. It is by this faculty of seeing all sides of an issue, or, as
Matthew Arnold expressed it, “to see life steadily and see it whole,”
that Sophocles has heightened and deepened the dramatic values of a
story. Out of that, too, he has made Jocasta, with all her state and
despite the unnatural horror with which she is touched, a pitiable

Here again two noble natures, near and very dear to each other, are
brought into conflict. In this case, however, there is an added element
of tragic irony which increases the dramatic power threefold. For we
know, as we watch the tender comradeship of Œdipus and Jocasta, that
there is this sinister thing in the background, ready to flame out at
any instant and make them loathsome in each other’s eyes. And the moment
when the shameful truth is revealed, literally dragged to light by
Œdipus to his own undoing, is perhaps the most awful in Greek tragedy.

The story belongs to the Theban cycle, of which we have already heard.
It is older than Homer, who calls Jocasta _Epicasta_; and it had many
variants. In the Eleventh Book of the _Odyssey_ there is the quaint
epitome of it which the hero gives when he is describing his visit to
the World of the Dead. Among the shades which throng there he sees

            “_And then beheld I Epicasta fair,
            Oedipus’ mother, her who unaware
            Did a strange deed through ignorance of mind,
            To intermarry with the son she bare._

            “_And he his mother wedded, having slain
            His father: and these things the Gods made plain
            To all men suddenly; then he among
            The folk Cadmean held a troublous reign,_

            “_In lovely Thebes, according to the fate
            By purpose of the Gods predestinate
            For evil: but she went her way alone
            To the strong Warder of the darkling gate._“[21]

This version agrees in the main with that of Sophocles, and points to
the antiquity of the story. Even in those early times the fate of
Jocasta and Œdipus was part of an ancient myth. Like the story of Io,
remote ancestress of the founder of their city, it is a tale of wrong
wrought upon mortals by a god. Perhaps it is not so primitive as the Io
legend. There is nothing in it quite so naïve as the idea of the
heifer-maiden loved by the supreme god and mercilessly hunted by his
jealous queen. The Olympian hierarchy is now established, with its
system of greater and lesser gods, and Zeus at their head has grown, in
accordance with the theory of Æschylus, wiser with age. Apollo is now
the persecutor. And with the development in the divine order goes a
corresponding complexity in the human elements of the story. The actors
in it are the instruments of their own suffering. The inimical power is
not now frank tyranny. Its victims even believe it to be friendly, or at
least placable; and it is by their own deeds that the decree against
them is brought to pass. Yet this apparent advance still leaves the
story in a dark past, far behind the poets. And there are some aspects
of it—the curse fulfilled by Œdipus of parricide and incest; and the
stark unreason with which it was regarded—which make us feel that the
primitive age has only just given place to one of gross superstition.

The essence of the tragedy lies in the double fact of Apollo’s hostility
to Œdipus and Jocasta and their ignorance of it. When Laius and Jocasta
were young upon the throne of Thebes they prayed to Apollo to give them
a son. The oracle at Delphi replied to Laius, “I will give thee a son,
but it is doomed that thou leave the sunlight by the hands of thy
child.” Thus the decree was launched.

Laius and Jocasta trembled at the doom, and considered how it might be
averted. When their son was born, they took a cruel and desperate means
to save its father’s life. Three days after his birth they handed over
the babe to a herdsman, to be exposed on Mt. Kithairon. And first they
pierced his heels, to ensure his death. So Jocasta, out of love for her
husband and fear of the oracle, brought herself to a deed which poisoned
all her life. Yet it was of no avail against fate. For the man who took
her babe had pity on it; and meeting a friendly herdsman who was in the
service of Polybus, king of Corinth, he gave the child to him. Polybus
and his queen Merope were childless; and the herdsman believed that they
would welcome the little foundling. He was not mistaken: calling him
Œdipus from his swelled feet, they brought him up as their son.

All went well until the boy had grown into manhood. Then one day a young
companion, heated with wine, flung out a taunt about his birth. Œdipus,
fully believing himself to be the son of Polybus and Merope, went to
them with the story. They chastised the offender, but their replies to
Œdipus’ questions left a doubt of his parentage rankling in his mind. He
determined to satisfy himself once for all by an appeal to Apollo; and
he travelled to Delphi to inquire of the oracle in person. The reply was
terrible, and, unlike most oracular utterances, seemed only too clear.
He was doomed, it said, to slay his father and marry with his mother.
But the most vital point, the names of his parents, was not revealed;
and Œdipus, still believing them to be Polybus and Merope, vowed never
again to set foot in Corinth while they were living. So he hoped to
avoid his doom; and he set out alone, along the road to Bœotia, and

Now it happened that just about that time Thebes was afflicted by a
strange monster. It was the Sphinx, sent by Hera to prey upon the city.
Sitting upon a neighbouring hill, she claimed the life of every man who
could not read her riddle—“What is the creature which is two-footed,
three-footed and four-footed; and weakest when it has most feet?” No one
could find the answer; and Thebes daily paid the toll of life to the
monster. The people were in despair, when Laius the king set out to seek
counsel at Delphi. Thus the unknown father and son were hourly
approaching each other from east and west. Laius was accompanied by only
four attendants. When his party came to a narrow pass in Phokis, at a
place where three roads met, a young man appeared in the path before
them. The slaves of Laius were insolent, and the young man’s blood was
hot. A quarrel ensued. Three of the attendants were struck down; and
Laius himself, aiming at the stranger from his chariot, was killed by a
single blow. Œdipus had unwittingly slain his father; and the first part
of the curse had fallen.

The fourth attendant of Laius, the very man who had given away Jocasta’s
babe years before to the Corinthian herdsman, fled for his life. Arrived
at Thebes, he reported the death of the king. But he feared to tell the
whole truth: he dared not admit that he and his fellows had been
overcome by one man; and he gave out that Laius had been slain by a band
of robbers.

Meantime, Œdipus continued his wanderings; and some time afterward he
came to Thebes. He found the city still harassed by the Sphinx, who
seized her victims daily from among the Theban people. He learned too
that their king had been killed by robbers whilst on a journey; and that
the old prophet Tiresias, who should have been able to advise the people
at such a crisis, was helpless. The young stranger seized his
opportunity. He faced the Sphinx and solved her riddle, triumphantly
naming the creature of her question to be Man. Whereupon she flung
herself down from the hill on which she was stationed; and the people of
Thebes at last had rest from their tormentor. They hailed Œdipus with
joy; and in their gratitude they named him king in succession to Laius.

But the new king could not put aside the queen who already occupied the
throne. Indeed, by a custom of those old times, he could not rightly
become the king unless she married him. He had proved himself to the
Theban people brave and wise, a ruler to be desired. Consideration for
her people inclined Jocasta to him, and besides, he seemed to her just
and kind. But more than all, there hung about him, in his carriage or
his manner, something which brought a fleeting memory of Laius, and
warmed her heart to him. So she consented that he should be her husband.

The curse on Œdipus was now complete. In perfect innocence, and though
he had striven to keep his hands clean from the horror, he had slain his
father and married with his mother. Yet no shadow of the truth fell on
him. There were in Thebes two persons to whom it was known, or partly
known. One was that slave born in Laius’s household who had given the
infant prince to the herdsman from Corinth; and who had fled for his
life when his master was killed at the cross-roads in Phokis. The other
was the blind old prophet Tiresias. But neither spoke of what they knew.
The slave kept silence from loyalty; and coming to the queen soon after
her marriage, he besought her earnestly to send him back to serve in
outland parts. Tiresias was merely prudent; and thought it best to bide
the time of the god.

For many years no sign came. Jocasta and Œdipus, loving each other and
beloved by their people, reigned happily in Thebes; Creon, Jocasta’s
brother, sharing equally in the honour which was paid to them. Four
children were born to the king and queen: two sons, named Eteocles and
Polynices; and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. Life flowed so
smoothly now that painful memories grew faint. Œdipus had almost
forgotten the menace that rang in his ears at Delphi twelve years
before; and Jocasta, though she would never forget that early act of
cruelty, was not haunted so persistently now by the thought of her
first-born. It seemed almost that Apollo had relented; that having
fulfilled the letter of the doom, he had taken pity on the victims, and
would leave them in happy ignorance. But he, too, was only waiting for a
fitting moment—till Thebes should be most flourishing and Œdipus should
have reached the top of fame. Then the blow fell. A sudden plague was
sent upon the city, which ravaged all life like a blight. Flocks
sickened; the harvest failed; and human creatures died in thousands,
while Œdipus looked on, sore at heart for their misery, but powerless to

At this point of the story, Sophocles has opened the _Œdipus, King of
Thebes_. The scene is before the royal palace, where a crowd of
suppliants has gathered to implore the aid of the king. Œdipus comes out
in person to receive them, and listens patiently while the old priest
petitions him on their behalf. They have pathetic faith in him. There
can be no doubt that he has power to succour them, for did he not of old
save Thebes from the Sphinx? Perhaps too there is a touch of deeper
meaning in their act, a hint of that duty laid on early kings, to die
for their people in case of need. They come to lay on him the burden of
the whole land’s sorrow. Œdipus answers them pityingly.

            “_My poor, poor children! Surely long ago
            I have read your trouble. Stricken, well I know,
            Ye all are, stricken sore: yet verily
            Not one so stricken to the heart as I._“[22]



  _Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I._

There has appeared to him only one hope; and days before he had grasped
at it. He had sent Creon to Apollo’s House in Delphi, to inquire of the
god what great thing the king must do to save his people. When the
answer comes, he vows that he will not flinch. Whatever task Apollo may
command, no matter how bitter, it shall be performed.

Even while Œdipus speaks shouts are heard announcing Creon’s return; and
presently he delivers before them all the answer of the god.

                                 “_Thus saith
           Phoebus, our Lord and Seer, in clear command:
           ‘An unclean thing there is, hid in our land,
           Eating the soil thereof: this ye shall cast
           Out, and not foster till all help be past’._“[22]

But what is the unclean thing that is polluting the city? Œdipus does
not know that it is himself; and he questions Creon until the oracular
command seems clear to him—to hunt out and banish the murderers of
Laius. The task seems hopeless. How is it possible, after all these
years, to find the men who slew the king? But the oracle has said
explicitly that it must be done; that they are still alive within the
city; and Œdipus unhesitatingly takes the task upon him.

An assembly of the people is commanded, and Œdipus publicly makes known
to them his purpose of tracking the murderers. In a great speech, full
of tragic irony, he claims their help in his search. They are Thebans
born; but he, a stranger to their town in those days when Laius was
killed, had never seen the king. It is for them to seek and render up
the men who murdered him. He calls upon them solemnly to reveal what
they may know. They need not fear that harm will come to them, for he
will promise to befriend the man who does this service to the State. He
pauses. But there is of course no answer. Again he appeals to them,
growing indignant now, because he believes that they are wilfully
shielding the guilty. Will they not speak out, and save their city? Then
he will make a decree against them. For those who refuse to denounce the
murderers, they shall be outcast and shelterless, and none shall succour
them in living or in dying. For those who will not lend him their active
aid in his search, Nature herself shall frown upon them and deny them
every blessing; whilst on the man himself who slew the king, the most
awful curse shall fall.

                                   “_Even as his soul
               Is foul within him let his days be foul,
               And life unfriended grind him till he die.
               More: if he ever tread my hearth and I
               Know it, be every curse upon my head
               That I have spoke this day._”[22]

As Œdipus, unconscious of what he is doing, invokes this terrible curse
upon himself, a blind old man is slowly led in. He is the prophet
Tiresias, for whom Œdipus has sent at the suggestion of Creon. He is the
only mortal being who knows all the truth; and under peril of the ban
that Œdipus has just proclaimed: in virtue of his office, he must needs
proclaim it. How will he strike the blow at the great good king? By his
sacred calling, and his great age, and his knowledge of the mesh of fate
in which Œdipus has been caught, he should be merciful. But as we watch
him we have strange doubts. It is not so much that he is unshorn, ragged
and unclean; we have learned to be familiar with such things in these
hermit-seers of an early age. But there is something in the lowering
brow and twitching mouth that hints of an untamed soul in the unkempt
body; and knowing the passionate heart of Œdipus himself, we tremble for
the issue.

At first it would seem that our fears are groundless. Œdipus, who is
calmer now, greets the prophet with profound respect; and laying bare
the oracle, he begs most humbly for Tiresias’s help.

The prophet is calm too, awed by the thought of all that is impending.
He answers hesitatingly at first, almost with a touch of pity and
regret. He does know who is the murderer of Laius, but—he dare not, he
cannot tell. Such a reply could only have one effect upon the tremendous
anxiety of the king. Rendered helpless by his ignorance, his own keen
wit cannot avail him one iota. He has perforce to ask and ask of these
ineffectual creatures around him, only to be thrown back baffled again
and again. For one moment he puts a curb upon his rising anger, as he
tells Tiresias that his answer is not kind; and casting away all pride
and dignity, he kneels at the prophet’s feet. But when in sullen words
which give no light Tiresias doggedly replies that he will not speak,
Œdipus’s wrath leaps out at him. Surely this man who knows God’s truth
and will not declare it is no prophet, but a devil. And is it not
probable therefore that he himself has had some hand in the murder of
Laius? As the words fall, there is a sudden and malign change in
Tiresias; and the dreadful truth which could not be won from him by
entreaty, flashes out pitilessly in anger.

         “_So?—I command thee by thine own word’s power,
         To stand accurst, and never from this hour
         Speak word to me, nor yet to those who ring
         Thy throne._ Thou art thyself the unclean thing.”[22]

But such a wild utterance, smiting through a tempest of passion, carries
no shade of conviction to Œdipus. It is but a horrible insult, which
this old man, because he is feeble, thinks he may launch with impunity.
Not until it has been thrice repeated does the full significance of it
break upon him. Then a suspicion flashes into his mind. This is
doubtless some conspiracy against him, prompted by Creon, the brother of
his queen, to gain the throne. The foolish improbability of such a plot
will not bear reflection for a moment; but the king’s impulsive nature
is goaded by rage and mistrust. He turns fiercely upon Tiresias and
roundly charges him with conspiring against his life.

The prophet retorts with an emphatic denial, but he is not content to
stop there. In cold malignance, he repeats his foul accusation against
the king, seeming to gloat over every word of the hideous charge and the
penalty which his prophetic vision sees that the gods will exact from

                      “_Blind, who once had seeing eyes,
            Beggared, who once had riches, in strange guise,
            His staff groping before him, he shall crawl
            O’er unknown earth._“[22]

To the infuriated king this frightful menace, like the crimes of which
he is accused, seems to be the mere raving of madness; and he deigns no
answer. The old man is led away; Œdipus enters the palace; and in the
pause that follows the Chorus muse over the scene. They are bewildered
and torn by doubt. They may not disbelieve the seer, but they cannot and
will not believe that their beloved king has been guilty of deeds so
vile. As they sing, Creon rushes on indignant; and he is followed a
moment afterward by Œdipus. Here at last is an opportunity to strike out
against the deadly thing which seems closing in around him. Creon is no
old and blind opponent, before whose weakness his hands are tied; but a
man of equal strength and rank whom, in his rashness, he believes to be
his bitter enemy. Without a word of prelude or explanation, Œdipus
flings down the gauntlet; and declares Creon, his comrade and the
brother of his wife, to be a traitor. The charge is false and foolish,
to every mind but that of the overwrought king. But reason cannot sway
him now; Creon’s protests are futile, and his proofs of innocence mere
words bereft of meaning. This knave who has plotted against him must
die, and quickly, before his schemes can take effect. In vain Creon
pleads for justice: in vain the leader of the Chorus tries to stem the
king’s anger, With a rallying cry to his guards, Œdipus draws his sword
upon Creon. But as he springs to the blow there suddenly appears in the
doorway of the palace, Jocasta the queen. An immediate silence falls:
weapons are lowered; and the queen advances slowly to the top of the
palace steps. The Chorus move back, leaving Œdipus and Creon standing
alone before her. She looks reproachfully into one shamed face after
another and then, with gentle dignity, she speaks:

            “_Vain men, what would ye with this angry swell
            Of words heart-blinded? Is there in your eyes
            No pity, thus, when all our city lies
            Bleeding, to ply your privy hates?... Alack,
            My lord, come in! Thou, Creon, get thee back
            To thine own house. And stir not to such stress
            Of peril griefs that are but nothingness._“[22]

There is authority in her tone and in her words, none the less
compelling because of the tender humanity below them. It calms the
disputants: and as they recount to her the cause of the quarrel,
emotions ebb and leave the cold facts, hard and ugly. It is clear that
Œdipus has been rash in his accusations; and Jocasta counsels him to
accept the oath of loyalty that Creon offers. Then, when the peace is
made, and she and Œdipus remain alone, she begs him to tell her all that
has happened. Œdipus sums the cause of the brawl in a few words—he
believes that Creon is plotting against his life, by accusing him,
through the instrumentality of Tiresias the seer, of the murder of
Laius. At the mention of the seer there is a flash of scorn in Jocasta’s
eyes, followed by a shadow of pain, as memory brings back the time when
she trusted in the vain words of a prophet to her sorrow.

             “_The seer?—Then tear thy terrors like a veil
             And take free breath. A seer? No human thing
             Born on the earth hath power for conjuring
             Truth from the dark of God.
                                         Come, I will tell
             An old tale._“[22]

She recounts the story of the oracle that came to Laius, declaring that
he should die by the hand of his son; and of the terrible means that
they had taken to frustrate it, casting out their child to die upon the

                     “_Thus did we cheat
       Apollo of his will. My child could slay
       No father, and the King could cast away
       The fear that dogged him, by his child to die
       Murdered.—Behold the fruits of prophecy!
       Which heed not thou! God needs not that a seer
       Help him, when he would make his dark things clear._“[22]

As Jocasta speaks, we feel that time has not yet healed her wound. The
thought of that unnatural deed of her young motherhood, is still so
horrible to her that though she tries she cannot tell all the truth
about it. She says that Laius gave the baby to the slave, whereas it was
she herself. Remorse sweeps over her, and the bitterness which lies just
below the surface of her life rises in revolt against the oracle which
could tempt to such a deed. There is no impiety in her words. Her voice
is reverent when she names the god. But for his corrupt interpreters her
acute perception has nothing but contempt. Œdipus will do well to
despise them too.

But the king has not observed her emotion. Something that she has said
about the manner of Laius’ death has startled him. He asks her to repeat
it. Yes, it was in Phokis, at a place where three roads met; and it
happened just before the stranger Œdipus arrived. Œdipus is recalling
fearfully his own encounter on such a spot. But what was Laius like?

JOC.         _Tall, with the white new gleaming on his brow
             He walked. In shape just such a man as thou._[22]

In growing dread, hurried questions are put and answered; and all the
details save one Œdipus finds to correspond with that old event. But
that one may save him yet. For the attendant who returned had said that
a _band of robbers_ slew the king. He must be sent for instantly.
Jocasta promises to do so; but may she not know all that is troubling
him, and whither his questions tend?

ŒD.          _Thou shalt. When I am tossed to such an height
             Of dark foreboding, woman, when my mind
             Faceth such straits as these, where should I find
             A mightier love than thine?_[22]

Then, partly because he is instinctively seeking relief from the
thoughts that oppress him: partly to refresh Jocasta’s memory and to
clarify his own mind, he recounts all the story of his early life; of
his parents Polybus and Merope, of his visit to Delphi, of his flight
from the oracular decree, of the fierce encounter at the cross-roads in
Phokis, and of how he slew the unknown rider in the chariot. At this
point his voice falters:

                     “_Oh, if that man’s unspoken name
               Had aught of Laius in him, in God’s eye
               What man doth move more miserable than I,
               More dogged by the hate of heaven!_“[22]

He has one shred of hope, however. If the herdsman who returned spoke
truth, clearly Œdipus was not the murderer. Jocasta repeats her promise
to send for him, and as she leads the king into the palace she tries to
soothe him. The herdsman certainly told the story exactly so:

           “_... All they that heard him know,
           Not only I. He cannot change again
           Now. And if change he should, O Lord of men,
           No change of his can make the prophecy
           Of Laius’ death fall true. He was to die
           Slain by my son. So Loxias spake.... My son!
           He slew no man, that poor deserted one
           That died.... And I will no more turn mine eyes
           This way nor that for all their prophecies._“[22]

The awful irony underlying her words prepares us for the next step of
the revelation. Œdipus sees only one thing yet—that he may be the
unwitting murderer. But what need to fear, says the queen, to comfort
him, since the God had said that Laius should be slain at the hands of
that poor dead babe? She is not really confident however. The king’s
apprehension has secretly seized on her too; and presently she returns
from the palace with her maidens, to pray at the altar of Apollo. She
lays her husband’s grief before the god.

         “_And seeing no word of mine hath power to heal
         His torment, therefore forth to thee I steal,
         O Slayer of the Wolf, O Lord of Light,
         O show us still some path that is not all
         Unclean; for now our captain’s eyes are dim
         With dread, and the whole ship must follow him._“[22]

The answer to her prayer is very near; but bringing desolation in the
guise of joy. Even as she kneels before the altar there comes a voice
calling on the name of the king, as though it were the voice of the god
himself. It is a stranger from Corinth; and the queen rises to receive
his greeting.

He is the bearer of good news, he says; a message from the people of
Corinth, to Œdipus. They have declared him to be their king, in the
place of Polybus, who is dead. It seems good news indeed. Polybus dead,
there is no need now for the anxious king to fear that oracular menace
from Delphi; and Jocasta’s heart bounds at the thought.

                         “_Where stand ye at the last,
             Ye oracles of God? For many a year
             Œdipus fled before that man, in fear
             To slay him. And behold we find him thus
             Slain by a chance death, not by Oedipus._“[22]

Œdipus is hurriedly sent for, and, hearing the news confirmed from the
lips of the messenger, is caught up suddenly on a wave of exultation. In
the violent reaction from his lifelong terror there is a rush of joy
which has something sinister in it, by its very excess. Jocasta was
right. It was a lying oracle which said he should slay his father; and
in the first sense of relief he vows that never again will he trust in
seer-craft. But the words are hardly cold upon his lips, when he
remembers that he has still one other thing to fear. The curse had been,
“To slay his father and marry with his mother”; and while Queen Merope
lives he must therefore always be an exile from Corinth. But Jocasta is
not daunted. Possessed by her conviction that all oracles are false and
evil, she tries to reason away his fear.

JOC.         _What should man do with fear, who hath but Chance
             Above him, and no sight nor governance
             Of things to be? To live as life may run,
             No fear, no fret, were wisest ‘neath the sun.
             And thou, fear not thy mother. Prophets deem
             A deed wrought that is wrought but in a dream.
             And he to whom these things are nothing, best
             Will bear his burden._[22]

The Corinthian messenger, too, has caught at Œdipus’s words. Does the
king fear Merope, believing her to be his mother? And is that the reason
why he has never come to Corinth? Then let him set his mind at rest, for
he, the herdsman of Polybus, happens to have sure knowledge that Œdipus
is not the son of Merope. Œdipus and Jocasta stand amazed; and Œdipus
presses the stranger for all that he knows. But at first he will not say
more. He repeats that Œdipus is not the son of Polybus and Merope; but
he shrinks from disclosing to the great king that he was an unknown
foundling. He answers reluctantly to the eager questioning of Œdipus,
who is now hot upon the scent of his mysterious parentage. Blindly,
almost feverishly, with no hint of where each step is leading him, he
stumbles on. But fear is awakening in Jocasta, as bit by bit the
stranger reveals that he himself had given the infant to Polybus. But
how came the child to him? And whence? Thus pursues the excited king,
while Jocasta stands in silent suspense. The answer of the stranger
smites her with a sudden prescience of what is coming. He says he found
the babe in a high glen of Kithairon; and as, in rapid answer to the
king, he tells of its poor maimed feet and of the Theban herdsman from
whom he received it, the full truth falls upon Jocasta with a shattering
blow. This man, the king, her husband, is none other than that outcast
child, her son. But Œdipus does not see the horror yet; and as she
stands rigid at his side one thought and one prayer fill her mind—that
he may never know. But some frenzy seems to possess him, driving him to
destroy himself. He turns to an officer of the Court. Where is the
Theban herdsman of whom the stranger speaks? He must be sought, and made
to say whence came the child that he gave to this stranger from Corinth.
The officer replies hesitatingly; he thinks he must be the same man who
was king Laius’ attendant, and who has already been sent for. But only
the queen can tell of his whereabouts. Œdipus turns quickly on Jocasta,
and then for the first time sees her anguish. But he has no clue to its
cause. He cannot know that there has fallen on her misery worse than
death; and that with all the strength of body and soul she is trying to
shield him from it. He can see only a fear, which seems to him
contemptible, that he may prove to be base-born. Impatience leaps to
anger as she tries to evade his questions; and he replies with a taunt
at what he believes to be her pride.

ŒD.          _Fear not!... Though I be thrice of slavish stuff
             From my third grand-dam down, it shames not thee._

JOC.         _Ask no more. I beseech thee.... Promise me!_

ŒD.          _To leave the Truth half found? ‘Tis not my mood._

JOC.         _I understand; and tell thee what is good._

ŒD.          _Thy good doth weary me._[22]

It seems at this word that all Jocasta’s strength breaks down. The
malign power that is driving Œdipus onward is too great for her, and she
cannot strive against it any longer. She can only wail in answer:

                               “_O child of woe,
             I pray God, I pray God, thou never know!_“[22]

And then, as Œdipus turns roughly from her, all his tenderness
shrivelled to scorn and wrath, the last link snaps. In another moment he
will know the truth; and knowing it, she will be loathsome and abhorrent
in his eyes. The thought brings intolerable pain. She craves relief,
escape, and, swiftly—before Œdipus can learn what he is seeking, before
his accusing eyes can meet her own—annihilation. With an imploring
gesture, she takes one step toward him.

             “_Unhappy one, good-bye! Good-bye before
             I go: this once, and never, never more!_“[22]

But Œdipus does not heed her; and with wild eyes, she flies into the
palace, to die by her own hand. And when the great king, brought at last
to see the truth which casts him lower than the meanest slave, thinks to
avenge his wrongs on her, he finds that she has taken vengeance on
herself. Before her pitiful dead body his wrath is turned to loathing of
himself; and the hand that was raised against her, smites the light for
ever from his own eyes.


Footnote 21:

  From Professor J. W. Mackail’s translation of the _Odyssey_ (John

Footnote 22:

  From Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation of the _Œdipus, King of
  Thebes_ (George Allen & Co. Ltd.).

_Sophocles: Antigone_

There was an important figure in _Œdipus the King_ whom we only glanced
at in passing when we were considering the story of Jocasta. He was the
queen’s own brother, Creon; a man who knew better than to covet kingly
honours, and who had a soul for friendship. It was he who said,
answering the rash accusation which Œdipus made against him:

             “_This I tell thee. He who plucks a friend
             Out from his heart hath lost a treasured thing
             Dear as his own dear life._“[23]

Thus, when the great king’s downfall came, Creon knew how to be a
friend. He was gentle to Œdipus; and forgetting his own wrongs, he took
upon himself the care of the king’s young daughters, Antigone and

But Creon said once, at another crowded moment of his career:

                                 “_Hard it is to learn
                 The mind of any mortal or the heart,
                 Till he be tried in chief authority.
                 Power shows the man._“[24]

It was a true word, and curiously verified in his own life. For he who
had shown so fair a front in Thebes, when the reins of government lay in
the hands of Œdipus and Jocasta, proved himself a tyrant when authority
fell on him. Creon, young and ardent, could dare the wrath of Œdipus,
and tell him to his face that even a king might not be unjust. But the
same man clothed in power, with youthful ideals fled and all the texture
of his mind hardened by age and convention, could only meet the supreme
idealism of Antigone with a decree of death.

It is not suggested that Sophocles has developed Creon’s character in an
unbroken sequence through the three dramas in which he appears. The
chronology of the plays forbids this. For the _Antigone_, which presents
the last phase of the story, was written years before _Œdipus the King_
and the _Œdipus at Colonus_, which give us both Antigone and Creon in
earlier days. But that is an external fact which does not much disturb
the unity of the poet’s conception. The Creon of the three plays is
essentially the same man. He is not consistent always, since no human
creature is. But under that accusing contrast between the theories of
his youth and the practice of his age there is an abiding law of human
nature which only the few fine souls escape. And we are clearly shown
that Creon was not born to be the rare exception. Always prudent,
law-abiding and careful of authority, these qualities would strengthen
with the years; and lighted by no higher truth, but carried to excess in
moments of passion, would inevitably make him what he became.

In the same way there is an underlying unity in the character of
Antigone. In _Œdipus the King_ we know her only by name, a child of
thirteen into whose sunny life a storm has suddenly crashed. In the
_Œdipus at Colonus_, the strong young spirit has awakened, and is giving
clear promise of the heights to which it will soar before its short day
is done. While the _Antigone_, the drama which bears her name, does but
fulfil and make perfect what is fair promise in the other plays.

We are entitled therefore, in coming to the Attic dramatists for
Antigone’s story, to read the three Sophoclean plays as if they were a
trilogy; although each of the three is distinct and complete in itself.
And we shall find too, that in the _Seven against Thebes_ of Æschylus,
in which Antigone first appears, there is sounded once for all the high
heroic note to which her story moved in the versions of the later poets.
There is indeed a wealth of testimony for Antigone, and fine unanimity
in it. We can trace her short life almost throughout. There was the
happy early time in Thebes, when royalty sat lightly on the merry boys
and girls in the palace; and when the great king and queen were simply
their dear and loving parents. That was a time of sweetest memories.
Ambition had not yet taught the two spirited brothers to hate each
other; and Ismene was still the gentle little sister who would follow
with unquestioning devotion wherever Antigone might lead.

But in one black day, and with no warning given, every ray of happiness
had been blotted out. Of all the sights and sounds huddled into the
memory of that hideous day, Antigone could only recall two things
clearly—the stately queen her mother lying dead by her own hand; and
Œdipus the king, self-blinded, pleading in strange remorse outside the
palace to be banished from the city. But one impression, filtering
almost unconsciously through her terror, remained and grew. It was the
look of horror, almost of loathing, on every face that surrounded the
unhappy king. Antigone herself could hardly bear to see him; but she
vaguely felt that in these shrinking figures there was something more
than physical revulsion at the sight. Why did the crowding people, the
senators, even Prince Creon himself, draw away from her father as though
he were some unclean thing whose touch would pollute them? That they did
so stung her; and although their terrified recoil was only dimly
realized at the time, it brought a flood of pity and indignation with
it. In the wave of protecting love that filled her heart, making her
long to fling herself between the dear maimed father and all those cruel
glances, Antigone the woman sprang to a noble life. She did not grow to
full stature immediately. Years passed, and Creon, assuming rule in
Thebes as regent for her brothers, prevailed on Œdipus to seclude
himself within the city. Time brought sad knowledge to Antigone. She
learned the causes of the tragedy that had fallen on them, as it seemed,
out of a blue sky. She found, too, the meaning of that frantic
abhorrence of her father; though she never learned to share it. Neither
intellect nor heart would consent to hold him guilty: not by one iota
was he responsible for the evils that had smitten him. So, as his own
brain cleared from the shock of the calamity, Œdipus found a champion in
his daughter whose splendid logic and whose love were alike invincible.

Later he had need of all Antigone’s courage. For faction sprang to life
in the city and grew fast. Superstition fed it eagerly, and soon there
was but one thought in all the darkened mind of Thebes, from Creon
downward. Their town, in sheltering Œdipus, was harbouring pollution;
and he must be cast out. The people clamoured fanatically; but Creon and
the princes Polynices and Eteocles made no stand against them. To them,
the presence of Œdipus was a political embarrassment, as well as an
alleged cause of displeasure to the gods. Thus ambition united with fear
to drive them on; and presently, his unnatural sons consenting, Œdipus
was ruthlessly cast out of Thebes.

There was only one voice uplifted in his defence; but a woman’s word,
though it might be the soul of right, had no value in the counsels of
the State. Œdipus went into exile alone: poor, blind and dogged by the
curse which his cruel destiny had invoked upon him. But he did not
wander long unfriended.

             E’er since her childhood ended, and her frame
             Was firmly knit, with ceaseless ministry
             Still tends upon an old man’s wandering,
             Oft in the forest ranging up and down
             Fasting and barefoot through the burning heat
             Or pelting rain, nor thinks, unhappy maid,
             Of home or comfort, so her father’s need
             Be satisfied._[25]

Year after year they wandered together, haunting the glens and groves of
Mt. Kithairon, where the infant Œdipus had been exposed. It seemed as if
his destiny were calling him to render up his life there on the spot
which had seen the beginning of his wrongs. But the gods relented a
little at last. There came to Œdipus a divine message that he should
have honour at the end, and a glorious passing. He should not know the
death of a mortal creature. He was to fare to Athens, and in the little
deme of Colonus, at the place which was sacred to Poseidon and
Prometheus, the awful Powers of the Underworld would welcome him,
living, to their shadowy empire.

To Colonus, then, Œdipus and Antigone wearily came; and threw themselves
on the protection of Theseus. They were strange suppliants, hardly
auspicious in the eyes of the Athenian folk before whom Antigone pleaded
for succour. And the message which Œdipus sent to their king was
stranger still, as he repeated the promise that Apollo had given him:

                     “_When I should reach my bourne,
             And find repose and refuge with the Powers
             Of reverent name, my troubled life should end
             With blessing to the men who sheltered me,
             And curses on their race who banished me
             And sent me wandering forth._“[25]

Even in dying, it seemed, his life should have no peace. There was still
one act of wrath to do: the stormy day must needs go out in storm. When
he stood before Theseus, to declare his name and history, all the
unquiet flux of life seemed sweeping round him still.

         “_Fair Aigeus’ son, only to gods in heaven
         Comes no old age, nor death of anything;
         All else is turmoiled by our master Time.
         The earth’s strength fades and manhood’s glory fades,
         Faith dies, and unfaith blossoms like a flower.
         And who shall find in the open streets of men
         Or secret places of his own heart’s love
         One wind blow true for ever?_“[26]

Theseus took pity on the poor blind king and gave him refuge. But
meantime, away in Thebes, his sons were quarrelling about the succession
to the throne. Eteocles and Creon had stirred up the people against
Polynices; and he, too, was banished from the kingdom. But he had
strength and influence. He fled to Argos: married the daughter of king
Adrastus there, and presently had raised an army, with six other Greek
chiefs, to invade his native country. This incident is the subject of
Æschylus’s drama called _The Seven against Thebes_.

On the eve of the battle, Polynices remembered Œdipus. His own
misfortunes had taught him remorse for the part which he had played
against his outcast father; and a conviction weighed on him that no
enterprise of his might succeed until he had begged forgiveness and a
blessing. So he travelled hastily to Colonus; and in fear both of his
father and of Theseus, he flung himself as a suppliant at the altar of
Poseidon. But in the heart of Œdipus anger still burned; and in his ears
still sounded the last oracular command—to curse these impious sons
before he died. At first he refused even to see Polynices, when Theseus
brought word of his petition; and only yielded to Antigone’s plea that
he should at least give her brother a hearing.

          “_Father, give ear, though I be young that speak.
                                  ... He is thy son:
          Whence, were his heartless conduct against thee
          Beyond redemption impious, O my sire,
          Thy vengeance still would be unnatural.
          O, let him!—Others have had evil sons
          And passionate anger, but the warning voice
          Of friends hath charmed their mood. Then do not thou
          Look narrowly upon thy present griefs,
          But on those ancient wrongs thou didst endure
          From father and from mother. Thence, thou wilt learn
          That evil passion ever ends in woe._“[25]

But from the first there was no hope of a softer mood in Œdipus. Grimly
he listened while Polynices poured out his plea for forgiveness, and
when all was said, broke into the curse which was to devastate his
children’s lives. Never should the crime of Polynices and Eteocles be
forgiven; but in this battle, when each hoped to win glory and the
throne of Thebes, both should fall, slain each by the other’s hand.

The siege of Thebes was thus foredoomed; and Antigone implored her
brother to abandon the enterprise. But he was committed to it beyond
recall; and went to meet failure and certain death. One solemn request
he made of her and of Ismene too, at their farewell. When he should lie
dead before Thebes, would she promise him the last holy act of burial?
There would be no other kin to perform the rite, and if it were not
done, his ghost must wander endlessly and find no rest.

                                   “_I must attend
           To my dark enterprise, blasted and foiled
           Beforehand by my father’s angry curse.
           But as for you, Heaven prosper all your way,
           If ye will show this kindness in my death,
           For nevermore in life shall ye befriend me!_“[25]

No oath could bind Antigone more strongly than the prompting of her
love; but she gave her word to Polynices, so that he might go untroubled
by a dread more awful than any other to a Greek. And when the testing
time came, both love and duty were irrevocably engaged. It came very
soon. On the day that the Seven laid siege to Thebes, the gods took
Œdipus. In marvellous fashion he left the earth, rapt away in the
thunders of Olympus, while mighty voices called upon his name. And as,
unseen by mortal eyes, he crossed that mysterious Brazen Causeway, the
Argive army lay round Thebes. When Antigone and Ismene returned to the
city, dreadful tidings were brought to them. Their brothers had met in
single combat, and, fighting furiously, each had slain the other.

MESSENGER.   _The genius of them both was even so dire,
             So undistinguishing; and with one stroke
             Consigns to nothingness that hapless race ...
             Thebè is rescued: but her princes twain
             By mutual slaughter fratricidally
             Are perished; their own land hath drunk their blood._[27]



  _From the sculpture by Hugues in the Luxembourg_

Creon instantly assumed control. The Argive host was beaten back, and
when the next day dawned, the invading force was gone. The siege was
over; and Thebes might set about the pious task of burying its dead. The
princes were taken up from the spot where they had fallen, and brought
into the city. By the most sacred law of Greek religion every ceremony
of burial should now be reverently performed. The duty devolved first on
male kindred; and Creon, as uncle to the princes, should perform the
rites. But Creon was now king of Thebes; and in that capacity there fell
on him another, and a conflicting, duty. He must decide what burial
honours might fittingly be paid to Polynices, the traitor who had fought
against his country.

Antigone waited in anxiety for the decision. For Eteocles she had no
fear: he had given no offence to Thebes. But she knew Creon’s rigorous
spirit; she knew his devotion to the State; and she trembled for the
poor misguided brother who had sinned against the State. In the early
morning after the battle, Antigone came out of the palace, to meet the
procession which bore her brothers’ bodies in. And as she joined her
voice to the mourners’ wail, Creon’s herald broke upon their grief, to
announce the king’s decree.

HERALD.      _’Tis mine to announce the will and firm decree
             Of the high council of this Theban state.
             Eteocles, as loyal to his land,
             Shall be insepulchred beneath her shade....
             But this, his brother Polynices’ corpse,
             Graveless shall be cast forth for dogs to tear.
             ... Dead though he be, his country’s gods
             Shall ban him, since he brought in their despite
             A foreign host to invade and subjugate
             Their city...._

                                 _... No drink-offerings
             Poured at his tomb by careful hands, no sound
             Of dirgeful wailing shall enhance his fame,
             Nor following of dear footsteps honour him.
             So runs the enactment of our Theban lords._[27]

But Creon had reckoned without Antigone. Her utmost apprehension had not
dreamed that so cruel an edict could be passed. It was foul dishonour to
the dead, and an insult to the gods. But she would never suffer it.
Though she must be one woman against the whole of Thebes, her brother
should not lack the necessary rites.

ANTIGONE.    _But I make answer to the lords of Thebes,
             Though none beside consent to bury him,
             I will provide my brother’s funeral.
             ... Then, O my soul,
             Of thine own living will share thou the wrongs
             Forced on the helpless dead: be leal and true._[27]

At this point of the story, the _Antigone_ of Sophocles opens. Creon has
heard a rumour of defiance, and has added a penalty of death to his
decree. The sisters are alone outside the palace. Antigone, not doubting
of Ismene for a moment, rapidly puts before her a plan for Polynices’
burial. They must act at once, quickly and quietly, before Creon may
have time to prevent them. To her utter amazement, however, Ismene will
not help her. She is a gentle, timid creature: she cannot think it
possible that Antigone will dare to defy Creon’s edict: the mere
suggestion terrifies her. She cannot rise to Antigone’s perception of a
law higher than this ugly mandate against the dead; and if she could,
she is not of the heroic fibre to make a stand against authority. She
sees and admits that this vengeful edict must needs offend the gods; but
for her part, she can only pray to be held guiltless of it. She is not
lacking in love and loyalty to her kin. When Œdipus and Antigone were
wandering in beggary, Ismene had secretly contrived to send them aid;
and once she had ridden a perilous journey in order to warn them of
danger. She is no craven. Only, she is oppressed by a sense of physical
weakness: the forces which Antigone will challenge are overwhelming, and
will surely crush her. Is it not rash and sinful to attempt the

                           “_O think how beyond all
             Most piteously we two shall be destroyed,
             If in defiance of authority
             We traverse the commandment of the king!_“[24]

Antigone is bitterly disappointed. She had gauged Ismene by herself, and
thought her courage would be equal to her love. To her the duty to their
dead is a holy act, crying aloud for fulfilment, and shining far above
this tyrannous decree. It is so clear to her eager spirit that she
cannot doubt or hesitate. She had thought that one word to Ismene would
enlist her help; and instead, she is met with puerile answers
counselling prudence and submission. Her passionate soul flames into
indignation, and in her anger she is less than just to Ismene. Despite
her heroism, she is simply human. Nor is she, as has sometimes been
suggested, like a martyr of the early Christian era, whose humility and
gentleness would bless the hand that smote. Antigone’s warm heart is as
strong in its hatred as its love; absolute in devotion, but impetuous in
anger; capable of supreme self-sacrifice, and tender to infirmity; but
intolerant of moral weakness and meanness and timidity. She retorts in
scorn upon Ismene:

           “_I will not urge you! No! Nor if now you list
           To help me, will your help afford me joy.
           Be what you choose to be! This single hand
           Shall bury our lost brother. Glorious
           For me to take this labour and to die!
           Dear to him will my soul be as we rest
           In death, when I have dared this holy crime.
           My time for pleasing men will soon be over;
           Not so my duty towards the Dead! My home
           Yonder will have no end. You, if you will,
           May throw contempt on laws revered on High._“[24]

Ismene protests that she had no thought of scorn; and indeed her gentle
spirit has no place for anything so harsh. But when she begs Antigone to
keep her purpose secret, and reiterates her conviction that the attempt
will prove futile, Antigone will not listen any longer. With a bitter
word on her lips, she goes out alone to face her perilous task.

             “_Speak in that vein if you would earn my hate
             And aye be hated of our lost one. Peace!
             Leave my unwisdom to endure this peril;
             Fate cannot rob me of a noble death._”[24]

Ismene, left standing before the palace, gives one involuntary cry of
mingled fear and admiration. Then the thought of Antigone’s danger
overwhelms her, and she rushes within like one distracted.

In the Parados which follows, sung by a Chorus of Theban elders, we are
made to feel with growing force the isolation of Antigone. For they sing
of the Argive attack, and of the sin of Polynices in bringing an army
against Thebes. They are old men, and cannot be expected to share the
ardent enthusiasm of youth; and being senators, their greatest care must
be to uphold the State against its enemies. When Creon enters, heralded
with pomp and ceremony, they are tempered to the dry official mood which
will exactly suit his purpose.

Creon is newly burdened with the weight of monarchy; and in this his
first public proclamation it seems to oppress him. There is an evident
anxiety in his tone as he repeats the edict that he has made against
Polynices. It seems, despite the authority of his words, as though he
were trying to justify the decree, not only to possible critics among
his hearers, but to an inner malcontent who will not be silenced. With
all the strength of words, he emphasises his devotion to the State; and
from our knowledge of Creon, we realize that this is something more than
mere protestation. The glory of Thebes shall be his constant aim and
utmost care, he says. Her friends he will exalt, and her enemies shall
be his enemies.

With this prelude, he comes fittingly to the terms of the edict.
Eteocles, who died fighting for his country, shall receive every tribute
that the State can pay; but the traitor who could betray his country to
an enemy shall be justly left dishonoured, for carrion to devour. As we
listen to the speech we are compelled to admit its stern logic. We see
that Creon’s action is not entirely arbitrary, so far. There is,
according to his standard, rigorous justice in it; and no other standard
had yet been applied. The Chorus would not question it. It is in the
main an echo of their own thought; only it looks a little harsh, put
into words. They, too, believe Polynices guilty of an unpardonable crime
against the country that they serve; and they have no wish to gainsay
Creon. But about this vengeance taken on the dead there seems to be a
certain degree of excess, which forbids entire approval. At any rate,
they will take no responsibility for it. “It is thine,” they reply to
the king, “to exercise all power.” They will not take upon themselves to
criticize the action of their king, though it may cause uneasiness; and
on the other hand, they dare not censure it. He is in authority, and
they must submit.

Creon then proceeds to explain that he has set a watch over Polynices’
body. But even while he is speaking there shuffles on the scene a
curious, half-comic figure, announcing that the edict has been defied.
He is one of the sentinels set to guard the corpse. In brusque speech,
and with exaggerated fear for his own life, he tells a strange tale. At
the first light of morning, he and his companions found that some
unknown hand had given the prince his funeral rites: not the full and
complete ceremony, but just so much as to give peace to the unquiet

            “_And when the scout of our first daylight watch
            Showed us the thing, we marvelled in dismay.
            The Prince was out of sight; not in a grave,
            But a thin dust was o’er him, as if thrown
            By one who shunned the dead man’s curse._“[24]

Creon’s judicial air vanishes in a moment. Astonishment quickly gives
place to anger as he listens; and this is only heightened when the
Chorus suggest that some god has interposed to pay the burial rites.
Startled by the strange recital, their words betray an involuntary
glimpse of the misgiving that underlies their submission to the king,
Creon breaks into angry speech. The insult to his authority stings his
new-found sense of power; but when the senators imply that the gods
themselves disapprove of his action, some prick of the unacknowledged
truth goads him to fury. And below his wrath there lies a suspicion of
disloyalty amongst the citizens, and corruption amongst his slaves.

Not the gods, he says, but these same watchmen who were set to guard the
body, have performed the rites. And they have done it for gain; set on
by rebels who will not accept his rule. Driven by complex emotions, he
loses all sense of restraint; and threatens the sentinel with torture
and death if he does not find and bring the culprit immediately. Then he
strides into the palace, and the man flings off with a gibe.

In the short interval which follows, the Chorus sing aptly and
beautifully of the daring and skill of man. But their ode soon breaks
into excited exclamations. They see the watchman who but lately left
them returning hurriedly and leading a woman by the hand. At the same
moment Creon enters.

CHORUS.      _What portent from the gods is here?
             My mind is mazed with doubt and fear.
             How can I gainsay what I see?
             I know the girl Antigone.
             O hapless child of hapless sire!
             Didst thou, then, recklessly aspire
             To brave kings’ laws, and now art brought
             In madness of transgression caught?_[24]

Her captor is exultant, for he has disproved the charge against himself.
Not that it gives him pleasure to betray the kind young princess; but
everybody’s life is precious to himself, he says, not seeing one gleam
of the splendid scorn of life in the girl who is standing beside him.
This maid is undoubtedly the transgressor, for they caught her in the
act. Now let the king acquit him of the false accusation, and set him
free. Before the man may go, however, Creon turns to Antigone. She
stands pale and silent, her eyes lowered before the incredulous gaze of
all these hostile men. Does she confirm the amazing statement they have
just heard? he asks. It is quite true, she answers; she owns to the
deed. Then Creon, having dismissed the watchman, demands to be told why
she has dared to disobey his edict. Antigone’s reply, with all its
spiritual power and beauty, is also touchingly human. Creon has asked
whether she was aware of the decree and the penalty.

ANT.         _I could not fail to know. You made it plain._

CREON.       _How durst thou then transgress the published law?_

ANT.         _I heard it not from Heaven, nor came it forth
             From Justice, where she reigns with Gods below.
             They too have published to mankind a law.
             Nor thought I thy commandment of such might
             That one who is mortal thus could overbear
             The infallible, unwritten laws of Heaven.
             Not now or yesterday they have their being,
             But everlastingly, and none can tell
             The hour that saw their birth. I would not, I,
             For any terrors of a man’s resolve,
             Incur the God-inflicted penalty
             Of doing them wrong. That death would come—I knew
             Without thine edict:—if before the time,
             I count it gain. Who does not gain by death,
             That lives, as I do, amid boundless woe?
             Slight is the sorrow of such doom to me.
             But had I suffered my own mother’s child,
             Fallen in blood, to be without a grave,
             That were indeed a sorrow. This is none._[24]

Up to this point her ardent vision and courage have carried her on,
soaring high into the light of eternal truth, or tenderly stooping to
the sanction of dear human ties. The austerity of the stern faces by
which she is surrounded has had no power to quell her fervent spirit;
and it is only when she catches Creon’s look of contempt that a bitter
reality forces itself upon her. This passion of self-sacrifice, this
duty which comes to her as a mandate from the gods themselves, is stark
nonsense in the eyes of the man who confronts her. The thought gives a
sudden pause to her ardour, and there is a quick revulsion to anger. O
these blind eyes that will not see! And this stupidity that refuses to
be enlightened! She drops to a lower range, and ends abruptly on a taunt
at Creon’s dullness of perception:

             “_And if thou deem’st me foolish for my deed,
             I am foolish in the judgment of a fool._“[24]

The Chorus has relapsed into submission to Creon. No spark of fire from
Antigone’s burning words can warm their coldness. Yet their frigid
comment is significant. How like she is, in her strong will, to Œdipus,
her sire. Creon takes up their words. Yes, she is stubborn, but the
hardest metal will soonest break. Not content with disobedience, she
must glory in her deed. But she shall surely die for it; and Ismene,
too, if she has been an accomplice.

Antigone had expected no less than the death penalty for herself; but
she will by no means allow Ismene to be included in it. For, first,
Ismene had refused her help; and then, she is too slight and weak a
creature for such a terrible ordeal. Antigone sees that there is a sharp
struggle coming. Some attendants have brought her sister from the
palace, and she comes weeping for Antigone’s fate. Creon turns upon her
in a fury. Without a sign of proof, he roundly accuses her of complicity
in the deed.

To Ismene, who does not know what has passed, it seems clear that
Antigone has in some way implicated her. But she will not deny it. On
the contrary, there is in her tender heart some sense of relief, despite
her fear, that she can now prove to Antigone her loyalty. Ever since she
first refused her help, remorse has stung her. But now there is an
opportunity to redeem her weakness, and she makes a pathetic attempt to
share Antigone’s fate. It is not a very bold effort, however: she seems
almost to tremble as she tells Creon that she _did_ help in the
burial—if Antigone said so; and none but a man who was blind with rage
could have been deceived by it. But to Creon the poor little declaration
has all the appearance of truth; and Antigone, knowing his inexorable
nature, sees that he will assuredly condemn Ismene to death. She must
interpose, quickly and decisively. She is still sore with disappointment
at her sister; her own burden, since the glow of her magnificent defence
passed, has grown heavier at every moment; and there is, moreover, a
very natural resentment that Ismene should claim merit where it is not
due. She breaks in with an emphatic denial of her sister’s help.

ISMENE.      _Alas! and must I be debarred thy fate?_

ANTIG.       _Life was the choice you made: Mine was to die._

ISMENE.      _I warned thee—_

ANTIG.       _Yes, your prudence is admired
             On earth. My wisdom is approved below._

ISMENE.      _Yet truly we are both alike in fault._

ANTIG.       _Fear not; you live. My life hath long been given
             To death, to be of service to the dead._[24]

Hurt and baffled, Ismene now turns to Creon with an appeal that she
thinks must touch him. Will he not save Antigone for Hæmon’s sake, his
son, to whom she is betrothed? Surely he will not break the heart of his
own child, too? His reply is a brutal jest that wrings from Antigone the
first sign of her anguish. The pity of her broken life, to herself and
to the lover she must leave, elicits a poignant cry:

          “_O dearest Hæmon! How thy father wrongs thee!_”[24]

Then she is led away by the guards.

Almost immediately there enters upon the scene a man who is much better
fitted to cope with Creon. He is Hæmon, Antigone’s lover. Logical,
restrained, and of considerable force of character, he possesses besides
a valuable key to his father’s temperament. He knows the man with whom
he has to deal, and adopts a quiet, conciliatory tone, deferring from
the first to Creon’s rights as his father and his king. He listens with
apparent calm to the arraignment of Antigone; and makes no reply when
Creon expounds his doctrine of absolute obedience to the laws of the
State, be they right or wrong. He even controls himself at the rough
exhortation to “cast her off, to wed with some one down below.”

But Hæmon is only biding his time; and when his father concludes, he
begins, tactfully and with moderation, to put before him the only plea
which he thinks has any hope of influencing him. He appeals to Creon in
his public capacity, and asks him to consider the opinion of the
citizens of Thebes upon Antigone’s action.

             “_Thy people mourn this maiden, and complain
             That of all women least deservedly,
             She perishes for a most glorious deed.
             ‘Who, when her own true brother on the earth
             Lay weltering after combat in his gore,
             Left him not graveless, for the carrion-fowl
             And raw-devouring field-dogs to consume—
             Hath she not merited a golden praise?’
             Such the dark rumour spreading silently._”[24]

With fine delicacy, and holding his emotions well in check, Hæmon hints
that his father will do well to listen to the voice of the people. No
human creature is infallible; and is it not unwise to cling too
tenaciously to one’s own will in the face of so strong a public opinion?
The tree that will not yield to the torrent is torn up by the roots; and
the sailor who rushes into the teeth of the storm with sheets taut is
liable to end his voyaging keel-upward.

Creon interposes an angry exclamation; he will not be taught discretion
by a boy. But Hæmon is ready with an answer—Even age must yield to truth
and justice. Antigone is no base rebel: all Thebes denies it. “Am I
ruled by Thebes?” thunders Creon; and Hæmon, seeing his father lost to
reason, begins to feel the onrush of despair that will presently sweep
away his self-control. In the wave of emotion that breaks upon him, he
answers hotly to Creon’s taunts. It is the one thing needed to complete
his father’s wrath; and he turns with a brutal order to the Guards to
bring Antigone out, that she may die before her lover’s eyes. But Hæmon
will not look upon that sight. Under his quiet manner, a torrent of
passion has been gathering force; and a terrible resolution. He has been
keeping an iron hand upon himself; but he has known all through his
pleading that if Creon will dare to carry out the sentence against
Antigone, it will cost him the life of his son. Hæmon will not survive
his bride. Now, with an ominous cry that his father shall never see his
face again, he rushes from the place.

The Chorus break into an exquisite lyric on the power of love; and a few
moments afterward Antigone herself crosses the scene, on her way to the
place of death. She is to be buried alive, in a rocky tomb in the hills;
and this last horror, with the inevitable reaction that has followed on
her splendid daring, have wrought a pathetic change in her. All her
audacity has gone: the passion of righteous anger has faded out: even
her perception is blunted. The vision of a higher law, and the superb
confidence that the gods approve her action, have grown dull and faint
before this dreadful thing which is coming to her. Her voice falters:
her footsteps lag: and on her lips are pitiful words of regret for all
the fair things that she is leaving. The old senators are moved, but are
sadly inept in their efforts at consolation. Remembering Antigone as she
had faced them in her magnificent heroism, they think to comfort her
with the thought that there is glory in her death. But Antigone is not
heroic now. She is a lonely human soul, confronting the last grim
reality; and the well-turned phrases of these comfortable old men are
revolting to her. What glory can really compensate for the monstrous
injustice that she suffers; for the loss of youth, and lover, and
friends; and for the hideous darkness that will quench the light of the
sun for her?

           “_O mockery of my woe!
           I pray you by our fathers’ holy Fear,
           Why must I hear
           Your insults, while in life on earth I stand,
           O ye that flow
           In wealth, rich burghers of my bounteous land?...
           By what enormity of lawless doom,
           Without one friendly sigh,
           I go to the strong mound of yon strange tomb—
           All hapless, having neither part nor room
           With those who live or those who die._“[24]

Even faith seems swept away for a moment in this access of physical
weakness. But a gleam comes back, flickering through the clouds of doubt
upon that shadowy region of the Underworld:

             “_Dear will my coming be, father, to thee,
             And dear to thee, my mother, and to thee,
             Brother! since with these very hands I decked
             And bathed you after death, and ministered
             The last libations._“[24]

Then the clouds gather again, and she cannot see anything clearly. Why
is she suffering so? Is it possible that she is guilty, that her deed
was wrong? In the strange confusion of her soul, truth itself seems to
reel, and the form of piety grows blurred. What if, after all, the gods
do _NOT_ approve, and it is she who has sinned?

But from this most ghastly fear Creon himself unwittingly delivers her.
He breaks suddenly into her mourning with a harsh order; and instantly
her mind grows clear.

               “_O land of Thebè and city of my sires,
               Ye too, ancestral Gods, I go, I go!
               Even now they lead me to mine end. Behold!
               Princes of Thebes, the only scion left
               Of Cadmus’ issue, how unworthily,
               By what mean instruments I am oppressed,
               For reverencing the dues of piety._”[24]

Beside the perverse authority of Creon, her integrity rises
unassailable. So Antigone passes, in light at the last.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It would take too long to tell of the punishment which befell Creon,
which is nevertheless a vital part of Sophocles’s _Antigone_. It was
swift and crushing. No sooner had the princess been led to her rocky
tomb than the seer Tiresias demanded an audience of the king. He had
come with solemn warnings from the gods, first because the body of
Polynices, the burial of which Antigone had not been allowed to
complete, was polluting the city; and secondly because his shameful
cruelty to the princess had given the gods offence. Let Creon go at once
and rescue Antigone from her living tomb; and let him pay the needful
honours to the dead. But if he will not instantly make this just amend,
the divine power will surely exact from him the payment of a life for
the life that he has taken.

Creon has no recourse to authority now; and he makes but a feeble
resistance. Misguided and over-zealous hitherto, he is no sooner
convinced of his error by the Prophet than he makes a strenuous effort
to put it right. He is shaken by fear, too: and declares that he cannot
fight with destiny. So he goes to perform the will of the gods; and on
his action now the whole force of the tragedy hangs. The gods had
commanded—Release Antigone first, and then bury the body. But Creon in
his perturbation had not paid good heed. True to his nature, he turns to
the official duty first, the burial that is to remove pollution from the
city. Characteristically, too, he stays to perform the rites with the
utmost amplitude. Not until a mound has been heaped upon Polynices does
he proceed to the cave to release Antigone. Then he is too late.
Antigone has hanged herself from the rocky roof, and Hæmon is clinging
about her feet in agony. As Creon appears, the youth springs up with
intent to kill him; but missing his aim, he turns the sword against
himself and dies by Antigone’s side.

So the gods exacted a life for a life; but the punishment was not yet
complete. When Creon, broken with grief, came carrying his dead son into
the palace, he found that the tragic news had been before him. Eurydice
his wife had slain herself.

CREON.       _Take me away, the vain-proud man who slew
             Thee, O my son, and thee!
             Me miserable! Which way shall I turn?
             Which look upon? Since all that I can touch
             Is falling, falling, round me, and o’erhead
             Intolerable destiny descends._[24]


Footnote 23:

  From Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation of the _Œdipus Tyrannus_
  (George Allen & Co., Ltd.).

Footnote 24:

  From Professor Lewis Campbell’s translation of the _Antigone_
  (Clarendon Press).

Footnote 25:

  From Professor Lewis Campbell’s translation of the _Œdipus at Colonus_
  (Clarendon Press).

Footnote 26:

  From Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation of a fragment of the
  _Œdipus Coloneus_ in his _History of Ancient Greek Literature_
  (William Heinemann).

Footnote 27:

  From Professor Lewis Campbell’s translation of the _Seven against
  Thebes_ (Clarendon Press).

_Euripides: Alcestis_

In the story of Alcestis, we step at once into light and sweet air. Here
is no taint of an hereditary curse; no excess of passion to offend the
sight of gods and men; no foul crime to be avenged by other crime, and
expiated in its turn by bitter remorse. The Trojan Cycle and the Theban
Cycle, with all the tragic grandeur with which Æschylus and Sophocles
have invested them, are left behind. We come to a new theme, fair as a
garden and clean as a morning breeze. It is the tale of a wife’s supreme
love: of the friendship of a god for a mortal man: of an unique act of
hospitality and its magnificent requital. The oppressive sense of
destiny, of something almost malign in the heart of things, has lifted.
Human error and wrongdoing and impotence, which have hitherto made such
a sombre background for heroic figures, are lost in a glow of human
love. And instead of a brooding menace, there is the presence of a
benign divinity, seeking to protect and recompense virtue.

But while we turn to the _Alcestis_ of Euripides with a refreshing sense
of contrast, we are soon reminded that the elements of the story itself
are unfavourable to the work as dramatic art. We could not expect from
such a theme a tragedy so intense and powerful as the works of the two
elder dramatists. The spectacle of virtue rewarded may satisfy a primary
moral sense; but for that very reason it will not evoke the strong
emotions which are the life of drama. While perfect accord with the
divine power, and harmony amongst the human agents of the story, utterly
preclude the sense of conflict without which tragedy can hardly be. For
that reason, it would seem, Euripides did not treat the legend as pure
tragedy. In any case, the happy ending of the legend upon which he
worked would forbid it; and he has further departed from convention by
introducing two scenes which, by their flavour of satire and their
stinging realism, partake of the nature of comedy.

It would therefore appear that the critics have had some cause of
complaint against Euripides, on account of technical defects in the
_Alcestis_. They have indeed been very severe, not only on this play,
but on his drama generally, charging him with all sorts of artistic sins
which need not trouble us in the least. Fortunately, we are not much
concerned with criticism: and in this case there is opposed to the
censure a vast body of praise, ranking most of the poets on its side,
and all the minds which are attuned most nearly to the reflective note
of Euripidean poetry.

If, however, we had time for a comparison with Sophocles, we should
quickly find for ourselves the one fact which gives colour to much of
the critics’ grumbling. Euripides was not, like Sophocles, a consummate
artist. But we should not stop at such profitless negation; for a larger
truth would spring to light a moment afterward. While the art is less,
the thought is much greater: there is a wider range, and a higher ideal.
Euripides is not content to make perfect drama: he must give humanity
the fullest and most complete expression possible to him. And since he
saw into the human heart with an eye at once so keen and pitiful; since
he felt with such insistence the ethical and intellectual problems of
the transition period in which he lived, it is no wonder if the artist
in him was sometimes taxed beyond his powers. The great Periclean Age
was passing; and the new era had some curious intellectual resemblances
to our own time. It had begun to examine the bases of its religion; it
had seen a great development of the democratic spirit; and it was
awakening to something wrong in the position of women. That these
questions greatly exercised the mind of Euripides we may see from the
prominent place they occupy in his drama; and that he must have been an
original and advanced thinker upon them is evident from certain facts of
his personal unpopularity, and from the freshness of his ideas to the
modern mind. That modernity is indeed one cause of his intimate appeal
to the thought of our own day; and so far as it touches the question of
womanhood, it has a peculiar interest for us.

The political aspect of the woman’s question will not detain us for one
moment, save to note in passing that it is at least as old as Attic
Drama. We have little clue to the political significance, if any, of the
many references to the status of women which are to be found in the
plays of Euripides; and it does not matter. The broad fact is clear,
that the poet was profoundly interested in womanhood: that he had
studied feminine character with care and sympathy; and that he felt and
strove to reveal something of the evil which must result to the race
when the woman is treated unjustly. Hence we have the _Troades_, a drama
which looks steadily at the horrors of war from the standpoint of the
women who suffer because of it. Hence too, there is an Iphigenia
exerting all the energies of an acute mind to rescue her brother from
imminent danger; a Medea, transformed from a tender mother into a
destroying Fury by Jason’s infidelity; a Phædra literally consumed by
love which she will not declare; and an Alcestis, type of enduring
feminine courage, placed side by side with the weak amiability of

The character of Admetus is of some importance in the story we are now
to consider, and hence has received a great deal of attention. It has
been interpreted variously. On the one hand he is made to appear
improbably base, a poltroon who was not only willing that his wife
should die in his stead, but who hurried her to the tomb with indecent
haste, to avoid the awkward questions of her relatives. On the other
hand, he is shown as incredibly virtuous, a man whom the gods delighted
to honour—with this doubtful gift of life at another’s cost—and who
could not, from very piety, refuse it. But the Admetus of Euripides is
not found in either of these two extremes. He is a much more real figure
poised somewhere along a middle line between the two; an average man,
compounded of good and bad: a warm friend, a tender husband, generously
hospitable and of evident charm of nature; but with a fatal weakness of
will. Thus, in the common level which the balance shows, he is much more
convincing as a man, and for the purpose of the dramatist, an excellent
foil to his heroic wife.

In the lovely poem by William Morris on this subject, there is a picture
of King Admetus which glows with just the charm that such a nature might
possess. The poem, which is called _The Love of Alcestis_, relates that
part of the legend which precedes the climax treated by Euripides. It
tells of the coming of the god Apollo to Thessaly, to serve as an
unknown herdsman to Admetus, King of Pheræ, for nine long years; of
Admetus’ wooing of the young daughter of Pelias, King of Iolchos, and of
the impossible condition (fulfilled, however, by the divine herdsman’s
aid) that whoever would wed with Alcestis must fetch her for her bridal
in a chariot drawn by a lion and a boar. It tells, too, of the god’s
help in foiling the spells of Artemis over the bride; of the happy
wedded life; and of the departure of Apollo, leaving with the royal
couple what seemed at first a priceless boon—the promise that when
Admetus came to die, another life should be accepted by the Fates in his

This is the man whose gracious serenity first won the love of the god
when, banished from Olympus, he came to serve as a thrall:

          _Young, strong, and godlike, lacking naught at all
          Of gifts that unto royal men might fall
          In those old simple days....
                                  ... Little like a king,
          As we call kings, but glad with everything,
          The wise Thessalian sat and blessed his life,
          So free from sickening fear and foolish strife._[28]

He stretched an eager hand to the young stranger who knelt at his feet,
begging hospitality, and promising rich rewards.

             _“Rise up, and be my guest,” Admetus said.
             “I need no gifts for this poor gift of bread,
             The land is wide and bountiful enow.”_[28]

From that moment, there was a tender comradeship between the king and
his new herdsman, which only grew stronger with time. Now and then,
strange tokens made Admetus wonder about his guest’s identity; but he
refrained from questioning him, and it was not until the last day of the
appointed service that the revelation came. The king’s sweet bride had
been won ere then; brought home to Pheræ in an ivory chariot which the
stranger had marvellously provided, drawn by a lion and a boar; and the
circle of their happiness seemed complete. But one soft evening when the
sun was sinking, the herdsman drew the king out of the palace; and
together they climbed the hill to watch the sun go down. There fell on
Admetus a sense of sadness, and soon he was aware of a wonderful change
in the figure at his side. He dared not raise his eyes, for he was
conscious of glory which might not be looked upon. Awe filled him, and
now he knew the meaning of his sadness. This mysterious guest who had
been so strong and wise and kind a friend, was leaving him. As he stood
trembling, in dread and sorrow, the dear voice that he loved fell on his
ear once more, thrilling him with its music:

                “_Fear not! I love thee ...
          And now my servitude with thee is done,
          And I shall leave thee toiling on thine earth,
          This handful, that within its little girth
          Holds that which moves you so, O men that die;
          Behold, to-day thou hast felicity,
          But the times change, and I can see a day
          When all thine happiness shall fade away;
          And yet, be merry, strive not with the end,
          Thou canst not change it; for the rest, a friend
          This year hath won thee who shall never fail._”[28]

It is on this note of divine favour that the _Alcestis_ of Euripides
opens. In the golden interval since Apollo took his flight from Pheræ
toward the setting sun, life had sped joyously for Admetus and his
lovely queen. The hint of ill to come which had dropped from the god’s
lips was to the king but a fleck on a fair horizon, the measure of pain
that every man must bear—some day. But it was too remote for present
heeding. Why fret away the day of youth because of sorrow and death that
must come to all alike at the end? So he lived merrily, as the god had
counselled, his fruitful land at peace with all the world, and his doors
flung wide to the stranger and the suppliant. The little cloud was quite

Alcestis was happy too, with a difference. Deep under the bright surface
of her life, the warning of the god lay hidden. It never rose to disturb
her husband’s boyish gaiety, nor to trouble with its shadow the sunny
eyes of her little ones. But it was not lulled to sleep. Alcestis could
not palter with reality. In quiet times the black thing was called up
from its hiding place, and faced and fought. There was many an hour of
anguish before it was finally conquered, since youth and beauty and
happiness are precious. But from the moment when Alcestis learned that
love was greater than them all—when she pledged her soul to take upon
herself the evil that was coming to her husband, life grew calm and fair
again. There was little outward sign to mark the struggle: only a gentle
gravity crept into her sweetness, and her voice grew tenderer still to
husband and to babes. And she too clutched the hope, since she was human
after all, that the thing she feared was still far away.

Very soon, however, and with bewildering suddenness, the little cloud
gathered into storm. The fiat went out from the Moiræ that Admetus was
to die—now, in the glory of youth and strength, a goodly prize to enrich
the House of Hades. One favour only they would grant, at the
supplication of Apollo for his mortal friend—that the king might live if
father or mother or wife would consent to die for him. Admetus,
unprepared for an ordeal which must shake so slight a nature to its
roots; and with all his kindly social virtues rent by the shock, forgot
his manhood. The old people clung feverishly to their remnant of dear
life; and Alcestis knew that this was the moment when the compact that
she had made with her own soul must be ratified to the powers below. She
gave her word to the Fates that she would die for her husband.

Now the appointed day has come; and before the palace of Admetus a grim
contest is in progress. Guarding the door with his splendid presence is
the great Sun-god himself, making a last stand against Hades, lord of
the dead, who has come in person from the Underworld to claim his
victim. He may not use force against this shadowy king; but with all the
strength of persuasion he pleads for Alcestis’ life. “My heart is heavy
for my friend’s mischance,” he says; and tries to touch the obdurate
spirit by the thought of this noble wife’s youth and goodness. But Death
will yield no jot to his entreaty; and as Apollo reluctantly gives place
to him, vanquished for the moment, he flings a threat at the great

          “_Surely thou shalt forbear, though ruthless thou,
          So mighty a man to Pheres’ halls shall come,
          Sent of Eurystheus forth, the courser-car
          From winter-dreary lands of Thrace to bring.
          Guest-welcomed in Admetus’ palace here,
          By force yon woman shall he wrest from thee.
          Yea, thou of me shalt have no thank for this,
          And yet shalt do it, and shalt have mine hate._“[29]

The prophecy contains a gleam of wild hope; but Death passes on
unheeding, and there gather slowly before the doors the friends who have
been summoned to mourn for the dying queen. They are awed by the hush
that lies upon the house, and hardly know how to interpret it. Perhaps
it means that Alcestis is already dead, they conjecture; and that the
funeral train has left the palace. Yet this can hardly be.

 _Would the king without pomp of procession have yielded the Grave the
 Of so dear, of so faithful an one?_[29]

No, they would rather surmise that Alcestis is living still; and as one
of the queen’s maids comes out, they beg eagerly for news. The girl
tells them through tears that her mistress does indeed still live, but
that the end is very near. Even now, in quiet courage, the queen is
performing all the needful rites.

         _For when she knew that the appointed day
         Was come, in river-water her white skin
         She bathed, and from the cedar chests took forth
         Vesture and jewels, and decked her gloriously,
         And stood before the hearth and prayed....
         To all the altars through Admetus’ halls
         She went, with wreaths she hung them, and she prayed,
         Plucking the while the tresses of the myrtle,
         Tearless, unsighing, and the imminent fate
         Changed not the lovely rose-tint of her cheek.
         Then to her bower she rushed, fell on the bed,
         And there, O there she wept....
         And the babes clinging to their mother’s robes
         Were weeping: and she clasped them in her arms,
         Fondling now this, now that, as one death-doomed.
         And all the servants ‘neath the roof were weeping,
         Pitying their lady. But to each she stretched
         Her right hand forth; and none there was so mean
         To whom she spake not and received reply._[29]

The maid goes on to tell of Admetus’ grief. Clasping his wife in his
arms, he begs her not to leave him. But she is growing rapidly weaker,
and his entreaties hardly pierce the darkness that is settling down on
mind and body. She craves for air and light, just to look once more on
the glorious sun, and feel the breath of heaven. As Admetus carries her
out, followed by their two young children, she utters one bitter cry of
regret for all the beauty that she must leave:

     “_O Sun, and the day’s dear light,
 And ye clouds through the wheeling heaven in the race everlasting
     O Land, O stately height
 Of mine halls, and my bridal couch in Iolkos my fatherland lying!_“[29]

Then the presence of imminent death rises on her fading sight. She sees
the sinister Ferryman Charon beckoning with impatient finger, and she
hears him calling her to hasten.

              “_Hades is near, and the night
              Is darkening down on my sight.
              Darlings, farewell: on the light
              Long may ye look:—I have blessed ye
              Ere your mother to nothingness fleet._“[29]

There has been no word of farewell to Admetus yet; and now she gathers
strength for the last thing that must be said to him. Perhaps she has
been waiting, all through his evident grief and broken words of
devotion, for some hint of awakening to a nobler spirit. Perhaps she has
longed, in hope that she knew to be vain, for one word of remorse, one
flash of protest, though it were too late, against the sacrifice that
she is making. But Admetus gives no sign; he is absorbed in his own
suffering; and we seem to hear, all through the solemn charge which the
dying lips lay upon him, a note of pain.

      “_Admetus—for thou seest all my plight—
      Fain would I speak mine heart’s wish, ere I die.
      I, honouring thee, and setting thee in place
      Before mine own soul still to see this light,
      Am dying, unconstrained to die for thee....
      Yet she that bare, he that begat, forsook thee,
      Though fair for death their time of life was come,
      Yea, fair to save their son and die renowned.
                ... For these thy babes thou lovest
      No less than I, if that thy heart be right,
      Suffer that they have lordship in mine home:
      Wed not a stepdame to supplant our babes,
      Whose heart shall tell her she is no Alcestis,
      Whose jealous hand shall smite them, thine and mine....
      For I must die, nor shall it be to morn,
      Nor on the third day comes on me this bane,
      Straightway of them that are not shall I be.
      Farewell, be happy. Now for thee, my lord,
      Abides the boast to have won the noblest wife,
      For you, my babes, to have sprung from noblest mother._“[29]

Admetus promises all, and more, than she asks. He will never wed again,
but will mourn her always. There shall be no more revelry in Pheræ; he
will not touch his lyre again, nor sing. Her death has robbed his life
of mirth; and all his longing will be to come to her.

         “_Yet there look thou for me whenso I die:
         Prepare a home, as who shall dwell with me.
         For in the selfsame cedar-chest, wherein
         Thou liest, will I bid them lay my bones
         Outstretched beside thee: ne’er may I be severed,
         No, not in death, from thee, my one true friend._“[29]

The eager protestations bring some comfort to her passing spirit, and
she tenderly commends the children to him. Then:

ALCES.       _Dark—dark—mine eyes are drooping, heavy-laden._

ADMET.       _O, I am lost if thou wilt leave me, wife!_

ALCES.       _No more—I am no more...._


Amid the wailing of her children, and the mournful chant of the Chorus,
the body of Alcestis is carried into the house, Admetus following to
prepare the funeral rites.

The scene then quickly changes, lifting the gloom of death for a moment.
The mourning ode rises, in vague sweet longing for power to bring
Alcestis back from the grave. And hardly has it ceased when there
arrives at the palace, claiming hospitality in cheery confidence,
Heracles the hero of many toils, and the destined deliverer of Alcestis.
He is a creature of immense interest to the people gathered around the
doors, for are not his valour and endurance known and marvelled at
throughout the whole of Greece? He is weary with travel, but he hails
them blithely, asking for the king; and when they ply him with
questions, he tells all his errand with free good-nature. His
taskmaster, Eurystheus King of Tiryns, has laid yet another labour upon
him, harder and more perilous than all the rest. He is commanded to go
to wintry Thrace, the land of the Bistones, and capture from King
Diomedes there the fierce man-eating mares that draw his chariot. The
Chorus, enthralled by his story, remind him of the prowess of the man
whom he must conquer, and that he is descended from the God of War
himself. But the hero replies that he will not shrink from the task;
only, as he has already come far upon his journey, he needs rest and
refreshment first. He comes unhesitatingly to his friend Admetus,
knowing from of old his unfailing hospitality; and there is about the
hero such a glow of exuberant life and strength, his history and his
present adventure are things so fascinating to his hearers, that they
have for the moment completely forgotten the sorrow that weighs upon
their royal master. No single word of it has been uttered when Admetus
himself, apprised of his friend’s arrival, comes out of the palace to
welcome him.

An embarrassed silence falls upon the mourners. They know that they
should have made known to Heracles at once the calamity which had
befallen Pheræ in the loss of their queen. Then he could have sought the
bounty of some other house, and the grief of their king need not have
been intruded upon. But while they have been lost in eager talk, an
attendant has called Admetus; and on him now will fall the cruel pain of
announcing the death of his wife and—what will be even worse—of
declining hospitality to his friend. They stand in suspense as Heracles,
after the first greeting is over, exclaims in astonishment at the signs
of mourning that Admetus is wearing. But as it quickly becomes evident
that the king is evading the questions of his guest and does not intend
to reveal to him the nature of the grief that has fallen on his home,
their suspense is turned to wonder and carping. Heracles asks anxiously
about children and parents and wife, even touching upon the far-famed
vow of Alcestis to die for her husband. But every question is
successfully parried by the king; and the guest is at last prevailed
upon to enter the house, believing that only some distant kinswoman is
dead, for whom perfunctory mourning and formal rites are in progress.
The sense of propriety in these conventional old men is roughly shaken:
they cannot see that the magnitude of the king’s sorrow has dwarfed the
petty things of use and custom. Only great things remain—love and duty
pre-eminent; and Admetus knows that his dear dead would not grudge this
imperative present task. So, when the senators complain of his action,
he gives them a simple answer:

          “_But had I driven him from my home and city
          Who came my guest, then hadst thou praised me more?
          Nay, sooth; for mine affliction so had grown
          No less, and more inhospitable I;
          And to my ills were added this beside,
          That this my home were called ‘Guest-hating Hall.’
          Yea, and myself have proved him kindliest host
          Whene’er to Argos’ thirsty plain I fared._“[29]

But now there comes in sight a procession bearing burial gifts, headed
by the old parents of the king. At their entrance there is an abrupt
change of tone, a descent from the ideal standpoint, and a violent clash
of character which make for acrid realism in the scene which follows. It
is one of mutual recrimination between father and son, each blaming the
other for the cowardice which the onlooker can perceive in both. As the
procession halts before his door, Admetus drops to the dead level of
existence from the height of great emotion. He hates the formal troop of
mourners: the gifts by which they seek to honour the peerless spirit of
his wife: the trite phrases of consolation which are belied in the
uttering by the hardness of voice and eye. He hates the very presence of
his father, reminding him, as it does, that they both of them alike have
cowered for safety under the sacrifice of a woman. And when, in the
selfishness of an unlovely old age, Pheres praises the act of Alcestis
because it leaves him the protection of his son, the wrath and shame in
the heart of Admetus break out into unreasonable railing against his

      “_Thou grieve!—Thou shouldst have grieved in my death hour!
      Thou stoodst aloof—the old, didst leave the young
      To die:—and wilt thou wail upon this corpse?_“[29]

The retort is obvious, and pointed with caustic truth: Pheres does not
spare his son, and although there is fierce malignance in his speech,
there is justice in it too.

           “_Shamelessly thou hast fought against thy death:
           Thy life is but transgression of thy doom,
           And murder of thy wife._“[29]

The torrent of scorn that he pours upon Admetus: the merciless exposure
of his timidity, the gibes at his base love of life, cannot but sweep
away the moorings which held the king to his self-respect. But pride and
anger struggle fiercely against humiliation; and the unseemly quarrel
rages on, despite voices interposed in a vain effort at conciliation,
until the funeral train emerges from the palace. Then father and son,
shamed to silence, follow the body of Alcestis to its burial, while the
Chorus chants:

                  “_Alas for the loving and daring!
                  Farewell to the noblest and best!
                  May Hermes conduct thee down-faring
                  Kindly, and Hades to rest
                  Receive thee! If any atonement
                  For ills even there may betide
                  To the good, O thine be enthronement
                            By Hades’ bride._“[29]

Meantime Heracles, with mind at perfect ease concerning the fortunes of
his host, had been feasting and making merry within the palace. Rooms
apart had been assigned to him; precautions had been taken that he
should not be disturbed by the sounds of mourning, and the servants had
been warned not to betray to him what was passing. So in all good faith
he had given himself up to jollity, scandalizing the man who waited on
him until the honest fellow could bear it no longer, and flung himself
sulkily out of the house. He is followed soon by Heracles himself, who
cannot comprehend the reason for the servant’s gloom and chides him
good-humouredly. Why such excessive grief for a woman alien-born? he
asks. Surely such sullen service is not worthy either of master or of

At first the man is reticent, fearing to offend the king. But pressed by
Heracles, he presently reveals that it is not a stranger who is dead,
but the queen herself; and that even now the funeral train is returning
from the grave.

Heracles is overwhelmed with sorrow for his friend and contrition for
his own untimely revelling. For a few moments he stands heaping
reproaches on himself, and on the servants for their silence; but he is
not long inactive. The generosity of Admetus fires his own heart; and
his thought leaps impetuously to an act of tremendous daring. He will
face the power of Death himself, and wrest Alcestis from him. He puts
rapid questions to the man concerning the place of burial, calls up
every resource of energy and endurance, and nerves himself for his grim
task by a determination to requite Admetus worthily.

            “_... I must save the woman newly dead,
            And set Alcestis in this house again,
            And render to Admetus good for good.
            I go. The sable-vestured King of Corpses,
            Death, will I watch for, and shall find, I trow,
            Drinking the death-draught hard beside the tomb.
                      ... I doubt not I shall lead
            Alcestis up, and give to mine host’s hands,
            Who to his halls received, nor drave me thence,
            Albeit smitten with affliction sore,
            But did it, like a prince, respecting me._“[29]



  _Lord Leighton_

  _By permission of the Fine Art Society, Ltd._

As Heracles departs in search of Alcestis’ tomb, the mourners are seen
approaching, led by Admetus, alone. A profound change has come upon the
king. His ignoble anger has vanished: no word more is heard of the
petulant reproach of his parents: nothing of the old arrogant claim on
life which had blinded his soul and hardened his heart. Humbled now, and
remorseful, he sees that death were infinitely preferable to life at the
price that he has paid. Something had given him sight as he stood beside
Alcestis’ tomb. He had tried to cast himself down to die beside her; but
friends had restrained him, and now as he stands before the home that he
dare not enter, he makes a pitiful confession—

             “_Friends, I account the fortune of my wife
             Happier than mine, albeit it seems not so.
             For nought of grief shall touch her any more,
             And glorious rest she finds from many toils.
             But I, unmeet to live, my doom outrun,
             Shall drag out bitter days: I know it now.
             How shall I bear to enter this my home?_“[29]

The bystanders try to persuade him to go in, but he lingers through the
beautiful choral ode that is raised in praise of Alcestis. They sing of
the worship and honour that will be paid at her tomb as at a shrine; and
as the long hymn is drawing to a close, Heracles is seen to be
returning, leading a woman closely veiled. The king, standing in quiet
despair, utters no word of greeting to his guest, and the Chorus wait in
silent wonder for an explanation. A strange awe falls upon them; and
Heracles, beginning in gentle gravity to reproach the king for want of
confidence in him, turns presently to the veiled figure at his side.
Will the king take and guard this maid for him, until he shall return
from Thrace? She is a prize awarded him for great toil, and Admetus will
do well to care for her.

But the king recoils at the thought. How can he receive a young and
beautiful woman into his house without pain to himself and shame to her?
He protests that it is unthinkable, and begs Heracles to take her
elsewhere. She would be a constant reminder of his grief, and an insult
to the memory of his wife. Until this moment he has hardly glanced at
the silent figure by the hero’s side, except to notice that her rich
vestments proclaim her young. But something in her appearance seizes his
attention; and he proceeds, rapidly and in great agitation:

                         “_But, woman, thou,
         Whoso thou art, know that thy body’s stature
         Is as Alcestis, and thy form as hers.
         Ah me!—lead, for the Gods’ sake, from my sight
         This woman!—Take not my captivity captive.
         For as I look on her, methinks I see
         My wife. She stirs my heart with turmoil: fountains
         Of tears burst from mine eyes. O wretched I!
         Now taste I first this grief’s full bitterness._“[29]

It is Alcestis’ very self, won back from death as Apollo had promised;
but with the awful silence of the tomb still upon her. Heracles places
her hand in that of the reluctant and incredulous king, while he draws
aside her veil:

                  “_Yea, guard her. Thou shalt call
        The child of Zeus one day a noble guest.
        Look on her, if in aught she seems to thee
        Like to thy wife. Step forth from grief to bliss._“[29]


Footnote 28:

  From _The Life and Death of Jason_, by William Morris (Longmans).

Footnote 29:

  From the _Alcestis_ of Euripides, translated by Dr. A. S. Way (Loeb
  Classical Library: London, Heinemann).

_Euripides: Medea_

Only eighteen dramas are extant of the seventy-five which Euripides is
known to have written. And an interesting small fact is that the two
earliest of these surviving dramas are the _Alcestis_ and the _Medea_,
produced respectively in 438 B.C. and 431 B.C. Each of the two has a
woman for the protagonist, and both have love for their central theme.
To that extent therefore they are similar, and represent certain clear
features of Euripidean drama as a whole.

We have already noted the poet’s interest in womanhood: his keen and
careful study of feminine character. He was no less occupied with the
influence of love in human life; but on both themes he was clear-eyed
and penetrative, aspiring always to the ‘white star of truth.’ Therefore
we do not find in his drama a troop of faultless women, moving in an
atmosphere of romantic glamour; nor a treatment of love which reveals
only the more beautiful aspects of it. He seems to have been content to
acknowledge, as for instance in the _Alcestis_ and the lost _Andromeda_,
that life’s flowers do sometimes, given the right conditions, come to
fair fruition. But he saw how often they are warped and blighted; and
though he would not hide the grimmer facts, he was always careful to
seek and show the cause of the aberration. Hence, though the truth of
his presentation is sometimes merciless, and may have given colour to
the contemporary gossip which called him a ‘woman-hater,’ one glance
below the surface of his thought shows him to have been inspired by a
nobler chivalry than that which is content to veil the facts of life in
romantic illusion. So we find that although both the _Alcestis_ and the
_Medea_ are preoccupied with the theme of love, there is a vivid
contrast in the treatment of the theme, despite certain resemblances
between the two dramas. It is true that both of the heroines are
pre-eminent in devotion to the men with whom they are mated; and that
the hero in each case moves on a plane from which he cannot reach the
height of his wife’s spirit. But whilst on the one hand love takes
possession of a gentle nature, and favoured by every circumstance of
character and environment triumphs over death itself, in the case of
Medea a wild soul spends itself recklessly for the object of its love,
beats impotently against injustice, loses hold on sanity and sweet human
ties, and is transformed into an avenging fury.

The story of Medea belongs to the old Argo legend, which was made into
poetry by Apollonius Rhodius in the first century before Christ, and by
our own Victorian poet Morris in _The Life and Death of Jason_.

Jason, the exiled heir to the throne of Iolchos, was reared by the
centaur Chiron. Arrived at manhood, he determined to claim his right
from his usurping uncle Pelias; and travelling to Iolchos on foot, he
presented himself before the king minus a sandal. Now Pelias had been
warned against a man who should come to him with one foot bare; and,
moreover, he had no intention of yielding up the throne to his nephew.
He therefore cast about for some means of ridding himself of Jason, and
hit upon the plan of sending him on a wild and dangerous quest—to seek
and bring the Golden Fleece from the barbarous land of Colchis. Jason
gladly undertook the task: gathered the Greek heroes together and sailed
with them in the good ship _Argo_.

After a perilous voyage, the heroes arrived at Colchis, and Jason made
known their quest to the king Aeêtes. But they soon found that they had
no hope of success. Aeêtes was false to them, made impossible
conditions, and plotted against their life. Disaster seemed imminent,
when there came a deliverance so glorious that it seemed like the
interposition of a god. It was the quick wit of a girl, prompted by
love. Medea, the young daughter of Aeêtes, had seen and loved the brave
Greek prince whom her father now plotted to destroy. She was an ardent
and impulsive creature; and she determined to save Jason. By the magic
lore that she possessed, she secretly enabled him to overcome the
fire-breathing oxen, and the earth-sown army that her father sent
against him. Then, realizing too late that she had incurred the
unpitying rage of her father, she fled at night from the palace, to take
refuge with the Greek heroes.

 _She kissed her bed, and her hands on the walls with loving caress
 Lingered; she kissed the posts of the doors; and one long tress
 She severed, and left it her bower within, for her mother to be
 A memorial of maidenhood’s days, and with passionate voice moaned

Under cover of the darkness, she led Jason to the forest-precinct where
the Fleece was hidden; and by her charms she lulled the sleepless dragon
that guarded it. She even betrayed to him her brother Absyrtus, driven
by the danger of a horrible death for herself, her lover and his
comrades; and then, claiming from Jason a solemn oath of marriage when
they should come to Hellas, she sailed with him on the _Argo_. Aeêtes
pursued them in fierce wrath; and the gods, offended for the murder of
Absyrtus, vexed them with storms. But at length they came to the island
of Circe; and she, for the sake of her kinship with Medea, purified them
of the murder of Absyrtus and set them on their way again. At Phæacia,
where they were driven for harbourage, Aeêtes overtook them, threatening
war with King Alcinous if he did not yield up his fugitive daughter. It
was then that the great wise queen Arete pleaded for Medea in gentle

 “_In madness she sinned at the first, when she gave him the charm that
    should tame
 The bulls; and with wrong to amend that wrong,—Ay, oftimes the same
 In our sinning we do!—she straightway essayed; and shrinking in fear
 From her proud sire’s tyrannous wrath, she fled. Now the man, as I hear,
 This Jason, is hound by mighty oaths which his own lips said,
 When he pledged him to make her, his halls within, his wife

Alcinous yielded to his wife’s entreaties on one condition—that Jason
and Medea should be married forthwith; for then he could return answer
to Aeêtes that he would not separate husband and wife. Thus the two were
hurriedly wedded; and sailed in safety from Phæacia, to encounter many a
terrible adventure before they reached Iolchos at last, triumphing in
the possession of the Fleece. They gained great glory from their
enterprise, but little else. For Pelias would not yield the throne to
Jason; and it seemed to Medea that all she had wrought had been in vain.
She brooded over Jason’s wrongs, chafing at the restraint imposed on her
in her new life, and eager to strike for the kingship on his behalf. At
last she evolved a plan by which she thought Pelias might be removed
from their path, and the throne secured for Jason. Promising the old
king renewed youth by means of her enchantments, she induced him to
submit to death at the hands of his daughters. Then, in the storm of
indignation which arose against her, she and Jason and their two young
children fled to Corinth.

So the legend runs to the point where Euripides takes it up. In crude
outline it is savage and incredible; and yet it contains all the
elements which in the hands of idealistic poets have made a story of
enthralling romantic beauty. In the _Medea_, however, the poet has
avoided so far as might be both the barbarity of the legend and its
potential charm. He has treated only the final catastrophe—the
abandonment of Medea by Jason and her dreadful vengeance upon him. And
although he could not escape from the data: although he is compelled to
handle some of the most barbarous of them, he has translated them from
terms of glimmering wonder and breathless excitement into the language
of reality. He has brought Medea out of the region of myth, where she
dwelt in eerie and tempestuous beauty, into the stream of human
existence. The marvellous and the superhuman drop away, save for a
fragment or two in the framework of the Drama; and Medea becomes simply
a woman, struggling against her own wild heart and the injustice of her

The Drama opens with the monologue of Medea’s old nurse, from which we
learn all that is vital to an understanding of the action. Jason has
forsaken Medea and is about to marry with Glaucé, the young daughter of
Creon, King of Corinth. Medea is sick with misery and is lying in the
house prostrate on her bed. Two things the old woman makes quite clear,
as she stands talking outside: that the chief cause of Medea’s grief is
shame at her betrayal; and that already the storm of passion is tending
toward madness. When an attendant comes in, bringing Jason’s children
back from their play, there is a clear hint of the catastrophe. The man
tells of a rumour that he has heard: Creon has ordered the banishment of
their mistress and her boys. The nurse breaks into a wail of
commiseration, and then clearly states her fear for the effect of this
new wrong upon Medea’s mind. She sends the little ones in before she
speaks the dread she has that their mother may lift her hand against
their lives; and almost immediately afterward the frenzied voice of
Medea is heard, calling bitter curses upon her unfathered children.

There gather gradually the ladies of Corinth who form the Chorus. They
are deeply sympathetic; and they give pitying answers to the nurse’s
tale; while within the house, at intervals, Medea’s voice is heard,
wailing her grief and anger, and the old remorse that has reawakened for
her brother’s death.

                    “_Virgin of Righteousness,
                    Virgin of hallowed Troth,
                    Ye marked me when with an oath
                    I bound him; mark no less
                    That oath’s end. Give me to see
                    Him and his bride, who sought
                    My grief when I wronged her not,
                    Broken in misery,
                    And all her house._“[31]

The scene is one of weird impressiveness. So far, Medea has not
appeared; but her cries within the house, the appearance of her
children, the indignant fidelity of the old servants, the beautiful
lyrics of the Chorus, and, above all, the knowledge we possess that
another blow is about to fall on her, produce a cumulative effect which
makes the moment of her entrance intensely dramatic. Yet she begins her
speech quietly, almost in apology for her former unrestraint. She
strives for self-control while she puts her case before the Corinthian
women and begs their help. For a moment or two she succeeds,
pathetically acknowledging her foreign birth and the flaw it intrudes in
the legality of her marriage. But at this thought, emotion sweeps over
her again:

                       “_...I dazzle where I stand,
             The cup of all life shattered in my hand,
             Longing to die—O friends! He, even he,
             Whom to know well was all the world to me,
             The man I loved, hath proved most evil._“[31]

She pours out her heart to the listeners; and it is not a mere selfish
recital of her own sorrow. The brain that had been clear and quick to
save her lover in the extremity of danger has not lost its power. She
sees the base act of Jason in its broad aspect, as a wrong to womankind;
and she rises from the contemplation of her personal suffering to the
thought that this, after all, is but one of the many evils that
subjection brings upon women. But the greatest evil—the helpless
creature goaded to crime by injustice—is present to her at this moment
only as a blind craving for revenge. It will seize and carry her on to
its culmination as the sweetest thing that life now holds; but it will
finally reveal itself, since she cannot but face the truth, as the last
and deepest wrong, that has cancelled her humanity. The light of that
thought has not yet dawned; and will not until the storm of passion has
wrought sheer havoc. All her fervent nature is possessed by the idea of
vengeance; and seeing that her friends pity and sympathize, she pledges
them not to betray her. Their willing promise is only just in time, for
they are interrupted by the arrival of the king, guarded by armed
attendants whose very presence is a menace. Creon is old, and has grown
hard and tyrannous with age. He has long desired a great match for his
only daughter, hoping to see his line established on the throne of
Corinth before his death. To him the marriage with the Argonaut hero is
not only a prudent step, likely to bring him reflected glory; but a
thing perfectly right in itself, because perfectly legal. By the letter
of the law, which forbade a Greek to marry a ‘barbarian,’ Medea was not
Jason’s wife; and the letter of the law merely was of concern to Creon.
To him Medea was an uncivilized creature from outland parts: a being
without rights, who might safely be ignored; and having won over Jason,
the match was arranged and the preliminary formalities concluded. Not
until a rumour reached him that Medea in her wrath had solemnly cursed
his child and him, did any thought of her disturb him. Then, fearing
that she might indeed do his daughter some injury, or at the least might
move public opinion in her favour, he determined upon instant banishment
for her and her two young sons. Without a word to soften or explain his
action, he stands before Medea now, and curtly orders her to prepare for

The blow is so crushing that for a moment Medea seems to sink under it;
she can think of nothing but to ask what crime of hers has merited this
punishment. But when Creon cynically replies that there has been no
crime, and that the measure is one of precaution merely, to guard
himself against her reputation for magic-lore, she rallies her wit and
meets him on his own ground. Half ironically, she repudiates the damning
possession of brains, and bids him set his mind at rest.

            “_’Tis not the first nor second time, O King,
            That fame hath hurt me....
            Come unto fools with knowledge of new things,
            They deem it vanity, not knowledge....
            Ah, I am not so wondrous wise!—And now,
            To thee, I am terrible! What fearest thou?
            What dire deed? Do I tread so proud a path—
            Fear me not thou!—that I should brave the wrath
            Of princes?_“[31]

Creon sees that she is trying to placate him, and harshly repeats his
decree. He even threatens her, when she continues her entreaties, with
force from his soldiery; and Medea, shrinking in horror from the thought
of personal violence, instantly ceases her petition. She pretends to
yield; and in feigned humility, begs on her knees for one day’s respite.
Creon, partly deceived, and entirely convinced that she can do no harm
in so short a time, reluctantly consents. But he has hardly gone when
Medea breaks into a torrent of speech which, in its fierce exultation
over Creon, its wild leap to the height of daring and its rallying cry
to her own spirit, comes very near to madness. All the shapeless
thoughts of vengeance on which she had brooded spring into vivid life as
she rapidly cons now this plot, now that, to reach her end. Of the end
itself there can be no doubt; she must kill these three—the king, and
Jason and his bride—in the few hours left to her. And for this she will
need every resource of strategy and courage.

            “_Awake thee now, Medea! Whatso plot
            Thou hast, or cunning, strive and falter not.
            On to the peril-point! Now comes the strain
            Of daring. Shall they trample thee again?_“[31]

No wonder that the Chorus sing, as she rushes into the house, of a
strange reversal of all the order of nature; of woman made terrible
because man has forgotten God. They take up the story of Medea’s broken
life: of the wonder and the pity of it: of her distant home: of her
surpassing love for Jason, and of her betrayal. In the beauty and grace
of the songs the emotional strain is lightened: but they have a further
purpose. For while they tell the old story over in tender phrases, Jason
himself enters and Medea again comes out of the house. The two stand
face to face at last and the crux of the drama is reached. Jason is the
first to speak; and one feels all the spirit of the man in his opening
words—cold, ambitious, prudent, with ideals faded and every generous
emotion dead. He protests that he has acted from motives of policy and
considerations of their best interest: for the welfare of Medea and
their children as well as for himself. The new marriage was the only
way, in a land to which they were strangers, to secure a home for them
all, and princely connexions for his sons. But Medea has spoiled
everything by her ungovernable anger: and he has come, since nothing
else is possible now, to make provision for the children in their exile.

The speech is clear, terse, moderate in tone, and pitilessly logical
from Jason’s point of view. From that point, too, it is not unkind: he
wishes to do what may be done to soften their lot. But to the woman who
loves him his words are a mere blur of sound, the logic meaningless, the
untroubled manner a thing of contempt. In tone and look and gesture one
fact is certain—that her husband has ceased to love her, and is content
to cast her off. It has clamoured in her ears while he spoke, drowning
every other sound; and when she replies it is that which prompts her. It
inspires her great indictment—the case for the woman against injustice
throughout all time—and it evokes a shuddering recoil from baseness
which she feels to be literally a pollution.

            “_Evil—most Evil ...
            I will begin with that, ‘twixt me and thee,
            That first befell. I saved thee. I saved thee—
                                ... And hast thou then
            Accepted all—O evil yet again!—
            And cast me off and taken for thy bride
            Another? And with children at thy side!
                                ... Is sworn faith so low
            And weak a thing? I understand it not.
            Are the old gods dead? Are the old laws forgot,
            And new laws made? ...
                          ... O great God, shall gold withal
            Bear thy clear mark, to sift the base and fine,
            And o’er man’s living visage runs no sign
            To show the lie within, ere all too late?_“[31]

Jason’s anger is stung by her denunciation, but his purpose is quite
unmoved. He flings a veiled insult at her love; and as he elaborates the
reasons for his action, with no little skill and plausibility, we feel
that with every word the conflict becomes more deadly. In apparent good
faith, but with intolerable effrontery to the injured woman, he claims
to have repaid that old debt, if indeed it were a debt. He has given her
a home in an ordered country and her name has been linked in the glory
of his. As to the marriage with Glaucé—with a sneer at the bare idea of
sentiment—the affair is a bargain, with consideration given and received
on each side. Let Medea look at the matter for one instant with the eyes
of reason, and she herself will acknowledge that he has acted wisely.

But the very root of the tragedy lay there. Medea could no more detach
herself from the emotion that possessed her than Jason could revive the
tenderness that filled him when he lifted the sweet wild fugitive on
board the _Argo_. So they stand, typifying the eternal struggle between
the passionate heart and the arrogant brain; and striking at each other
in baffled rage across the gulf between them. Jason makes one last offer
of help, but it is vehemently refused, and with a final thrust at
Medea’s savagery, he leaves her. When he has gone, the inevitable
reaction comes. The Chorus, interpreting her mood, sing musingly of the
pains of exile, and of her lonely state. She realizes that she has flung
away her only chance of help, and she sees herself in a few hours
expelled from Corinth without one friend to shelter her. Despair is
settling upon her when a curious incident occurs, suddenly reviving hope
and making the path clear for her revenge. It is the arrival of Ægeus,
King of Athens. He is travelling back from Apollo’s shrine at Delphi,
where he has been to renew an old petition that the god would give him
children. Medea, thinking rapidly, questions him of his errand. She sees
a possibility of succour; and putting all her wrongs before him, she
begs him to give her refuge at Athens. He shall not fail of a reward,
for she has magic arts which will secure to him his long desire for
children. Ægeus is indignant at her wrongs, and promises to succour her
if she comes to him; but knowing what she is about to do, she cunningly
extorts an oath from him. He gives it willingly, and as he departs Medea
breaks into a cry of exultation:

            “_God, and God’s Justice, and ye blinding Skies,
            At last the victory dawneth!_“[31]



  _Herbert Draper_

  _By permission of the Corporation Art Gallery of Bradford_

Quickly she lays her plan. She will recall Jason, feign repentance, and
send the children to the bride with gifts—marvellous raiment and jewels
which will hide under their beauty an agonizing death for Glaucé. But
that done—she pauses in horror, the sweetness of revenge dashed by the
thought of what must follow. Then, she must lift her hand to slay her
children, before they can be caught and killed for their mother’s crime.
There is a short altercation with the friendly women about her, who make
a futile effort to restrain her. But brushing aside their remonstrance,
she sends the nurse for Jason, and in a scene which vibrates with
dramatic power, she pretends to make peace with him, and puts the
frightful revenge in motion. Jason, completely deceived, promises that
the children shall be taken to Glaucé, to present their gifts and beg
for leave to stay in Corinth. But twice, as the little ones stand
waiting, the motherhood in Medea rebels against the fury that is driving
her. Tears that she cannot check rush into her eyes, and she almost
forgets her rôle, as she clasps them to her.

                                “_Shall it be
        A long time more, my children, that ye live
        To reach to me those dear, dear arms? ... Forgive._“[31]

And again when Jason, softened by her submission, is promising to lead
them up to an honoured manhood, a sudden movement of Medea arrests him.
He cannot understand her grief, and the strangeness of her manner; and
asks her if she doubts that he will act in good faith toward their

MEDEA.       _I was their mother! When I heard thy prayer
             Of long life for them, there swept over me
             A horror, wondering how these things shall be._[31]

But the gentler mood passes, and when Jason, with characteristic
canniness, counsels her not to send such precious gifts to his bride,
the spirit of vengeance has regained possession of her soul. She
overrules him, and Jason leads the children to the princess, carrying in
their innocent hands the weapon that will slay her. Not until they are
gone does Medea realize fully what the next step must be; and the
realization brings agony. She waits for their return in a storm of
emotion: suspense that almost stops the beating of her heart: hideous
hope that her plot has succeeded and that Glaucé even now is dying from
the poison; and ghastly fear that her children have been taken for the
deed. But when they return at last, in unconscious gladness that the
great lady has been kind to them, it is something more awful still that
robs their mother of power of utterance. The children’s tutor is amazed
at the grief that he sees is racking her, and asks its cause.

MEDEA.       _For bitter need, Old Man! The gods have willed,
             And mine own evil mind, that this should come._[31]

And as the man goes in, leaving her alone with her boys, a poignant
scene follows in which every instinct of her nature struggles against
her wrath. Their sweet young faces stir the tenderness that has hitherto
been bound within her; and as it floods her heart it seems for a few
moments to sweep away her evil purpose. But it only returns in added
strength, and as her soul writhes in the conflict, reason totters, and
she implores the vengeance within, as a living and implacable foe, to
spare her babes. Backward and forward she sways, driven by hatred and
love, until the scale is turned at last by the thought of her own
irrevocable act. Glaucé, even at this moment, is dying from the poison
that she has sent.

                         “_Too late, too late!
             By all Hell’s living agonies of hate,
             They shall not take my little ones alive
             To make their mock with! Howso’er I strive
             The thing is doomed....
             Oh, darling hand! Oh, darling mouth, and eye,
             And royal mien, and bright brave faces clear,
             May you be blessèd, but not here! What here
             Was yours, your father stole....
                         ... I am broken by the wings
             Of evil.... Yea, I know to what bad things
             I go, but louder than all thought doth cry
             Anger, which maketh man’s worst misery._“[31]

But even yet she cannot strike: one thing more is needed to nerve her
hand, and it comes only too soon. A messenger is seen flying toward them
from the palace in frantic haste. As he comes within hail, he shouts to
Medea to flee—both Creon and the princess lie dead from the effects of
her poisoned gift, and she has not a moment to lose. Her own life will
surely be demanded for the crime. Medea remains immovable, smiling in
awful joy at the news. She makes the man relate every detail of the
ghastly scene in the palace; and for just so long as the story takes to
tell, she clasps revenge complete and satisfying. But a moment later the
thing has shrivelled in her hand; for there is now no hope to save her

                       “_Oh, up, and get thine armour on,
             My heart!...
             Take up thy sword, O poor right hand of mine,
             Thy sword: then onward to the thin-drawn line
             Where life turns agony._”[31]

She goes into the house; and a moment later the shrieks of the children
are heard. They have hardly ceased when Jason rushes in, bent on
carrying off his sons before the king’s avengers can capture them. A
woman warns him of what is passing within; and as the agonized father
bursts open the door of the house, Medea appears on the roof, in the
dragon-chariot of the Sun, with the poor dead bodies lying at her feet.
There is something weird in this touch of the supernatural; but there is
something symbolic too. For Medea is a woman no longer: with her own
hand, driven by foul wrong and an untamed heart, she has cast humanity

We need not follow to the end the last clash of the two bitter spirits.
Jason pleads piteously for one poor boon: “Give me the dead to weep and
make their grave.” But the fury that has smitten him is inexorable.

           “_Never! Myself will lay them in a still
           Green sepulchre....
                     ... For thee, behold, death draweth on,
           Evil and lonely, like thine heart: the hands
           Of thine own Argo, rotting where she stands,
           Shall smite thine head in twain, and bitter be
           To the last end thy memories of me._“[31]


Footnote 30:

  From Dr. A. S. Way’s translation of the _Argonautica_ (Dent and Sons

Footnote 31:

  From Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation of the _Medea_ (George
  Allen & Co. Ltd.).

_Euripides: Phædra_

The _Hippolytus_ of Euripides, to which we turn for the story of Phædra,
is frequently called the earliest love-tragedy in European literature.
That is to say, it is the first to deal fully and frankly with the power
of love toward tragic issues. This can hardly be said about the _Medea_,
for that drama is only the last incident of a story wherein love has
been changed to hatred; and the motive is revenge. But in the
_Hippolytus_ the story is unfolded from its inception; and Phædra’s
passion is found to be the force that moves the whole action of the
tragedy. This fact has a peculiar attraction for the modern mind; but
the drama has other claims upon us too. First, for its sheer beauty, as
poetry and as dramatic art of a special type; then, for its accurate
study of character, three people at least gripping our interest as
complete and convincing human creatures; and again, for its lofty tone
and a reflective element which, though characteristically original, is
calm and clear. But the most wonderful fact of all is the surprising
contrast between the nature of the theme and the austere beauty of the
drama which has been built upon it.

The crude facts of the story are almost repulsive on the face of them.
Phædra, the young wife of Theseus, King of Athens and Trozen, had fallen
in love with her husband’s illegitimate son Hippolytus. That is the
initial situation; and the further data of the old Attic legend do not
soften it. For we know that Phædra’s love was unrequited, a fact which,
with curious unreason, seems to accuse her; and we know too that when
her love was betrayed to Hippolytus, she took her own life in shame and
fear, first making a false charge against him which she knew would bring
upon him the punishment of death.

Such, in harsh outline, is the story of unhappy love and wild impulse
which has been made by this poet who was before all things a seeker of
truth, into a work of supreme spiritual beauty. More wonderful still,
Phædra, who by conventional canons would seem to have forfeited all
claim to respect or sympathy, is found to be a woman of sweet and gentle
purity, cruelly betrayed by forces without and within, and driven by
desperation to a frantic attempt to save her honour.

The means to such an end are interesting, although behind them all lies
the explanation of them all—the poet’s higher and broader perception of
truth. He has seen the passion which ruled Phædra as a great
world-force, an elemental power which could neither be escaped nor
overcome. This power is personified as Aphrodite or Cypris, goddess of
love; and she is conceived as the mortal enemy of Hippolytus, because he
has scorned her in his spiritual pride and refused her her need of

The key to the tragedy lies in this conception of Cypris, and in the
mystical, ascetic spirit of Hippolytus against which she has set her
offended godhead. They represent eternally opposing forces, and warfare
between them is inevitable and deadly. For that reason, the opening
monologue of the Drama is of great importance. The scene is placed
before the castle of Theseus at Trozen. A statue of a goddess stands on
either side—that of Artemis, chaste Moon-goddess, on the one hand,
decked with flowers and carefully tended; and on the other hand, bare
and unhonoured, is the statue of Aphrodite. While beside the latter,
musing in evident anger, is the gleaming form of the goddess herself. We
learn the cause of her anger as she speaks. She is grieved on account of
Hippolytus, who in his excessive devotion to Artemis, despises Aphrodite
and looks upon love as a thing unclean. His arrogance and neglect are an
unbearable insult, and she has determined to punish him, swiftly and
without mercy. She has already prepared the pitfall, long ago in Athens,
when Hippolytus came to be solemnly initiated into the Mysteries.

           “_And Phædra there, his father’s Queen high-born,
           Saw him, and, as she saw, her heart was torn
           With great love, by the working of my will.
           And for his sake, long since, on Pallas’ hill,
           Deep in the rock, that love no more might roam,
           She built a shrine, and named it Love-at-home:
           And the rock held it, but its face alway
           Seeks Trozên o’er the seas._“[32]

Thus Phædra tried to exorcise her passion; but there came a time when
Theseus, to expiate some sin, retired to Trozen with his queen. There,
meeting the young prince daily, love reawakened; and at the opening of
the tragedy it is secretly consuming her very life.

             _And here that grievous and amazéd queen,
             Wounded and wondering, with ne’er a word,
             Wastes slowly; and her secret none hath heard
             Nor dreamed._[32]

Now Aphrodite’s hour has come, and Phædra is the weapon with which she
will strike. The young queen’s vigilant honour, proud and enduring,
shall be overthrown, by a broken word uttered in weakness; and she shall
die, dragging down Hippolytus with her. Even while the goddess is
invoking the prince’s doom, there are cheery distant sounds of the
returning hunt; and the voice of Hippolytus raised above the rest in a
hymn to Artemis. Aphrodite lingers an instant longer, and the menace of
her final words shatters the blithe harmony that is approaching:

          “_Little he knows that Hell’s gates opened are,
          And this his last look on the great Day-star!_“[32]

The next moment the goddess has vanished, and Hippolytus leads in his
troop of huntsmen, laden with spoil and bearing fresh-culled field
flowers for the honour of the goddess of all wild things. Straight to
the statue of Artemis goes the prince, and standing in an attitude of
supplication, he proffers a wreath from the uncropped meadows that she
loves. There is in his prayer a curious note of exaltation. Young, brave
and fair, there is something at once beautiful and sinister in his claim
to perfect purity: his naïve assumption that he alone of all men is
worthy to worship the goddess: in the ascetic vow he takes; and the
mystical touches, hinting of personal converse with the deity. We
vaguely feel that there is a shade of excess in it; that the limit of
holy confidence has been passed; and that, with all its intensity, there
is something narrow and hard in his devotion. A pious old huntsman has
to remind him that he has not paid service at the second shrine; when,
with a perfunctory salute to the statue of Aphrodite, Hippolytus and his
train go into the castle.

There follows a lovely ode by the Chorus, which prepares for the
entrance of Phædra. They tell of a mysterious sickness that has fallen
on the queen, and of their fears for her life.

          “_For three long days she hath lain forlorn,
          Her lips untainted of flesh or corn,
          For that secret sorrow beyond allayment,
          That steers to the far sad shore of the dead._“[32]

Many a surmise they ponder, to account for the strange malady: perhaps
some god is angry with the queen for stinted rites: or the absent king
her husband is unfaithful: or she has had ill tidings from her Cretan
home. Their musing brings no light to the problem; but its purpose is
served, for when Phædra is presently borne out on her couch, we are
prepared to see a being in whom vitality is burning low; but in whom
suffering is overshone by stainless honour and an unconquerable will.
She is attended by her maids, and by an old nurse whose delineation is
wonderful. She is one of the humble characters whom Euripides drew so
often: whose sterling qualities he seems to delight in, but whose
limitation and error he puts in too, with absolute fidelity. Like
Medea’s nurse, she probably came with her mistress from her maiden home;
and she has grown old in faithful service. She has the tenderness of a
mother for the young queen; but age has made her fretful, and slavery
has hardened the fibre of her mind. With pathetic solicitude, she is yet
inclined to be querulous at the feverish caprices of her charge.
Moreover, she divines that there is something weighing upon her mistress
which Phædra will not reveal, even to her; and she is hurt at the lack
of confidence.

As the queen’s languid voice follows the wandering thought that has
almost escaped control, the old woman grows impatient. She cannot
comprehend the yearning flight of fancy which, in phrases of wild
beauty, betrays its longing for escape: to flee to the mountain spaces
and the woods and fields, and thread the mazes of the pines with arrow
and spear, like Artemis herself.

                  “_Oh for a deep and dewy spring,
                  With runlets cold to draw and drink!
                  And a great meadow blossoming,
                  Long-grassed, and poplars in a ring,
                  To rest me by the brink!_“[32]

There is a significance in the half-conscious utterances which lies very
near the surface of the words: the fair soul unwittingly hinting its
secret in delirium as lovely as itself. Presently her mind grows clear
again, and she starts in fear of what she may have betrayed.

               “_What have I said? Woe’s me! And where
               Gone straying from my wholesome mind?
               What? Did I fall in some god’s snare?
               Nurse, veil my head again, and blind
               Mine eyes! There is a tear behind
               That lash. Oh, I am sick with shame!_“[32]

The sight of her anguish and humiliation stings the nurse to another
protest. She had not possessed the clue to Phædra’s raving, and the
sudden access of shame is inexplicable. She longs to soothe and help,
out of her deep and genuine affection; and she has also some touch of
quite human curiosity which she cannot restrain. But every way she is
baffled by the silence of the queen. She feels that she is slighted, but
much more she feels the cruelty of unsuccoured pain to one whom she
dearly loves.

The thought that Phædra is surely dying from this mysterious malady
flings her down in supplication; and she pours out a torrent of
entreaties until we feel that the queen is growing exhausted by them.
But there is no sign given until the nurse, reminding her mistress of
the children whom she will leave unprotected by her death, speaks of
Theseus’ bastard son who may disinherit them, and lets fall his name,
Hippolytus. The word brings a cry from Phædra at last; and then,
reluctantly, in slow and broken phrases, all the secret is wrung from

The old woman now is horrified and remorseful at her own persistence.
Terror seizes her, and an unreasoning sense that her mistress must
perforce yield to dishonour. Phædra’s chastity rises indignantly at so
base a thought, giving her strength to face the women about her with a
magnificent defence of her honour. She begins almost hesitatingly, on a
note of sadness for all the sum of human misery; but she gathers courage
as the story is unfolded and rises to sublimity at last:

          “_Come, I will show thee how my spirit hath moved.
          When the first stab came, and I knew I loved,
          I cast about how best to face mine ill.
          And the first thought that came, was to be still
          And hide my sickness....
                                After that
          I would my madness bravely bear, and try
          To conquer by mine own heart’s purity.
          My third mind, when these two availed me naught
          To quell love, was to die—the best, best thought—
          Gainsay me not—of all that men can say!
          I would not have mine honour hidden away....
          Friends, ‘tis for this I die....
          ‘Tis written, one way is there, one, to win
          This life’s race, could man keep it from his birth,
          A true clean spirit._“[32]

But while the queen is speaking, winning a painful way upward to her
spirit’s height, the nurse is lagging after her on a much lower path.
She has rallied from the first shock, when Phædra’s confession had
driven her to mere panic; and is now revolving the matter in a mind
where perception has been dimmed by age and the moral fibre coarsened by
long servility. Calling up all her store of doubtful experience and
worldly wisdom, she opposes every cunning and plausible argument to
Phædra’s virtue. Can her mistress not see that she is visibly caught in
the snare of Cypris? Of what use is it to struggle against so mighty a
goddess? No human heart can resist the power of love; and it is wiser to
yield at once than to be broken by Aphrodite’s anger.

Phædra listens patiently, seeing that the faithful old creature is
prompted by real devotion; and her reply has more of pity than of anger
in it, for the crooked counsel.

           “_Oh this it is hath flung to dogs and birds
           Men’s lives and homes and cities—fair false words!
           O why speak things to please our ears? We crave
           Not that. ‘Tis honour, honour, we must save!_“[32]

But when the nurse, irritated, flings a rank word at this love that she
cannot comprehend, Phædra’s anger blazes in a vehement rebuke.

         “_Shame on thee! Lock those lips, and ne’er again
         Let word nor thought so foul have harbour there!_“[32]

The old woman is not silenced, however: she merely changes her tactics.
Will not the queen trust to her? She knows of love-philtres and salves
that will cure her passion without fear of shame. Phædra is growing
weary of the contest; and at last, when endurance is strained to
breaking, she yields on a point which seems quite innocent and harmless.
The nurse may fetch the potion of which she speaks; only—and on this she
lays pathetic stress—no word of her secret must be breathed to the
prince. There is a soothing, half evasive reply from the nurse: a
muttered prayer aside to Cypris which has something ominous in it; and
the old servant goes out to wreck the honour of her mistress in a
foolish attempt to serve her. Hardly has she gone when, above the song
which the women of the Chorus have taken up, Phædra catches the deep
tones of an angry voice within the palace. She springs to her feet,
every nerve tingling with apprehension; and calling to the singers for
silence she bends her ear to the great door. A cry escapes her:

                               “_Oh, misery!
           O God, that such a thing should fall on me!_“[32]

It is the voice of Hippolytus which she can hear, raging at her nurse in
immeasurable scorn, for something that has been asked of him. As each
brutal epithet falls, Phædra, in a trance of horror and shame repeats it
to the listening women. Then she shrinks aside, as Hippolytus bursts out
of the castle, the nurse at his heels, frantically entreating him to
hold his peace. By no direct word does he acknowledge Phædra’s presence;
and she, with every shred of self-respect gone, cowers apart as though
she were indeed guilty of the foulness he imputes to her. But in noisy
indignation, with every word barbed for the trembling queen, he raves
against the nurse, against the whole of womankind, and love and
marriage, ending by a threat to reveal the story to Theseus upon his
return. His anger is just; but in the hardness of youth and the
bitterness of a narrow spirit it is savage, merciless and all too
prompt. Blind to everything but his own wounded pride, he cannot see
that Phædra has been cruelly betrayed by the meddling zeal of her
servant; and he heaps insult upon her until her sensitive soul lies
prostrate—a thing that seems even to herself as black as he believes it.
All through the tirade she, who is the central figure in this
extraordinary scene, takes no part in it: she remains mute, as though
literally smitten dumb with shame, until Hippolytus rushes out. Then she
sinks to the ground, sobbing:

                  “_And, this thing, O my God,
              And thou, sweet Sunlight, is but my desert!
              I cannot fly before the avenging rod
              Falls, cannot hide my hurt._“[32]

Some of the women try to comfort her, and raising her eyes as they
speak, she catches sight of the figure of the nurse. She springs from
the ground, a wave of anger sweeping away her weakness:

          “_O vilest of the vile, O murderess heart
          To them that loved thee, hast thou played thy part?
          Am I enough trod down?_“[32]

The old woman is deeply contrite for the wrong that she has done; but
garrulous and plausible to the last, she pleads her love as an excuse,
and claims that had her plan succeeded she would have been praised for
what she now is blamed. Phædra’s wrath abates a little after its first
uncontrolled outburst: she cannot long be angry with one so old and
lowly; and besides, there are other, darker things to be thought about
and done. But when the nurse, deceived by her calmness, tries to broach
some other scheme, the queen dismisses her peremptorily. She will
henceforth guide her own affairs, she says; and we know she means that
there remains only one thing for her to do. The old woman goes
sorrowfully away, and Phædra is left to face the thought of her
intolerable humiliation, of the threatened exposure to her husband, and
of the stain upon her children. As reflection brings back the assurance
that she is innocent, despite all, it does but increase her anguish at
the thought of dishonour, and stir her to frenzy against Hippolytus. She
is resolved to die: that she sees to be inevitable now. But how save her
fair name, and the honour of her young children, and the fame of her
dear old Cretan home? How secure to herself, in spite of false
appearances, the innocence that is hers by virtue of every act and
thought of her life? Beating backward and forward in the narrow circle
of shame and fear, the poor baffled mind can only see one path, crooked
and dark, to the thing she craves for. It is the way of a lie—a false
charge against Hippolytus. It will mean the death of a good man: that
she knows—and rejoices in—so completely are truth and justice shrivelled
in the monstrous injustice that she is suffering.

                   “_... But now, yea, even while I reel
           And falter, one poor hope, as hope now is,
           I clutch at in this coil of miseries;
           To save some honour for my children’s sake:
           Yea, for myself some fragment, though things break
           In ruin around me. Nay, I will not shame
           The old proud Cretan castle whence I came.
           I will not cower before King Theseus’ eyes,
           Abased, for want of one life’s sacrifice....
           Yet, dying, shall I die another’s bane!
           He shall not stand so proud where I have lain
           Bent in the dust! Oh, he shall stoop to share
           The life I live in, and learn mercy there!_”[32]

She goes in, and the Chorus break into a song of foreboding. A few
minutes later there are cries of alarm within the castle, the sound of
hurrying feet and voices calling to come and help the queen. Then there
are ejaculations of pity: a sudden, ominous silence, and again another
voice—“Let it lie straight.” Phædra is dead by her own hand.

                  *       *       *       *       *

We must pass quickly over the fate of Hippolytus, though that is really
the crisis of the tragedy. Hardly had the poor body of Phædra been
composed upon a bier than Theseus himself was announced, returning
garlanded and joyful from a visit to the oracle of some god. Met by the
news of his wife’s death, he tore off all the signs of joy that he was
wearing and threw himself beside her in bitter lamentation. A little
tablet hanging from her wrist caught his eye, and believing it to be
some dying wish, he gently disengaged it. It was the false charge
against Hippolytus; and as the king read, his brow darkened with
terrible anger. The pitiful figure before him seemed to claim swift and
terrible vengeance; and Theseus uttered an awful curse against his son.
Calling upon the god Poseidon to ratify an ancient promise, he demanded
instant death for Hippolytus. The petition was uttered rashly, in anger
and grief; and Theseus himself hardly dreamed that it would be
fulfilled; but the answer came with dreadful promptitude. There was one
stormy scene between father and son; and Hippolytus, pleading in vain
for mercy, went out to banishment. But Poseidon in his far sea-caves had
heard Theseus’ invocation; and as the young prince urged his chariot
along the shore, a mighty wave, crested by a fierce sea-monster, rolled
destruction on him. Hurled from his chariot, and dragged at the heels of
the maddened horses, Hippolytus was barely saved alive by his
attendants. They carried him back to the castle, and brought him into
the presence of the king, wounded and dying. But before life closed for
him he was gloriously vindicated, and the tragedy ends, as it began,
with the appearance of a goddess. It is not Aphrodite now, however. She
has done her worst with the two young lives she has chosen to despoil;
and now Artemis will justify their innocence and leave their memory
clean and sweet.

ARTEMIS.          _For this I came, to show how high
             And clean was thy son’s heart, that he may die
             Honoured of men; aye, and to tell no less
             The frenzy, or in some sort the nobleness
             Of thy dead wife._[32]


Footnote 32:

  From Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation of the _Hippolytus_
  (George Allen & Co. Ltd.).

_Euripides: Iphigenia_

We turn back to the Trojan legend now, and to two Euripidean plays which
in some sense round off the Orestean story. We had to leave that story
at a ragged edge—the murder of Clytemnestra by her son Orestes in
revenge for the death of Agamemnon. We could not go on to the third
drama of the Æschylean trilogy, to follow the unhappy youth as he fled
in remorse to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, and thence to Athens,
seeking to appease his mother’s Furies. But if we had done so we should
have found the whole theme brought to a calm and beautiful conclusion:
Orestes cleansed by suffering and set free from guilt by Athena; and the
avenging Furies changed into Spirits of Mercy.

Euripides, however, who took so many subjects for his drama from the
Trojan cycle and always gave them new significance, in this case chose
variants of the legend and wove them into a story which was entirely
fresh. So that the _Iphigenia in Tauris_, with which we are chiefly
concerned now, shows Orestes still fleeing before the Erinnyes; and
carries the tale to another and much more exciting conclusion. Indeed,
the peculiar charm of this tragedy is that it is not really tragedy at
all, but a thrilling adventure-play. It reminds us of the _Odyssey_,
with its flavour of the sea, the wistful note that haunts it and its
spice of physical peril; only, this is the work of a poet who adds high
dramatic values to the delight of the story, with a lyric note of
enchanting beauty, and penetrating thought.

Characteristically, when Euripides took up this part of the Orestean
legend, it was not so much the man Orestes in whom he was interested, as
the woman Iphigenia; with the result that we have two dramas called by
her name and in which she is the protagonist. Both were produced late in
the poet’s life, the _Iphigenia in Aulis_ being probably his last work.
It contains the earlier part of the heroine’s story—the sacrifice of the
virgin-martyr at Aulis; and the great new feature of it, her rescue by
Artemis just as the knife was falling to her throat, was perhaps the
poet’s own invention. There is no hint of it in Æschylus. To
Clytemnestra, the murder of her first-born child Iphigenia was the crime
which turned her life to bitterness and armed her against Agamemnon. He
had beguiled her to send the child—for she was but a mere girl—to Aulis,
for marriage with the splendid young hero Achilles. And then, at the
bidding of a soothsayer, he had ruthlessly slain his daughter on the
altar of Artemis; and sailed away to Troy.

Those are the facts at the heart of the mystery which is Clytemnestra;
but when we come to the _Iphigenia in Aulis_ we find some different data
and a far different interpretation. Agamemnon there is almost pitiably
human, driven by complex motives first to consent to Iphigenia’s death,
then to recant in horror, and finally to yield to forces which he could
not control. Iphigenia, too, is made at once nobler and more tragic in
the idea of a willing sacrifice—giving herself up, after the first shock
of terror, to die freely for her country’s good. And in her rescue by
the goddess there is added an element of marvel and mystery, which is at
the same time a protest against a form of religion so inhuman.

The _Iphigenia in Tauris_ opens at a period many years later.

Troy had fallen. Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were both dead in the manner
we know of; and Orestes was a fugitive, seeking through many lands to
expiate the crime of mother-murder. There had been laid upon him at
last, as the only means to peace, the command of Apollo to make his way
to the savage land of the Tauri. He was to seize and bring from the
temple of Artemis there a certain statue of the goddess which had fallen
from heaven long before, and which the people of the land were
dishonouring by human sacrifice. Every stranger cast upon their shores
was slain at the shrine of the goddess; and Orestes ran the risk of
almost certain death in making the venture. But he had a solemn promise
from Apollo; and the reward would be sweet indeed. He would be cleansed
of the crime, and set free from these haunting shapes of remorse which
sometimes drove him to madness. Moreover, he would rid the name of
Hellas from the stain which lay on its religion through the barbarous
practices of the Tauri. So he and his devoted comrade Pylades sailed for
those inhospitable waters.

               _Through the Clashing Rocks they burst:
               They passed by the Cape unsleeping
               Of Phineus’ sons accurst;
               They ran by the starlit bay
               Upon magic surges sweeping,
               Where folk on the waves astray
               Have seen, through the gleaming grey,
               Ring behind ring, men say,
               The dance of the old Sea’s daughters._[33]

But Destiny was guiding them to something stranger than they had either
hoped or dreaded. For this wild land, fiercely guarded from approach by
the Rocky Gateway of the Symplêgades, was the country to which Artemis
had carried Iphigenia from the altar in Aulis. And in the temple where
they must seek the sacred statue, the daughter of Agamemnon was even now
a priestess.

The years had passed wearily since Iphigenia first found herself a
captive in Tauris. Completely shut off from the world by the sea which
foamed round that desolate coast, no word ever came to her from her home
in Argos; and she could make no sign to the friends who believed her
dead long since. She hated this savage people, and Thoas their king, and
the hideous sacrifices at which she had to perform the cleansing rite.
Sometimes she would grow sick at their brutality, and wild with
loneliness and longing to escape. Then sceptical thoughts would come
about the deity who could accept such worship; and it would seem to her
better to have died at Aulis than to have been saved for such slow
misery. At other times she would brood over her short sweet girlhood and
its bitter ending, gone irrevocably from the moment of her father’s
fraud; and bitterness would overwhelm her against Agamemnon, and the
Seer who counselled him, and the chieftains who persuaded him; but above
all against Helen, for whose sake the war was made.

So youth stole away, taking with it, as Iphigenia sadly thought, all the
high things that inspire a fair young soul—the shining ideal, the simple
and ardent faith, the generous emotion that leaps to sympathy and
service. And at the moment of the opening of the play, when the ship
that bears Orestes is being run ashore at Tauris, Iphigenia stands
before her temple feeling hard and hopeless, dispossessed of all that is
dear in life, and with every illusion long since fled.

It is early morning, and Iphigenia has just emerged from the temple.
There are a few lines of formal exposition: an involuntary cry of
disgust at the blood-stained altar that is insulting the eye of day; and
then a flow of troubled speech.

          “_Ah me!
          But what dark dreams, thou clear and morning sky
          I have to tell thee, can that bring them ease!_“[33]

In the night that has just passed, she had dreamed of her home in Argos.
She seemed to lie asleep there, with her maids around her, when suddenly
an earthquake shook the palace; and running out of doors, she saw the
great building reel and fall. Only one pillar remained; and as she
watched it, she saw that brown hair waved about its head, and she heard
it speak with a human voice. Then, in the strange confusion of dreams,
she found herself fulfilling the office that she bears here in Tauris;
and she washed the pillar clean for death, as it was her duty to wash
the victims for the sacrifice.

With pathetic readiness, Iphigenia has accepted the dream as an evil
omen. The pillar of her father’s house must mean his son Orestes, whom
she left a child in Argos all those years ago. Those whom she cleanses
are doomed to die. What can the dream mean, therefore, save that her
brother is dead? The conviction is so strong upon her that she at once
decides to prepare the funeral rite.

            “_Therefore to my dead brother will I pour
            Such sacrifice, I on this bitter shore
            And he beyond great seas, as still I may._“[33]



  _M. Nonnenbruch_

  _By permission of the Berlin Photographic Co. 133 New Bond St. W._

But hardly has she gone upon her errand when there is a sound of muffled
voices approaching, and two youths enter, treading cautiously, and
peering for danger on every side. They are Orestes and his friend
Pylades, who have found their way up from the shore, and are searching
for some means to carry out the god’s command. As they come before the
temple, and note the grim signs of slain men on the altar and hanging
from the roof, they realize that this is the very centre of their quest;
and that they have now to face the most deadly peril of all.

At this crucial moment, however, when all their hopes depend on a calm
nerve and rapid thought and resolute action, an approaching fit of
madness begins to shake Orestes. With strength sapped and courage
broken, he falls upon a seat while Pylades goes to reconnoitre. In his
weakened state he is overcome by the terror of the place and their
enormous danger; and when his friend returns, he implores him to fly
back to the galley. But Pylades has hopeful tidings. He has found a spot
in this almost impregnable temple where an entry might be forced by
courage and daring; and heartening Orestes with the news, he leads him
away, to hide till nightfall in a cavern by the seashore.

As they go out of sight, the Chorus enters, singing a hymn to Artemis,
the mountain-born child of Leto. They are Greek women, captured in war
by Thoas and given by him to the priestess for her handmaidens. They
come wonderingly, in answer to Iphigenia’s urgent summons; and are
amazed when she appears with every sign of grief, followed by attendants
who carry libations for the dead. In answer to a question from their
leader, the priestess tells them of her ominous dream and of the funeral
rite that she is about to perform for her brother.

                  “_Alas, O maidens mine!
                  I am filled full of tears;
                  My heart filled with the beat
                  Of tears, as of dancing feet._“[33]

From each attendant she takes in turn a golden goblet containing a
libation of wine and milk and honey; and as she pours them into the
altar for the dead, she and her women alternately chant a threnody for
Orestes. They sing of the old dark story of Agamemnon’s house, from its
beginning in the sin of Pelops down to what was for Iphigenia its last
and worst enormity, the sacrifice at Aulis. And as their voices rise and
fall in the long ceremonial, while Iphigenia is still upon her knees
before the altar, there is a violent interruption. A herdsman bursts
eagerly upon them, with news that shatters the mournful beauty of their

            “_A ship hath passed the blue Symplêgades,
            And here upon our coast two men are thrown,
            Young, bold, good slaughter for the altar-stone
            Of Artemis!_“[33]

The priestess rises, impatient at this sudden recall to her hated duty,
and the jarring note that has broken their obsequies. The man and his
ugly zeal are a complete offence to her, and she answers him curtly. Who
and what are these men he speaks of? At his reply, however, annoyance
gives place to astonishment, curiosity, and a strange mingling of joy
and pain. For he tells that the men are Greeks; and never yet, in all
the dreary time of her captivity, has one of her countrymen landed upon
these shores.

Once or twice, in her darkest hours, she had longed and prayed for such
a day as this—for fate to send some Hellenic victim to her altar. She
had thought she would be glad: that it would be a keen and satisfying
pleasure to take a Greek life for all that the Greeks had made her
suffer. But now that she stands face to face with her desire, there is a
tumult of emotion within her in which bitterness hardly shares.

She questions the herdsman closely of the name and appearance of the
strangers. One is called Pylades, he says; but the other’s name he did
not catch. And at Iphigenia’s command, he goes over the whole story of
their capture. He and his companions were washing their cattle in the
sea, when one of them had spied two strangers sitting on the beach in a
little bay. They were young, handsome and apparently noble; and there
was something in their fine physique and sudden unaccountable appearance
in that lonely spot which made one of his fellows cry out that they were
gods. But another jeered and said most likely they were shipwrecked
sailors who knew the custom of the country and were trying to escape it;
and just at that moment a strange thing happened. One of the youths was
suddenly seized with a fit of madness. They saw him spring from his seat
and beat his head up and down, while he shrieked wildly to his comrade:

            Dost see her there?—And there.—Oh, no one sees!—
            A she-dragon of Hell, and all her head
            Agape with fangèd asps, to bite me dead!_“[33]

The distraught fancy of Orestes saw the cattle and their watch-dogs as
the pursuing Furies of his mother; and quick as a flash, before his
friend could intervene, he had drawn his sword and was slashing right
and left amongst the helpless beasts. The herdsmen blew their horns; and
soon a crowd had gathered and were pelting the strangers with stones.
While the fit of madness lasted Pylades guarded Orestes from attack; but
it passed quickly, and the two youths fought together gallantly for
life. Not one of the missiles struck home, the goddess, it seemed,
taking care to save her prey. But at last they were surrounded, and the
swords beaten out of their hands.

                                     “_Then to the king
             We bore them both, and he, not tarrying,
             Sends them to thee, to touch with holy spray—
             And then the blood-bowl._“[33]

All through the tale Iphigenia had listened in pity for the brave youths
so cruelly overborne; and now she is suddenly brought back to the
thought of the sacrifice and of her part in it. There is a shudder of
horror too, when the herdsman reminds her of her prayer in past times
for just such a capture as this. She restrains herself with an effort,
and coldly bids the man fetch the prisoners; but no sooner has he gone
than the tumult of emotion within rushes into speech. Memories of the
old times: of the bridal rites that were only a snare; and of the poor
timid child that she once had been, imploring her father to be merciful.
Thoughts, too, of shipwrecked men and of all the dreadful sacrifices
which she cannot and will not believe that the goddess delights in. And
above all, the certainty she feels that Orestes is dead; and which she
says has turned her heart to stone and made her pitiless.

            “_’Tis true: I know by mine own evil will:
            One long in pain, if things more suffering still
            Fall to his hand, will hate them for his own

So she thinks she will not falter: that though she may have shrunk from
the task in former times, this last pain has made her cruel. Yet, when
the strangers are brought in, all the hardness melts in a moment.

             “_Ah me!
             What mother then was yours, O strangers, say,
             And father? And your sister, if you have
             A sister: both at once, so young and brave,
             To leave her brotherless._“[33]

Orestes answers, a little irritated at the sight of her tears. Whoever
this stranger woman is, it is hardly kind of her, he thinks, to unman
them thus by pity; and he bids her cease. They know the form of worship
of the country, and are prepared to die.

Iphigenia checks her tears, but she cannot control her desire for news
of home and friends. So, rather heartlessly as the prisoners think, she
presses eager questions on them—for their name and parentage and city.
To Orestes it seems that she is prompted by the shallowest curiosity,
and he flings curt phrases at her, refusing the information. But the
clamour at her heart will not be silenced by the rebuke: her own pride
and the dignity of her office, and every other consideration but this
craving for word from Hellas, go down before it. She pleads that she at
least may know what land of Greece they hail from; and grudgingly, in
the fewest words possible, Orestes answers that Argos is his land, and
his home is at Mycenæ. His words evoke an exclamation of joy from
Iphigenia; and as his reluctance gradually breaks up under the spell of
her sincerity, he is drawn on to answer her on all those matters which,
unknown to either, are of such weighty interest to both.

She asks about Troy, and the fate of Helen: of Calchas, that evil
prophet who had bidden her father slay his child: of Achilles, her
promised bridegroom, dead long since outside the walls of Troy. And
Orestes in his turn begins to wonder who may be this searching
questioner, who asks so feelingly of the things that lie closest to his
heart. She tells him that she is Greek; and that explains a good deal.
But when she comes nearer home, and asks for news of Agamemnon, it is
only her evident emotion that wins a reply. Bit by bit she learns that
Agamemnon is dead by the hand of Clytemnestra; and a cry escapes her
which is full of the sense of the tragedy from the woman’s standpoint:

           “_O God!
           I pity her that slew ... and him that slew!_“[33]

Orestes, too, is moved, and begs her, shrinking from further questions
which he sees are coming, to desist. One word more, she entreats—what of
Clytemnestra? And when the youth, in slow words that seem wrung from him
in pain, tells that the great queen was slain by her son in vengeance
for his father’s death, it is again the woman’s judgment that springs to

            A bad false duty bravely hath he wrought._“[33]

So little by little the tragic events that have filled the years of her
exile are related in this wonderful dialogue, where every sentence that
each speaker utters carries a significance to which the other has no
clue. All through the scene the underlying dramatic irony is profoundly
felt—the ignorance of each of the other’s identity; and at moments one
holds the breath in suspense. At one time the unknown priestess speaks
of the Greek king’s daughter who was slain at Aulis; and when the
stranger answers that of course nothing more was heard of her, she
having died at Aulis, Iphigenia sighs:

       “_Poor child! Poor father, too, who killed and lied!_“[33]

Again, remembering her ominous dream, she asks what has become of
Agamemnon’s son, and receives the reply:

        “_He lives, now here, now nowhere, bent with ill._“[33]

So her dream was a lie, she muses, thankfully; and falls silent while
the stranger, whose reserve has vanished now, breaks into bitter railing
against the gods who have brought him to this pass. Iphigenia scarcely
hears him. Relief and gratitude for the fact that Orestes is living:
renewed pity for the strangers’ doom and some wistful tenderness for him
to whom she has spoken, fill her mind and prompt her to rapid thought.

Suppose she were to rescue them, she ponders, or one of them? And
suppose, in doing so, she could bring help to herself from the brother
in Argos who believes her dead? Suddenly she turns upon Orestes and
begins rapidly to unfold a plan. She knows a way to save him; and she
will undertake to give him life in return for a promise. He must pledge
himself to carry a letter which she will give him to her friends in

So her proposal runs to the amazed and grateful youths; but a difficulty
instantly arises. Orestes will not by any means consent that Pylades
shall be left behind to die. His friend is very dear to him, he says:
let Pylades go free and bear the message. The priestess agrees, with a
word of admiration for his generous love; and goes into the temple to
fetch the tablet, which had been written for her long ago, by a prisoner
taken by king Thoas.

While Iphigenia is gone, the friends take a tender farewell of each
other. Pylades entreats Orestes to let him stay and die in his stead: he
will have no more joy in life, he says, when he returns without his
comrade; and men will scorn him for a coward. But the other puts his
pleading resolutely on one side, and when the priestess returns with the
tablet, both are composed and ready. She has one misgiving, however. She
fears that Pylades will forget his trust once he is free of Tauris; and
she requires of him an oath that her letter will be delivered. But when
the oath is solemnly given, Pylades perceives a difficulty in his turn.
Suppose the tablet should be lost, how could he fulfil his promise?
Iphigenia sees that there is only one thing to do—she must repeat the
contents of the letter, and the messenger must commit them to memory.
So, speaking slowly and impressively, she begins:

IPHIGENIA.   _Say: “To Orestes, Agamemnon’s son,
             She that was slain in Aulis, dead to Greece,
             Yet quick, Iphigenia sendeth peace.”_

ORESTES.     _Iphigenia! Where? Back from the dead?_

IPHIGENIA.   _’Tis I. But speak not, lest thou break my thread._[33]

Orestes and Pylades, after a wild exclamation each to the other, stand
listening in bewildered joy as Iphigenia proceeds, relating the story of
her rescue by Artemis, and calling upon her brother to come and save her
from captivity. During the recital, they have had time to grasp the
wonder of the things they have heard; but no ray of the truth has come
to Iphigenia. And when Orestes, receiving the letter from the hand of
Pylades, turns eagerly to embrace the sister so marvellously saved, she
recoils in horror.

ORESTES.     _O Sister mine, O my dead father’s child,
             Agamemnon’s child; take me and have no fear,
             Beyond all dreams ‘tis I thy brother here._[33]

Iphigenia, incredulous, thinks he is mocking her. She has been so long
dead to love and happiness that she cannot believe that they have come
to her at last, and that this is really the brother for whom, a little
while before, she had performed the funeral rite. She insists on proof
of his identity; and as he tells over the little homely signs by which
she may know him, her doubt slips away and she clasps him in her arms.

          “_Is this the babe I knew,
          The little babe, light lifted like a bird?...
          O Argos land, O hearth and holy flame
                      That old Cyclôpes lit,
          I bless ye that he lives, that he is grown,
          A light and strength, my brother and mine own._“[33]

They cling to each other, Iphigenia oblivious of everything but her joy,
and Orestes loth to recall her to a sense of their danger. Presently her
thoughts come painfully back to it, fluttering wildly round each
possibility of escape together, and seeing no way clear. But when
Orestes tells her of his mission to carry off the statue of the goddess,
the very magnitude of its daring clarifies her mind. She sees one way,
and though it is not the way that she had hoped, she is ready for the
sacrifice. She must secure the statue, and Orestes must escape with it
to Attica, as the god commands. For herself, her part will be to stay,
and by every means prevent her brother from being followed. She is sure
of success in this, and though it mean death for her, it will be sweet
to give herself for the peace of one so dear.

            “_Thou shalt walk free in Argolis again,
            And all life smile on thee.... Dearest, we need
            Not shrink from that._“[33]

But Orestes absolutely refuses to accept his life at such a price; and
they strain every nerve to contrive a scheme which will carry them to
safety together. There is a suggestion to kill Thoas, but the woman who
has been sheltered and protected by him will not hear of it. Again, they
think of hiding in the temple until nightfall; but that is
impracticable, because the guards would see and capture them. And at
last Iphigenia, beating backward and forward over all the possible
chances, sees a gleam of hope. Slowly and carefully she unfolds her
plan. She will give out that the victims for the altar have come from
Greece polluted with a mother’s blood, and that they may not be offered
to the goddess until they have been cleansed in the sea. The statue, she
will say, is unclean too, since one of the captives has touched it; and
she will prevail upon the king to allow her to take it, with the
victims, down to the seashore. The rest will be Orestes’ task; and as
his ship with fifty rowers lies waiting for them in the little bay, they
should be able to get away before Thoas can follow.

The scheme is at once subtle and daring, but it is their only hope of
escape from awful peril; and it is hastily resolved upon. Iphigenia
claims a promise of loyalty from her women, sends the prisoners away in
charge of attendants, and goes into the temple for the statue. As she
comes out again, bearing it in her hands, the king himself arrives. To
his astonished questions, she answers as has been arranged, and no point
is overlooked by her ingenuity. A herald should be sent before her, to
clear the streets, and proclaim that no one must look out, or leave his
house, for fear of pollution. Thoas himself, and his attendants, must
veil their eyes when her procession passes; and while she is gone, the
king is to purge the temple with fire in preparation for her return.
Lastly, if she be a long time away, the king need not be anxious, and
she must not be disturbed: the cleansing must be thoroughly performed.

The king consents without a shadow of suspicion, impressed by her piety
and forethought. The prisoners are led out, and as the procession moves
away, Iphigenia utters a prayer for help in her strategy and pardon for
the deceit that she has practised on the king. As Thoas returns to the
temple to carry out Iphigenia’s injunctions, the Chorus break into an
ode in honour of Apollo and Artemis; and for a while there is no sound
but the sweet rise and fall of their voices. As time slips by, bringing
we know not what fortune to the fugitives, we know that the women of the
Chorus, who are in the secret, are tortured by suspense. Then there is a
sudden shout; and a messenger comes running from the shore and cries for
entrance to the temple. The women try to turn him aside; but he batters
upon the gates until Thoas throws them open, angry at the clamour.

In rapid and excited speech the man tells his errand. Let the king come
at once, for he has been befooled. The cleansing was a fraud: the statue
has been stolen; and the Greek princess and the two young men who were
destined for the altar are even now rowing away in a boat which was
awaiting them. But if the king will hasten, they may yet be caught; for
at this moment they are battling with an adverse wind, and they have no
knowledge of the currents of that treacherous shore.

Thoas, furious at the trap into which he has fallen, gives rapid orders:
a company of herdsmen is to go to the headlands, and boats are to be put
off immediately from the shore. So these crafty Greeks will be
overtaken, either by sea or land; and then let them beware of a
barbarian’s anger!

But suddenly, through the shouting and confusion, there is a roll of
thunder and a lightning-flash; and descending through the air the
goddess Athena is seen. Her voice rings out imperiously, commanding
Thoas to stay his haste. Then, in the awed hush that falls she makes
known the will of the gods that Orestes and his sister shall not be
pursued. Fate has ordained their escape, and Thoas may not strive
against it.

                                 “_No death from thee
             May snare Orestes between earth and sea._“[33]

As for Orestes himself, Athena declares that it is laid on him to carry
the rescued image of Artemis to Halæ, on the bounds of Attica; and there
it will be worshipped with curious rites designed to recall the old
barbarity while condemning it. These poor Greek women must be restored
to their homes; and, for that fleeing priestess, Destiny has given to
her to end her days in peace and gentleness.

              “_And thou, Iphigenia, by the stair
              Of Brauron in the rocks, the Key shalt bear.
              Of Artemis. There shalt thou live and die,
              And there have burial._“[33]


Footnote 33:

  From Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation of the _Iphigenia in
  Tauris_ (George Allen & Co. Ltd.).

_Virgil: Dido_

Nineteen years before the birth of Christ the great Roman poet Virgil
died, leaving amongst his papers an epic poem which had been the work of
many years. Both in life and art this poet of the Augustan Age had a
very high ideal; and because he was conscious of defects in his work:
because his last illness came before he was able to put the finishing
touches upon it, he begged that it should be burned. But the emperor
Augustus interposed. Some parts of the poem were already known and loved
in the circle of Virgil’s friends, of whom the emperor was one. They
knew its fine theme—the founding of the Roman State by its legendary
ancestor Æneas; and having already some foretaste of its beauty and
charm and strong patriotic appeal, it seemed that the destruction of the
poem would mean an immense and irreparable loss. So the Emperor decided
that it should be preserved, and directed Virgil’s executors to edit it.

The poem is of course the _Æneid_, and Dido is its heroine. Like the
Greek epics, it is an authentic voice of the ancient world; but of an
Age, a Race and a Civilization vastly different from theirs. It is quite
frankly fashioned in the Homeric form, and its hero is one of the Trojan
chiefs who fled overseas to Italy, to re-establish his race there at the
command of the gods. It actually brings Æneas at one point of his
wanderings within three months’ time of an incident in the _Odyssey_: it
shows us Andromache still mourning for Hector, and the gods still at
enmity over the old feud between Greek and Trojan. But all these links
with the earlier epics, and many others, subtler or more obvious, are
merely formal. In spirit there is as wide a severance as we know to
exist in actual time. The _Æneid_, with its humane, philosophic and
cultured poet, belongs to a state of society many hundreds of years
later than the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_. And although it is a mistake to
regard the earlier poems as really ‘primitive,’ they represent an age
which, because it was relatively simpler and less self-conscious, seems
youthful and buoyant by comparison.

The outward similarity and the fundamental contrast between Homer and
Virgil make a fascinating subject on which to linger; and one aspect at
least we must just glance at, because of its bearing on Dido’s story. It
is that added element of purpose in the _Æneid_ which perhaps includes
in itself or is the ultimate cause of all the other points of difference
from the Greek poems. The _Æneid_ was conceived with a deep and serious
aim, and composed with infinite care. It did not originate, as perhaps
the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ may have done, in the almost spontaneous lays
of wandering minstrels, for the delight and honour of princely hosts. It
was designed from the first to represent the divine birth of the Latin
race, the gradual uprising of the Roman state, its long struggle with
barbarism and its mission to civilize the Western world—all as the
ordinance of the supreme deity.

From the very beginning of the poem its purpose is clear upon the face
of it; and one of the most important results is the creation of a new
type of hero. Æneas is not an ardent young soldier like Achilles, nor an
acute and hardy sailor like Odysseus, with their zest and naïveté. He is
a much more complex character, with a deeper estimate of life and some
civic virtues which had not been evolved when the earlier heroes were
created. He is a pioneer and adventurer who loves above all things home
and a settled order; an invader who does not enjoy warfare in the least;
a prince who rules by gentleness; a tender son and husband and father
who is capable of the deepest cruelty to the woman who loves him; a man
sadly conscious of human weakness, but conscious too of the divine
within himself and of the high destiny to which he is called.

The character of Æneas is the primary element in the tragedy of Dido.
Because he was such a man, their love for each other was bound to end as
it did. Of course there was the external cause, too; also arising out of
the design of the poem. For Dido was the founder and queen of Carthage,
the hereditary foe of Rome. And the poet desired to dramatize, as it
were, the first clash of the two races in their infancy; to show the
origin of the long feud; and to prefigure by a sort of allegory the
eventual triumph of Rome. We do not think of the allegory, however, as
we read the story of Dido in the First and Fourth Books of the _Æneid_.
We are caught in the onward sweep of the poet’s imagination, and moved
by the intense human interest of the theme. It is only when the
catastrophe comes, when Æneas, fleeing from Carthage in the cold dawn,
sees the light of the queen’s funeral pyre reddening the sky, that we
begin to reflect on the meaning of it. Even then, so complete is the
victory of the poet’s art, our last thought is one of pity—for the
indignant spirit of Dido that has fled to the House of Shadows; and for
the miserable man no less, whom fate is driving to the coast of Italy.

                  *       *       *       *       *

When Troy was sacked, Æneas sailed away with twenty ships, and all that
remained dear to him of home. His wife Creusa was killed as they were
escaping from the burning city; but his household gods were preserved,
and these he carried with him in his flight, with his aged father and
his little son Iulus.

Misfortune followed him, however. Juno, still unrelenting in her anger
against the race of Paris, buffeted him to and fro upon the seas for
seven years, and cast him at length upon the shore of Libya. The greater
part of his fleet was scattered, and perhaps lost for ever: his own crew
was broken by the long struggle; and he himself, under the cheery manner
which he assumed to encourage his men, was heart-sick with despair. What
this strange land was he did not know. It seemed wild and desolate: it
was most probably inhabited by barbarians, and at any moment a savage
horde might fall upon them.

But the country was not hostile, as Æneas’ goddess-mother Venus took
care to assure him, meeting him in the guise of a mountain nymph. It was
the new land of Dido, the Tyrian princess who had fled from her native
country and the evil rule of her brother Pygmalion. The late king of
Tyre, her father, had given her in marriage to one she dearly loved,
Sichæus, a priest of Heracles, and the wealthiest man of all the wealthy
East. But a little later the king had died. Pygmalion succeeded to the
throne, and in greed for Sichæus’ wealth he secretly slew him at his own

                       _Blinded with lust of gold,
             And heedless of his sister’s passionate love,
             Pygmalion on his brother crept by stealth,
             And slew him at the very altar’s foot._[34]

For some time he hid his guilt and tried to win from Dido, in her grief,
the immense treasures of Sichæus. But her intelligence, and her love for
her murdered husband, could not be long deceived. She discovered her
brother’s guilt, and realizing that to remain in Tyre would mean her
death too, she instantly laid plans to leave the country. It was to be
no timid surrender, however. She gathered about her all those who hated
Pygmalion’s tyranny, and proposed that they should join her. Ships were
seized and rapidly manned: Sichæus’ wealth was stored in them, and Dido
sailed to found a new city on the coast of Africa.

At the moment when Æneas landed there, the building of the city was in
eager progress; and Dido, the brain of the enterprise, was beginning to
forget her sorrow in the joy of achievement. When Æneas climbed the hill
above the bay, he saw the city stretched beneath, and the Tyrians busy
upon it ‘like bees in summer fields.’ Walls were rising, trenches were
being dug and foundations laid: houses and streets were already
finished: great blocks were being hewn for the citadel and columns for
the theatre; while in the centre of the town, complete in every detail
of ornament, a magnificent temple stood. Here Æneas made his way,
passing invisibly through the crowded street by the spells of Venus. As
he stood gazing at the walls, marvelling to see that they were carved
with the history of his Troy, a shout arose. The great queen was coming.

             _Queen Dido, beautiful beyond compare,
             Enters the temple, by a mighty train
             Of youths attended. Like Diana she,
             When on Eurotas’ banks, or on the heights
             Of Cynthus, she the dances leads ...
             A quiver on her shoulders, as she moves._[34]

Dido took her seat upon a throne raised high beneath the central dome,
surrounded by her guards. Before her thronged the captains of her great
work, merchants, emissaries from distant states, and many of her own
folk who had come to petition her for justice. She was the ruling
spirit, and by no mere accident. Æneas stood in amazement at the scene,
as she allotted to each his task, and adjudged every difficult question,
and dispensed the law.

Suddenly there was a tumult outside the gate, and a noisy interruption,
as a band of foreigners approached the temple and claimed audience of
the queen. The strangers were brought in, and Æneas, in joyful
astonishment, recognized in them the comrades who he had thought were
lost. He longed to rush forward to greet them, but Venus’ spell was on
him still; and he stood invisible while the Trojans threw themselves on
the mercy of the queen and implored her help. She answered kindly, and
with modest dignity. Long ago she had heard and pitied the fate of Troy,
she said; and though she is bound to guard her infant state against
invasion, she has no quarrel with a peaceful folk, and least of all with
fugitives from Troy. She will, if they so desire, send them away in
safety, with provision from her ample store.

             “_But should you wish to settle here with me,
             This city I am building, it is yours.
             Draw up your ships. Without distinction both
             Trojan and Tyrian I alike will treat.
             Oh, would that driven by the same South Wind,
             Tour king Æneas self were here!_“[34]

Æneas could keep silence no longer. Breaking the spell of darkness that
was shrouding him, he gained the throne and stood before the astonished

            “_I, whom thou seekest, here before thee stand—
            Trojan Æneas._“[34]

It is a great moment, fraught with significance of which the two chief
actors seem to have a perception. To Dido, this handsome prince whose
fame has reached her, and whose melancholy history is so like her own,
seems to have flashed upon her as the fulfilment of her wish. And to
Æneas, who has just learned that she can be kind as well as brave, she
seems peerless among women. While from each to each is passed the silent
intuitive sense that here is a nature great and good. Æneas, touched by
her generosity to his comrades, tries to thank her. But he feels that
only the gods can reward her adequately.

                                “_If powers divine
            There be, who look with reverence on the good,
            If anywhere be justice, or a soul
            Conscious of inward worth, oh, may the Gods
            Confer on thee commensurate reward!...
            So long as rivers to the ocean run,
            So long as shadows hang on mountain sides,
            Long as the firmament is gemmed with stars,
            Thy name and fame and praise with me shall live,
            Whatever lands may claim me._“[34]

In the warmth of his words there is a hint of coming passion; and
thinking of the tragic end, there is something ominous in them too.
Æneas will indeed remember Dido in far-off lands, but otherwise than he
imagines. And she, as she invites the Trojans to banquet in her palace
and hospitably begs them to make their home in Carthage, is serenely
unconscious of the pitiful entreaties that she will one day make to

The ships were laid up, and generous provision made for the weary
sailors, while their chief and his friends were feasted by the queen in
Oriental splendour and luxury. Rich gifts from Troy were presented to
Dido by Æneas, and received by her with great delight. There were the
jewels of Ilione, King Priam’s eldest daughter: the sceptre that she had
borne, her diadem of gold and gems, and the pearls that once hung about
her neck. They were scarcely of happy omen, one would think; but more
ill-fated still were the presents that Dido found most beautiful.

              _A mantle stiff with figures, and with gold,
              A veil, too, with a border wrought about
              Of saffron-flowered acanthus, ornaments
              Of Argive Helen._[34]

Yet no shadow from their history fell upon the queen. She was strangely
happy as she listened to her guest and caressed his beautiful little
son. She did not know that the mighty love-goddess was plotting against
her; and when the feast was over, she rose to pour a libation to the
gods with a prayer for peace and blessing.

             “_Oh Jupiter! for thou, they say, art he
             Who gives the laws that govern host and guest,
             Grant that this day a day of joy may be
             To us of Tyre, and these our guests from Troy,
             A day to be remembered by our sons!
             May Bacchus the Joy-Bringer be with us,
             And Juno the Beneficent._“[34]

When the Fourth Book opens Æneas is still the honoured guest of the
queen, entertained by her at the banquet as each succeeding night falls,
and accompanying her during the day as she rides to inspect the progress
of her city. But Dido was no longer quite untroubled in her happiness.
She could not hide from herself her growing love for the Trojan hero;
and she was assailed by a sense of wrong to her dead husband.

At first she fought against her passion and called up every resource of
pride and modesty to hide it from the prince. But the emotion of a
richly dowered nature was not easily to be kept in check; and Dido had
not learned to dissemble. The inner conflict grew daily stronger,
absorbing every thought: on the one hand drawing her irresistibly toward
Æneas, and on the other claiming fidelity to the memory of Sichæus. At
last, craving relief and counsel, she confided in her sister Anna. But
Anna was no idealist, and her advice to Dido was the plainest
commonsense. Was she to waste all her life for the sake of faith to the
dead? It was certain that Sichæus himself would not desire it; and why
then should Dido renounce the joys of love and motherhood? Why pine
alone all her days, her country menaced on every side by wild African
tribes, because she had no warrior at her side to make them fear? So the
argument ran, turning adroitly from questions of sentiment to the call
of patriotism and ambition. Undoubtedly Dido was right in refusing
marriage with the barbarian chiefs who had asked for her hand; but she
must remember that she had thereby made enemies of them. Let her
consider the danger to her little state from these jealous kings; and on
the other hand let her think of the power and glory which Carthage might
win, if only it were allied to the race of Troy. Lastly, added the
astute pleader, with a word which she knew had power to move her sister,
for her part she believed that the coming of Æncas was ordained by
heaven, and by Juno herself, the great goddess of marriage.

No wonder that Dido’s resolution was weakened, when every instinct of
her being was thus championed, and the only opponent was an idea, an
abstraction, that even to herself began to look fantastic. Again she
begged her guest to remain in Carthage, and the memory of Sichæus began
rapidly to fade.

                            _Now Dido leads
          Æneas round the ramparts, to him shows
          The wealth of Sidon, all the town laid out,
          Begins to speak, then stops, she knows not why._[34]

Then at night, when the guests are gone from the banquet: when—

            _The wan moon pales her light, and waning stars
            Persuade to sleep, she in her empty halls
            Mourns all alone, and throws herself along
            The couch where he had lain._[34]

Æneas himself was losing all thought of his mission in the society of
the lovely queen. Italy was forgotten in the peace and luxury of his
life; and he gave himself up to content, without one glance beyond the
present. He had toiled so long and hard; surely he might take his ease
for a while. Moreover, it would be mere churlishness to refuse Dido’s
gracious bounty; and he could not be so ungentle. So both the lovers
wrapped themselves in a golden dream, with reality shut far away.

          _The unfinished flanking turrets cease to rise,
          No more the young men exercise in arms,
          Build harbours, or rear bastions for defence;
          All work is at a standstill—giant walls
          That frown defiance, cranes that climb the sky._[34]

All the happy toil of brain and muscle was suspended, and Carthage,
silent in the sun all day, gave itself up, like its queen, to idleness
and revelry. The weeks slipped quickly by, and one by one the restraints
which her clear spirit had imposed were loosened or forgotten. And then
the autumn came, and the fatal day of the hunt, when Dido gave herself
without reserve or shame to her lover.

                               _The nymphs
           Along the mountain-tops were heard to wail.
           That day bred death, disasters manifold;
           For now she took no heed what men might say._[34]

She who had been so proud and chaste, whose wisdom and fidelity had been
the fame of all the countries round about, was now the prey of every
evil tongue. Rumour flew from city to city, soiling her fair name; and
soon it was known in all the jealous neighbouring lands that the queen
of Carthage had joined herself in unlawful union with Æneas, Prince of
Troy. The reputation that had been so painfully won was quickly lost;
and not one of her many qualities were remembered. The courage and quick
wit and resource, the generous hospitality, the impartial judgment, the
kindness and tender sympathy—were all forgotten.

Dido knew of the malignance and scorn that were smouldering about her;
but she was too honest to hide her sin, and secure in Æneas’ love, she
paid no heed. Together they recommenced the work which had lain idle so
long; and as winter came, the towers began to rise again.

But now the gods grew envious of the little barbarian state, and Jupiter
turned an angry glance upon Æneas. Was this the end for which he had
been saved from Troy—to make his home among a savage people, heedless of
the divine command? Has he so poor a soul that he is content to spend
his days in dalliance while the fair land of Italy cries out for a hand
to govern it? Let Mercury carry to the prince this warning from the
ruler of Olympus:

                          “_With what hopes lingers he
            ‘Mongst hostile races, heedless of the great
            Ausonian line, and the Lavinian plains?
            Let him put out to sea! My last word this._“[34]

The message fell upon Æneas with a shock of fear and remorse. His dream
was shattered: his sleeping conscience suddenly sprang to life, and in a
flash he saw the long months spent in Carthage as treachery to the gods,
to his countrymen, and to the son who was to inherit the great Roman
state. In a rush of penitence, his first thought was to flee instantly:
to leave at once and for ever the land that had seen his folly. But the
moment after he remembered Dido, and realized in horror all the
suffering that he would bring to her. He knew the intensity of her love;
and recalling all her kindness to him and his, he could not summon
courage to face her and tell her that he must go. Weakly he resolved to
prepare in secret for departure; and orders were sent down to the ships
to fit out with all speed. But the unworthy act was bound to bring
disaster. Word was soon brought to the queen that the Trojan fleet was
being furtively prepared for sea, and she leapt to the obvious
conclusion. Æneas intended to forsake her—and to go by stealth. All her
frank nature revolted at the deception. That he should wish to go at
all, lightly flinging away her love and honour, was a thing that her own
fidelity had never suspected; but to steal away thus was baseness that
drove her to fury. Her ungoverned Oriental rage was loosed upon him.

           “_False as thou art, and didst thou hope, ay, hope
           To keep thy infamous intent disguised,
           And steal away in silence from my realm?_“[34]



  _Gianbattista Tiepolo_

  _By Permission of Ad Braun et Cie._

But the first gust of anger past, she dropped to a softer mood and
besought him by every tender plea that her tongue could frame, not to
leave her—by their great love: by her trust in him, and the pledge that
he had given her; by the constant service that she had paid him, and all
that she had forfeited for his sake.

              “_Because of thee it is, the Libyan tribes,
              And Nomad chieftains hate me; my own people
              Are turned against me; all because of thee
              My woman’s honour has been blotted out,
              And former fair good name whereby alone
              I held my head aloft. To whom dost thou
              Abandon me, a woman marked for death?
              My guest, my guest! Since only by that name
              I am to know my husband!_“[34]

It would seem that her anguish must melt a heart of stone, but Æneas
remained apparently immovable. Before him still shone the vision of the
god, and in his ears Jove’s message rang insistently. Controlling every
tender impulse, he answered in words that were made harsh by restraint.
To Dido their coldness was as cruel as death and far more bitter. She
did not know the gentle Æneas in the grip of the force that was driving
him, transforming him into a monster of ingratitude.

           “_This man thrown up a beggar on my shores,
           I took him in, insanely gave him up
           A portion of my realm, from very death
           Redeemed his comrades, saved his scattered ships.
                             ... Go! Make for Italy!
           Chased by the winds, across the wild waves seek
           These vaunted kingdoms! But in sooth I hope,
           If the benignant Gods can aught avail,
           Vengeance will strike thee midway on the rocks,
           Calling and calling upon Dido’s name._“[34]

She was borne away fainting, and Æneas, racked by pity that he dare not
show, made his way down to the harbour to hasten the sailing of the
fleet. Day by day his men toiled with a will, for they were sick of
inaction and eager to get away, although winter was already upon them.
And watching from her tower, Dido saw each day’s work completed with
deeper misery, and a growing sense of despair. Very soon now all would
be ready; the day was rapidly approaching when Æneas would trust himself
to that stormy winter sea, with small chance, as she knew, of ever
reaching Latium. At the thought of that final parting and of her lover’s
danger, Dido’s anger melted, and every vestige of her pride was swept
away. She could not and would not let him go like this. At the risk of
worse humiliation still, she would make another effort to keep him in
Carthage, at least until the stormy season should be passed. In feverish
haste she called Anna and sent a poignant message.

                          “_In pity of my love,
          Let him concede this boon—the last I crave,—
          And wait propitious winds to speed his flight._“[34]

But Æneas is inexorable, and when Anna returns to the queen with his
refusal, it adds the last intolerable touch to her pain and shame.
Nightlong she roams the palace, like one distraught; and finding her way
to the tomb of Sichæus, she prays to die. Strange omens answer her; and
to her maddened brain it seems that the voice of her husband is calling
her to come to him. The water of her libation turns black as she pours
it upon the altar, and the wine congeals to blood. The high gods have
answered her: they approve her purpose.

As soon as day comes, she begins with deliberate care to make all ready
for her death. Under her directions, a great pyre is built within the
courtyard, on which the queen announces that she intends to offer a
solemn sacrifice. Every relic of Æneas is gathered and laid upon it; his
armour, his cloak and his sword; while all about it Dido herself hangs
garlands and funeral chaplets. Her sister and her women wonder, but have
no hint of her intention. When night falls and all the palace is sunk in
sleep, Dido stands again before the altar and consecrates herself for
the sacrifice. But she cannot yet take the fatal step. She longs for one
more look from her watch-tower, down upon the ships that are so soon to
carry her lover away. So she strains her eyes through the darkness, only
to find, with the first gleam of light, that the harbour is bare. The
fleet has sailed: Æneas, warned by a vision from Jove, has fled in the
night. A bitter cry escapes her:

                                 “_Oh rare
             Fidelity and honour! And they say,
             He takes his household gods about with him,
             And on his shoulders bore his aged sire!_“[34]

She calls upon the great powers of Earth and Sky and the dreadful
Underworld to avenge her wrongs; and looking forward to the years that
are to come, she invokes upon Æneas and his descendants the curse that
followed the Roman race through many generations:

                          “_So then do you,
            My Tyrians, harry with envenomed hate
            His race and kin through ages yet to come:
            Be this your tribute to my timeless death!...
            Let coast conflict with coast, and sea with sea.
            Embattled host with host, and endless war
            Be waged, ‘twixt their and your posterity!_“[34]

Then, rushing to the courtyard, she climbs the great pyre, and grasps
Æneas’ sword. For one moment, ere she falls upon it, the frenzy lifts
from her brain and shows her all the course of her troubled life.

            “_Lo! I have lived my life, have run the course
            Assigned to me by fate; now ‘neath the earth
            I go, the queenly shade of what I was.
            I have built a goodly city; I have seen
            Its walls complete; I have avenged my spouse,
            And struck my cruel brother blow for blow!..._

            “_This heartless Trojan, let him from the waves
            Drink in with startled eyes the funeral fires,
            And bear with him the presage of my death!_”[34]

So the founder of Carthage died; and the father of great Rome, looking
back with remorseful eyes from his fleeing ship, saw the flames of her
pyre reddening the dawn.


Footnote 34:

  From Sir Theodore Martin’s translation of the _Æneid_ (Wm. Blackwood &


 Absyrtus, 229, 230

 Achilles, 24, 30, 33, 34, 40, 41, 139, 140, 257, 266, 274

 Admetus, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 223,
    224, 225, 226

 Adrastus, 190

 Aeêtes, 229

 Ægeus, 238

 Æneas, 37, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284,
    285, 286, 287

 Æschylus, 101, 102, 103, 104, 118, 132, 133, 136, 137, 139, 148, 150,
    151, 163, 164, 165, 168, 187, 190, 209, 257

 Aeolus, King, 62

 Agamemnon, 35, 39, 58, 59, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111,
    112, 113, 114, 117, 118, 120, 127, 129, 136, 140, 142, 143, 146,
    152, 256, 257, 258, 259, 262, 266, 267, 268

 Aigeus, 190

 Ajax, 23

 Alcestis, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 220, 221,
    222, 223, 224, 225, 226, 227

 Alcinous, 60, 62, 85, 90, 93, 94, 97, 230

 Alcmena, 42

 Andromache, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 140

 Andromeda, 22

 Anna, 281, 286

 Antigone, 22, 150, 166, 171, 186, 187, 188, 189, 191, 192, 193, 194,
    195, 196, 199, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207

 Antinous, 42, 46, 47

 Aphrodite, 18, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, 244, 245, 246, 250, 255

 Apollo, 97, 105, 109, 112, 113, 118, 123, 126, 129, 131, 133, 135, 137,
    140, 144, 146, 168, 169, 172, 173, 181, 189, 212, 213, 214, 226,
    238, 258, 271

 Ares, 21, 40

 Arete, Queen, 85, 97, 230

 Argus, 157, 158

 Artemis, 92, 93, 213, 244, 246, 247, 255, 257, 258, 261, 262, 271, 272

 Astyanax, 35, 36, 37

 Atè, 115, 132

 Athena, 18, 19, 24, 30, 31, 42, 44, 45, 46, 50, 55, 76, 85, 87, 88, 89,
    92, 93, 95, 97, 137, 256, 272

 Athene (_see_ Athena)

 Atlas, 76, 151

 Augustus, 273

 Bacchus, 280

 Cadmus, 149, 163, 206

 Calypso, 43, 60, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 87

 Camilla, 12

 Cassandra, 35, 109, 112, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143,
    144, 145, 164

 Castor, 23

 Charon, 218

 Charybdis, 72

 Chiron, 228

 Chrysothomis, 165

 Cilix, 149

 Circe, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 230

 Clytemnestra, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 112, 113,
    114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 123, 127, 129, 130, 131,
    137, 143, 144, 164, 165, 256, 257, 258, 266

 Creon, 12, 171, 172, 173, 174, 176, 177, 178, 185, 186, 187, 188, 190,
    193, 194, 196, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 206, 207,
    231, 232, 234, 235, 241

 Creusa, 276

 Cronos, 151, 157

 Cyclôpes, 269

 Cypris, 244, 250, 251

 Diana, 277

 Dido, 10, 12, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 279, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284,
    285, 286, 287

 Diomedes, 30

 Dionysus, 101

 Eëtion, 30

 Egisthus, 106, 107, 115, 117, 121, 124, 127, 130

 Electra, 12, 116, 118, 119, 120, 121, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128,
    129, 130, 132, 133, 134, 164, 166

 Elpenor, 71

 Enone, 18, 21

 Epaphus, 149, 161

 Epicasta, 167

 Erinys, 115

 Eteocles, 171, 188, 190, 191, 193, 197

 Euripides, 10, 35, 102, 132, 133, 136, 137, 150, 209, 210, 211, 212,
    214, 231, 243, 247, 256

 Europa, 149

 Euryclea, 50, 53, 57

 Eurydice, 208

 Eurylochus, 67

 Eurystheus, 216, 220

 Force, 152

 Glaucé, 231, 237, 239, 240, 241

 Hæmon, 202, 203, 204, 207

 Hector, 21, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 139, 273

 Hecuba, 29, 32, 35, 36, 140, 141

 Hekabe (_see_ Hecuba)

 Helen, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30,
    35, 37, 41, 42, 43, 103, 135, 138, 141, 259, 265

 Helenus, 37

 Hephæstus, 152, 153

 Hera, 18, 19, 24, 33, 98, 148, 150, 156, 169

 Heracles, 161, 220, 221, 223, 224, 225, 226, 270

 Hermes, 65, 66, 77, 78, 79, 119

 Hesiod, 152

 Hippolytus, 243, 244, 245, 246, 249, 251, 252, 253, 254

 Homer, 9, 11, 12, 16, 25, 29, 58, 65, 73, 85, 87, 99, 163, 167, 274

 Hymen, 141

 Icarius, 46, 59, 60

 Idomeneus, 23, 139

 Ilione, 280

 Inachus, 150, 157, 158

 Io, 148, 149, 150, 151, 157, 158, 160, 161, 162, 164, 167

 Iphigenia, 103, 104, 105, 121, 211, 256, 257, 259, 260, 261, 262, 263,
    264, 265, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271

 Ismene, 166, 171, 192, 194, 195, 196, 201, 202

 Iulus, 276

 Jason, 228, 229, 230, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 236, 237, 238, 239, 240,

 Jocasta, 150, 163, 166, 167, 168, 170, 171, 177, 178, 179, 180, 181,
    182, 183, 184, 185

 Jove, 108, 287

 Juno, 276, 280

 Jupiter, 280, 283

 Laertes, 59

 Laius, 168, 169, 170, 171, 173, 175, 178, 179, 181

 Leto, 261

 Loxias, 141, 180

 Medea, 211, 228, 229, 230, 231, 232, 234, 235, 236, 238, 239, 240, 241,
    242, 243, 247

 Medon, 48, 49

 Menelaus, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 35

 Mercury, 283

 Merope, 169, 180, 182

 Minos, 53

 Mycene, 42

 Nausicaa, 60, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98

 Neoptolemus, 140

 Oceanus, 153, 154

 Odysseus, 23, 27, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 46, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55,
    56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 73, 74,
    75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 93,
    94, 96, 97, 98, 140, 274

 Œdipus, 12, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 176, 177,
    178, 179, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 187, 188, 189, 190, 191,
    192, 195, 201

 Orestes, 118, 119, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130,
    131, 133, 164, 165, 256, 257, 258, 259, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264,
    265, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 272

 Othryoneus, 138

 Paris, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 29, 30, 137, 138, 276

 Patroclus, 33, 34

 Pelias, 212, 228, 230, 231

 Pelops, 262

 Penelope, 39, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54,
    55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 75, 79, 82, 86, 87, 163, 164

 Persephone, 69, 70

 Phædra, 211, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 254

 Phemius, 45

 Pheres, 222, 223

 Phoebus, 173

 Pollux, 23

 Polybus, 168, 169, 180, 181, 182, 183

 Polynices, 171, 188, 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 196, 197, 198, 207

 Polyxena, 140

 Poseidon, 27, 39, 40, 87, 88, 94, 189, 191, 254

 Priam, 17, 18, 22, 24, 25, 29, 30, 32, 34, 35, 36, 109, 135, 137, 138,

 Prometheus, 149, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161,
    162, 189

 Pygmalion, 276, 277

 Pylades, 118, 119, 130, 131, 258, 261, 263, 264, 267, 268

 Rhodius, Apollonius, 228

 Scylla, 72

 Sichæus, 276, 277, 281, 282, 286

 Sophocles, 102, 132, 133, 150, 163, 165, 166, 172, 186, 194, 206, 209,

 Talthybius, 140, 142

 Tantalus, 103, 123

 Telemachus, 27, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 55, 56

 Themis, 162

 Theseus, 189, 190, 191, 243, 248, 253, 254

 Thetis, 33, 41

 Thoas, 259, 261, 267, 270, 271, 272

 Tiresias, 69, 70, 170, 171, 174, 175, 178, 206

 Tyndareus, 19, 20, 41

 Typhon, 151

 Tyro, 42

 Venus, 276, 277, 278

 Virgil, 9, 12, 273, 274

 Zeus, 18, 24, 27, 32, 33, 41, 47, 49, 50, 54, 65, 73, 76, 77, 78, 79,
    93, 94, 97, 98, 112, 126, 127, 128, 148, 149, 151, 152, 153, 154,
    155, 156, 157, 158, 160, 161, 167, 200, 226



 1. Changed ‘hales’ to ‘hails’ on p. 220.
 2. Silently corrected typographical errors.
 3. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.
 4. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.

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