John Henry Wright.

Masterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; online

. (page 12 of 29)
Online LibraryJohn Henry WrightMasterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; → online text (page 12 of 29)
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Teiresias. Know, then, and know it well, that thou
shalt see ii4o

Not many winding circuits of the sun,
Before thou giv'st as quittance for the dead,
A corpse by thee begotten ; ^ for that thou
Hast to the ground cast one that walked on earth,
And foully placed within a sepulchre U45

A living soul ; and now thou keep'st from them,
The Gods below, the corpse of one unblest,
Unwept, unhallowed, and in these things thou
Canst claim no part, nor yet the Gods above ;
But they by thee are outraged ; and they wait, nso
The sure though slow avengers of the grave,
The dread Erinnyes of the mighty Gods,^
For thee in these same evils to be snared.
Search well if I say this as one who sells
His soul for money. Yet a little while, U55

And in thy house the wail of men and women
Shall make it plain. And every city stirs
Itself in arms against thee, owning those
Whose limbs the dogs have buried, or fierce wolves.
Or winged birds have brought the accursed taint ueo
To region consecrate. Doom like to this.
Sure darting as an arrow to its mark,
I launch at thee, (for thou dost vex me sore,)
An archer aiming at the very heart,

^ Tins of course foretells the death of Haemon.
2 These goddesses are the aveng-ers of all violations of filial duty or
the claims of kinship.



And thou shalt not escape its fiery sting. lies

And now, O boy, lead thou me home again.

That he may vent his spleen on younger men,

And learn to keep his tongue more orderly,

"With better thoughts than this his present mood. \_ExiL

Chorus. The man has gone, O king, predicting woe.
And well we know, since first our raven hair im

Was mixed with gray, that never yet his words
Were uttered to our State and failed of truth.

Creon. I know it too, 't is that that troubles me.
To yield is hard, but, holding out, to smite ins

One's soul with sorrow, this is harder still.

Chorus. We need wise counsel, O Menoekeus' son.

Creon. What shall I do ? Speak thou, and I'll obey.

Chorus. Go then, and free the maiden from her
And give a grave to him who lies exposed. iiso

Creon. Is this thy counsel? Dost thou bid me
yield ?

Chorus. Without delay, O king, for lo ! they come.
The Gods' swift-footed ministers of ill,
And in an instant lay the self-willed low. ii84

Creon. Ah me ! 't is hard ; and yet I bend my will
To do thy bidding. With necessity
We must not fight at such o'erwhelming odds.

Chorus. Go then and act ! Commit it not to others.

Creon. E'en as I am I '11 go. Come, come, my men.
Present or absent, come, and in your hands ii9o

Bring axes : come to yonder eminence.
And I, since now my judgment leans that way,
Who myself bound her, now myself will loose.
Too much I fear lest it should wisest prove
Maintaining ancient laws to end my life. \_Exit.

1 The cave in which Antigone had been immured alive.


Strophe I.
Chorus. Thou of many names,^ use

Of that Cadmeian maid ^

The glory and the joy,

Whom Zeus as offspring owns,

Zeus, thundering deep and loud, 1200

Who watchest over famed Italia,^
And reign'st o'er all the bays that Deo * claims

On fair Eleu sis' coast.
Bacchos, who dwell'st in Thebes, the mother-town

Of all thy Bacchant train, 1205

Along Ismenus' stream.

And with the dragon's brood ; ^

Antistrophe I.

Thee, o'er the double peak

Of yonder height the blaze

Of flashing fire beholds, 1210

Where nymphs of Cory cos ^

^ The exulting hopes of the Chorus, rising- out of Creon's repent-
ance, seem purposely broug-ht into contrast with the tragedy which is
passing- while they are in the very act of chanting their hymns. This
hymn is addressed to Dionysus.

^ Semele, the bride of Zeus, who perished when the God revealed
himself as the Thunderer. In dying she gave birth to Dionysus.

^ Southern Italy, the Magna Graecia of the old geographers, is
named as famous both for its wines and its cultus of Bacchus. A
better reading here is Icaria, a rural district of Attica, — the home of
Thespis, the legendary founder of the Greek drama, in the sixth cen-
tury before our era. Excavations were conducted there in 1888 by
the American School at Athens.

* The goddess Demeter, who with Bacchus (or laechus) was wor-
shipped at Eleusis with secret rites.

^ The people descended from the serpent's teeth sown by Cadmus.

^ From Italia and Eleusis the Chorus passes to Parnassus, as the
centre of the Bacchic cultus. On the twin peaks above Delphi flames
wepe said to have been seen, telling of the presence of the God. The
Corycian Cave is high up on the mountain.


Go forth in Bacchic dance,
And by the flowery stream of Castaly,
And Thee, the ivied slopes of Nysa's hills,^

And vine-clad promontory, 1215

(While words of more than mortal melody

Shout out the well-known name,)

Send forth, the guardian lord

Of the wide streets of Thebes.

Strophe II.

Above all cities Thou, 1220

With her, thy mother whom the thunder slew,

Dost look on it with love ;
And now, since all the city bendeth low

Beneath the sullen plague.

Come Thou with cleansing tread 1225

O'er the Parnassian slopes.

Or o'er the moaning straits.^

Antistrophe II.

O Thou, who lead'st the band.
The choral band of stars still breathing fire,^

Lord of the hymns of night, 1230

The child of highest Zeus ; appear, king,

With Thyian maidens wild.

Who all night long in dance,

With frenzied chorus sing

Thy praise, their lord, lacchos. 1235

^ The " ivied slopes " are those of the Euboean Nysa.

2 The " moaning straits " of the Euripus, if the God is thought of
as coming from Nysa ; the " slopes," if he comes from Parnassus.

^ The imagery of the Bacchic thiasos,' vf\th. its torcli-hearers moving
in rhythmic order, is transferred to the heavens, and the stars them-
selves are thought of as a choral band led by the Lord of life and



Enter Messenger. ^

Messenger. Ye men of Cadmus and Amphion's

I know no life of mortal man whicli I
Would either praise or blame. 'T is Fortune's chance
That raiseth up, and Fortune bringeth low,
The man who lives in good or evil plight ; 1240

And prophet of men's future there is none.
For Creon, so I deemed, deserved to be
At once admired and envied, having saved
This land of Cadmus from the hands of foes ;
And, having ruled with fullest sovereignty, 1245

He lived and prospered, joyous in a race
Of goodly offspring. Now, all this is gone ;
For when men lose the joys that sweeten life,
I cannot deem they live, but rather count
As if a breathing corpse. His heaped-up stores 1260
Of wealth are large, so be it, and he lives
With all a sovereign's state ; and yet, if joy .
Be absent, all the rest I count as nought.
And would not weigh them against pleasure's charm,
More than a vapor's shadow.
'^v- Chorus. ^ /U'^*-**'^^- What is this ? 1255

What new disaster tell'st thou of our chiefs ?

Messenger. Dead are they, and the living cause

their death.
Chorus. Who slays, and who is slaughtered ? Tell

thy tale.
Messenger. Haemon is dead, slain, weltering in his

Chorus. By his own act, or by his father's hand ?

1 In the myths of the foundation of Thehes, Amphion was said to
have built its walls by the mere power of his minstrelsy, the stones
moving, as he played, each into its appointed place.



Messenger. His own, in wrath against his father's
crime. 1261

Chorus. O prophet ! true, most true, those words of
^ Messenger. Since things stand, thus, we well may
A counsel take.
lO Chorus. Lo ! Creon's wife comes, sad Eurydice.

She from the house approaches, hearing speech 1265
About her son, or else by accident.

Enter EurYdice.

Eurydice. I on my way, my friends, as suppliant
^^~^ bound.
To pay my vows at Pallas' shrine, have heard
Your words, and so I chanced to draw the bolt
Of the half-opened door, when lo ! a sound mo

Falls on my ears, of evil striking home,
And terror-struck I fall in deadly swoon
Back in my handmaids' arms ; yet tell it me,
Tell the tale once again, for I shall hear,
By long experience disciplined to grief. 1275

^ .ft' Messenger. Dear lady, I will tell thee : I was by,
rv^And will not leave one word of truth untold.

Why should we smooth and gloze, where all too soon

We should be found as liars ? Truth is still

The only safety. Lo ! I went with him, • 1280

Thy husband, in attendance, to the edge

Of yonder plain, where still all ruthlessly

The corpse of Polyneices lay exposed.

Mangled by dogs. And, having prayed to her,

The Goddess of all pathways,^ and to Pluto, 1285

1 Hecate, here apparently identified with Persephone, and named
also as the Goddess who, heing the g-tiardian of highways, was wroth
with Thebes for the pollution caused by the unburied corpse of


To temper wratli with pity, him they washed

With holy washing ; and what yet was left

We burnt in branches freshly cut, and heaped

A high-raised grave from out his native soil.

And then we entered on the stone-paved home, 1290

Death's marriage-chamber for the ill-starred maid.

And some one hears, while standing yet afar,

Shrill voice of wailing near the bridal bower,

By funeral rites unhallowed, and he comes

And tells my master, Creon. On his ears, 1295

Advancing nearer, falls a shriek confused

Of bitter sorrow, and with groaning loud,

He utters one sad cry, " Me miserable !

And am I then a prophet ? Do I wend

This day the dreariest way of all my life ? 1300

My son's voice greets me. Go, my servants, go,

Quickly draw near, and standing by the tomb.

Search ye and see ; and where the stone torn out

Shall make an opening, look ye in, and say

If I hear Haemon's voice, or if my soul 1305

Is cheated by the Gods." And then we searched.

As he, our master, in his frenzy bade us ;

And, in the furthest corner of the vault,

We saw her hanging by her neck, with cord

Of linen threads entwined, and him we found mo

Clasping her form in passionate embrace.

And mourning o'er the doom that robbed him of her,

His father's deed, and that his marriage bed,

So full of woe. When Creon saw him there,

Groaning aloud in bitterness of heart, 1315

He goes to him, and calls in wailing voice,

" Poor boy ! what hast thou done ? Hast thou then

Thy reason ? In what evil sinkest thou ?



Come forth, my child, on bended knee I ask thee."

And then the boy, with fierce, wild-gleaming eyes, 1320

Glared at him, spat upon his face, and draws.

Still answering nought, the sharp two-handled sword.

Missing his aim, (his father from the blow

Turning aside,) in anger with himself.

The poor ill-doomed one, even as he was, 1325

Fell on his sword, and drove it through his breast,

Full half its length, and clasping, yet alive.

The maiden's arm, still soft, he there breathes out

In broken gasps, upon her fair white cheek.

Swift stream of bloody shower. So they lie, 1330

Dead bridegroom with dead bride, and he has gained,

Poor boy, his marriage rites in Hades' home,

And left to all men witness terrible,

That man's worst ill is want of counsel wise.


Chorus. What dost thou make of this ? She turn-
eth back, 1335

Before one word, or good or ill, she speaks.

Messenger. I too am full of wonder. Yet with hopes
1 feed myself, she will not think it meet,
Hearing her son's woes, openly to wail
Out in the town, but to her handmaids ^ there 1340

Will give command to wail her woe at home.
Too trained a judgment has she so to err.

Chorus. I know not. To my mind, or silence hard,
Or vain wild cries, are signs of bitter woe.

Messenger. Soon we shall know, within the house
advancing, 1345

If, in the passion of her heart, she hides
A secret purpose. Truly dost thou speak ;
There is a terror in that silence hard.

^ Compare the wailing of women for Hector, page 19.


Seeing Creon approaching with the corpse of Haemon in his


Chorus. And lo ! the king himself is drawing nigh.

And in his hands he bears a record clear, isso

No woe (if I may speak) by others caused,

Himself the great offender.

Enter Creon, bearing Haemon's body.

Creon. Woe ! for the sins of souls of evil mood,

Stern, mighty to destroy !
O ye who look on those of kindred race, 1355

The slayers and the slain.
Woe for mine own rash plans that prosper not !
Woe for thee, son ; but new in life's career,
And by a new fate dying !

Woe ! woe ! i360

Thou diest, thou art gone,
Not by thine evil counsel, but by mine.

Chorus. Ah me ! Too late thou seem'st to see the

Creon, Ah me !

I learn the grievous lesson. On my head,
God, pressing sore, hath smitten me and vexed, i365
In ways most rough and terrible (ah me !),
Shattering my joy, as trampled under foot.
Woe ! woe ! Man's labors are but labor lost.

Enter Second Messenger.

Second Messenger. My master ! thou, as one who
hast full store.
One source of sorrow bearest in thine arms, im

And others in thy house, too soon, it seems.
Thou need'st must come and see.

Creon. And what remains

Worse evil than the evils that we bear ?


Second Messenger. Thy wife is dead, that corpse's
mother true,
111 starred one, smitten with a blow just dealt. 1375

Creon. O agony !
Haven of Death, that none may pacify,
Why dost thou thus destroy me ?
Turning to Messenger.

thou who comest, bringing in thy train

Woes horrible to tell, i380

Thou tramplest on a man already slain.
What say'st thou ? What new tidings bring'st to me ?

Ah me ! ah me !
Is it that now there waits in store for me
My own wife's death to crown my misery ? isss

Chorus. Full clearly thou mayst see. No longer now
Does yon recess conceal her.

The gates open and show the dead lody of Eurydice.

Creon,. Woe is me !

This second ill I gaze on, miserable,
What fate, yea, what still lies in wait for me ?
Here in my arms I bear what was my son ; 1390

And there, O misery ! look upon the dead.
Ah, wretched mother ! ah, my son ! my son !

Second Messenger. In frenzy wild she round the
altar clung,
And closed her darkening eyelids, and bewailed
The noble fate of Megareus,^ who died 1395

Long since, and then again that corpse thou hast ;
And last of all she cried a bitter cry
Against thy deeds, the murderer of thy sons.

Creon. Woe ! woe ! alas !

1 shudder in my fear. Will no one strike i4oo

1 In the leg-end which Sophocles here follows, Megarus, a son of
Creon and Eurydice, had offered himself as a sacrifice to save the state
from its dang-ers.


A deadly blow with sharp two-edged sword ?

Fearful my fate, alas !
And with a fearful woe full sore beset.

Second Messenger. She in her death charged thee
with being the cause
Of all their sorrows, these and those of old. 1405

Creon. And in what way struck she the murderous

blow ?
Second Messenger. With her own hand below her
heart she stabbed,
Hearing her son's most pitiable fate.

Creon. Ah me ! The fault is mine. On no one
Of all that live, the fearful guilt can come ; mo

I, even I, did slay thee, woe is me !
I, yes, I speak the truth. Lead me, ye guards.
Lead me forth quickly ; lead me out of sight,
More crushed to nothing than is nothing's self.

Chorus. Thou counsellest gain, if gain there be in

ills, 1415

For present ills when shortest then are best.

Creon. O, come thou then, come thou.
The last of all my dooms, that brings to me
Best boon, my life's last day. Come then, O come,
That never more I look upon the light. 1420

Chorus. These things are in the future. What is
That we must do. O'er what is yet to come
They watch, to Whom that work of right belongs.

Creon. I did but pray for what I most desire.

Chorus. Pray thou for nothing then : for mortal
man 1425

There is no issue from a doom decreed.

Creon [looking at the tivo corpses']. Lead me
then forth, vain shadow that I am,


Who slew thee, O my son, unwillingly,
And thee too — (O my sorrow !) — and I know not
Which way to look or turn. All near at hand 1430
Is turned to evil ; and upon my head
There falls a doom far worse than I can bear.
Chorus. Man's highest blessedness,

In wisdom chiefly stands ;
And in the things that touch upon the Gods, 1435

'T is best in word or deed,

To shun unholy pride ;
Great words of boasting bring great punishments,

And so to gray-haired age

Teach wisdom at the last. 1440


Euripides, the last of the "tragic triad of immortal
fames," was born on the island of Salamis in 480 B. C, the
year of the famous battle there. Whether he was born, as
tradition says, on the very day of the battle, is uncertain,
but the story at least gives us a chain with which to bind
together the three poets : Aeschylus fought at Marathon in
490 and at Salamis in 480 B. c, Sophocles led the paean
of thanksgiving for the battle of Salamis, and in the year of
that battle Euripides was born.

Unlike the other two, Euripides took no part in public
affairs, but spent his life in seclusion and study. He died in
406 B. c. (the same year as Sophocles), in Macedonia, where
he had lived some years at the court of King Archelaus.

" Euripides is the mediator between ancient and modern
drama." During the fifth century a change had come over
the spirit of the Athenian people which made natural a
change in the dramas presented to them. Their faith in
their national religion, which was the foundation of all
their dramatic art, was undermined, and their interest in
mythical stories thereby lessened. The heroes of the old
tales no longer excited interest of themselves, and could be
made to do it only by being endowed with more realism,
having their joys and sorrows and human passions portrayed
more vividly than ever before. Euripides saw this need,
and supplied it by drawing men not as they should be, as
Sophocles said he himself had done, but as they actually
were. For this innovation, necessary and right as it was,
he was severely criticised by the conservative among his
contemporaries, notably by the poet Aristophanes, who be-


lieved that the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles were
the only right models.

The popularity of Euripides with the masses is un-
doubted, and is attested by the well-known story that many
of the Athenian prisoners taken by the Syracusans in 415
B. c. received their liberty in return for their recitations of
parts of his plays. His tragedies were played or read with
interest well into the Christian era, and had a marked in-
fluence upon the Roman drama, and the classical tragedy
in France. He appeals to the reader of to-day perhaps
more than the other Greek tragedians, because he is more
" modern " in his treatment of the same human interests
that are alive for us to-day. Mrs. Browning has described
him in these well-known lines : —

" Our Euripides the Human

With his droppings of warm tears,
And his touches of things common
Till they rose to touch the spheres."

The story of the Heracles {Hercules) may be briefly told.
The last of the twelve labors which Heracles had to per-
form for his cousin Eurystheus was to fetch the three-headed
dog, Cerberus, from the lower world. He departed on
this mission, leaving his father Amphitryon, his wife Me-
gara, and his sons under the protection of his wife's fa-
ther, Creon, the aged king of Thebes. During his absence,
Lycus, after slaying Creon, assumes the throne, and deter-
mines to put to death the family of Heracles, lest they
should avenge the murder of the king. Heracles returns
from Hades just in time to save them, and in his turn kills
Lycus. As he is offering an expiatory sacrifice after the
deed, he is struck with madness sent by his arch-enemy, the
goddess Hera, and in his frenzy slays his own wife and
children, believing them to be those of the hated Eurystheus.
In his agony when he awakens and discovers the truth, he
is about to kill himself, but is persuaded by Theseus to
come to Athens and there seek pardon from the gods.


The following portions of the play are from the trans-
lation of Robert Browning, which is included in his poem

Aristophanes' Apology?-


This ode is sung by the Chorus of Thebans in honor of Hera-
cles, who they fear may have perished on his mission to Hades.
They give an account of his former labors, wrought for Eurys-
theus, and lament that he is not at hand to deliver his father,
his wife, and his children, who are even now to be slain by
Lycus, the usurping king.

Even a dirge, can Phoibos suit see

In song to music jubilant

For all its sorrow : making shoot

His golden plectron o'er the lute,

Melodious ministrant. 390

And I, too, am of mind to raise,

Despite the imminence of doom,

A song of joy, outpour my praise

To him — what is it rumor says ? — -

Whether — now buried in the ghostly gloom 39s

Below ground — he was child of Zeus indeed,

Or mere Amphitruon's mortal seed —

To him I weave the wreath of song, his labor's meed.

For, is my hero perished in the feat ?

1 Mr. Browning preferred to transliterate Greek proper names in-
stead of using- the Latin forms, which are more familiar to English
readers. Thus Phoibos is for Phoebus Apollo ; Peneios for Peneus, the
chief river of Thessaly ; Haides for Hades, the place of departed spir-
its ; Kentaur for Centaur, a fabulous race of beings, half horse and
half man ; MuJcenai for Mycenae, the chief fortress and palace in Ar-
golis ; Kuknos for Cycnus ; KuMops for Cyclops, one of the race which
was said to have built the " Cyclopean walls " of Tiryns ; Heralcles for
Hercules ; Eurustheus for Eurystheus, king of Tiryns, who was allowed
by the gods to impose twelve tasks or " labors " on his mightier
kinsman Hercules ; Asklepios for Aesculapius ; Plouton for Pluto ;
Aviphitruon for Amphitryo.


The virtues of brave toils, in death complete, 400

These save the dead in song, — their glory-garland
meet !

First, then, he made the wood

Of Zeus a solitude,

Slaying its lion-tenant ; and he spread

The tawniness behind — his yellow head 405

Enmuffled by the brute' s,backed by that grin of dread.^

The mountain-roving savage Kentaur-race

He strewed with deadly bow about their place,

Slaying with winged shafts : Peneios knew,

Beauteously-eddying, and the long tracts too 410

Of pasture trampled fruitless, and as well

Those desolated haunts Mount Pelion under,

And, grassy up to Homol^, each dell

Whence, having filled their hands with pine-tree

Horse-like was wont to prance from, and subdue 415
The land of Thessaly, that bestial crew.
The golden-headed spot-backed stag he slew,
That robber of the rustics : glorified
Therewith the goddess who in hunter's pride
Slaughters the game along Oinoe's side.^ 420

And, yoked abreast, he brought the chariot-breed
To pace submissive to the bit, each steed
That in the bloody cribs of Diomede
Champed and, unbridled, hurried down that gore
For grain, exultant the dread feast before — 425

Of man's flesh : ^ hideous feeders they of yore I
All as he crossed the Hebros' silver-flow

1 Heracles killed the Nemean lion by strangling it, and clothed
himself in its impenetrable hide, the jaws covering his head.

2 The golden-horned hind was dedicated to Artemis.

^ Diomed, a king in Thrace, fed his mares on the strangers coming


Accomplished lie such labor, toiling so

For Mukenaian tyrant ; ay, and more — •

He crossed the Melian shore 430

And, by the sources of Amauros, shot

To death that strangers'-pest

Kuknos, who dwelt in Amphanaia : not

Of fame for good to guest I

And next, to the melodious maids he came, 435

Inside the Hesperian court-yard : hand must aim
At plucking gold fruit from the appled leaves,
Now he had killed the dragon, backed like flame,
Who guards the unapproachable he weaves
Himself all round, one spire about the same. 440

And into those sea-troughs of ocean dived

The hero, and for mortals calm contrive(L_____ ..

Whatever oars should follow in his wake.

And under heaven's mid-seat his hands thrust he.

At home with Atlas : and, for valor's sake, 445

Held the gods up their star-faced mansionry.^

Also, the rider-host of Amazons

About Maiotis many-streamed, he went

To conquer through the billowy Euxine once,

Having collected what an armament 450

Of friends from Hellas, all on conquest bent

Of that gold-garnished cloak, dread girdle-chase ! ^

So Hellas gained the girl's barbarian grace

And at Mukenai saves the trophy still —

Go wonder there, who will ! 455

Online LibraryJohn Henry WrightMasterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; → online text (page 12 of 29)