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 9 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 9 of 29)
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while their cousins are slain.

2 Literally, " to be called coward rather than murderess."


A royal race m Argos. Tedious speech

Were needed to relate particulars

Of these things ; 't is enough that from her seed 1020

Shall spring the strong He/ famous with the bow,

Whose arms shall break my fetters off. Behold,

My mother Themis, that old Titaness,

Delivered to me such an oracle ;

But how and when, I should be long to speak, 1025

And thou, in hearing, wouldst not gain at all.

lo. Eleleu, eleleu ! ^

How the spasm and the pain,
And the fire on the brain.

Strike, burning me through ! 1030

How the sting of the curse, all aflame as it flew,

Pricks me onward again !
How my heart in its terror is spurning my breast,
And my eyes like the wheels of a chariot roll round !
I am whirled from my course, to the east, to the west.
In the whirlwind of frenzy all madly in wound ; io36
And my mouth is unbridled for anguish and hate,
And my words beat in vain, in wild storms of un-
On the sea of my desolate fate. [lo rushes out.

Chorus. Strophe,
O, wise was he, O, wise was he, 1040

Who first within his spirit knew.
And with his tongue declared it true.
That love comes best that comes unto

The equal of degree !
And that the poor and that the low 1045

^ Heracles (Hercules).

2 Greek war-cry. An attack of frenzy is needed as a motive to re-
move lo from the scene.


Should seek no love from those above,
Whose souls are fluttered with the flow
Of airs about their golden height,
Or proud because they see arow

Ancestral crowns of light. loso


Oh, never, never, may ye, Fates,
Behold me with your awful eyes
Lift mine too fondly up the skies

Where Zeus upon the purple waits !

Nor let me step too near, too near,^ 1055

To any suitor bright from heaven ;
Because I see, because I fear.

This loveless maiden vexed and laden

By this fell curse of Here, driven

On wanderings dread and drear. loeo


Nay, grant an equal troth instead
Of nuptial love, to bind me by !

It will not hurt, I shall not dread
To meet it in reply.

But let not love from those above loes

Revert and fix me, as I said.
With that inevitable Eye !

I have no sword to fight that fight,

I have no strength to tread that path,

I know not if my nature hath loro

The power to bear, I cannot see

Whither from Zeus's infinite

I have the j^ower to flee.

^ Literally, " Nor may I be visited by any suitor."


\^First Scene of Exodus.']

Prometheus. Yet Zeus, albeit most absolute of
Shall turn to meekuess, — such a marriage-rite 1075
He holds in preparation, which anon
Shall thrust him headlong from his gerent seat
Adown the abysmal void ; and so the curse
His father Cronos muttered in his fall,
As he fell from his ancient throne and cursed,^ \m
Shall be accomplished wholly. No escape
From all that ruin shall the filial Zeus
Find granted to him from any of his gods,
Unless I teach him. I the refuge know,
And I, the means. Now, therefore, let him sit loss
And brave the imminent doom, and fix his faith
On his supernal noises, hurtling on
With restless hand the bolt that breathes out fire ;
For these things shall not help him, none of them,
Nor hinder his perdition when he falls io9o

To shame, and lower than patience : such a foe
He doth himself prepare against himself,
A wonder of unconquerable hate,
An organizer of sublimer fire

Than glares in lightnings, and of grander sound 1095
Than aught the thunder rolls, out-thundering it,
With power to shatter in Poseidon's fist^
The trident-spear, which, while it plagues the sea,

^ I. e., that his son Zeus might be overthrown by a son, just as he
had overthrown his father Cronus.

2 The oracle of Themis ran, according- to the myth, that Thetis
should bear a son mightier than his father. Both Zeus and Poseidon
(Neptune) desired her love. Wedded to Zeus she would bear a son
who would find a missile mightier than the thunderbolt. If she were
wedded to Poseidon her son would master the trident. See verse 894.


Doth shake the shores around it. Ay, and Zeus,
Precipitated thus, shall learn at length uoo

The difference betwixt rule and servitude.

Chorus. Thou makest threats for Zeus of thy de-

Prometheus. I tell you all these things shall be
Even so as I desire them.

Chorus. Must we, then,

Look out for one shall come to master Zeus ? uos

Prometheus. These chains weigh lighter than his
sorrows shall.

Chorus. How art thou not afraid to utter such
words ?

Prometheus. What should / fear, who cannot die ?

Chorus. But he

Can visit thee with dreader woe than death's.

Prometheus. Why, let him do it ! I am here, pre-
pared 1110
For all things and their pangs.

Chorus. The wise are they

Who reverence Adrasteia.^

Prometheus. Eeverence thou.

Adore thou, flatter thou, whomever reigns,
Whenever reigning ! But for me, your Zeus
Is less than nothing. Let him act and reign 1115

His brief hour out according to his will :
He will not, therefore, rule the gods too long.
But lo ! I see that courier-god of Zeus,
That new-made menial of the new-crowned king :
He, doubtless, comes to announce to us something
new. 1120

^ Adrasteia (Nemesis) humbled the proud. Those reverence her
who are humble.


\_Seco7id Scene of ExodusJ]

Hermes enters.

Hermes, I speak to thee, the sophist, the talker-
Of scorn by scorn, the sinner against gods,
The reverencer of men, the thief of fire, —
I speak to thee and adjure thee : Zeus requires
Thy declaration of what marriage-rite 1125

Thus moves thy vaunt, and shall hereafter cause
His fall from empire. Do not wrap thy speech
In riddles, but speak clearly. Never cast
Ambiguous paths, Prometheus, for my feet,^
Since Zeus, thou mayst perceive, is scarcely won us©
To mercy by such means.

Prometheus, A speech well-mouthed

In the utterance, and full-minded in the sense,
As doth befit a servant of the gods !
New gods, ye newly reign, and think, forsooth.
Ye dwell in towers too high for any dart uss

To carry a wound there ! Have I not stood by
While two kings ^ fell from thence ? and shall I

Behold the third, the same who rules you now,
Fall, shamed to sudden ruin ? Do I seem
To tremble and quail before your modern gods ? n4o
Far be it from me ! For thyself, depart ;
Re-tread thy steps in haste. To all thou hast asked
I answer nothing.

Hermes. Such a wind of pride

Impelled thee of yore full sail upon these rocks.

^ More plainly, ' ' Do not impose on me a double journey," L e.,
oblige me to return to learn details.
^ Uranus and Cronus.


Prometheus. I would not barter — learn thou
sooth ly that ! — 1145

My suffering for thy service. I maintain
It is a nobler thing to serve these rocks
Than live a faithful slave to father Zeus.
Thus upon scorners I retort their scorn.

Hermes. It seems that thou dost glory in thy de-
spair.'^ 1150

Prometheus. I glory ? Would my foes did glory
And I stood by to see them ! — naming whom,
Thou art not unremembered.

Hermes. Dost thou charge

Me also with the blame of thy mischance ?

Prometheus. I tell thee I loathe the universal

gods,2 1155

Who, for the good I gave them, rendered back
The ill of their injustice.

Hermes. Thou art mad,

Thou art raving. Titan, at the fever-height.

Prometheus. If it be madness to abhor my foes.
May I be mad !

Hermes. If thou wert prosperous, ueo

Thou wouldst be unendurable.

Prometheus. Alas !

Hermes. Zeus knows not that word.

Prometheus. But maturing Time

Teaches all things.

Hermes. Howbeit, thou hast not learnt

The wisdom yet, thou needest.

Prometheus. If I had,

I should not talk thus with a slave like thee. lies

^ Better, " in thy sufferings. "
2 Better, " all the gods."


Hermes, No answer thou vouchsafest, I believe,
To the great Sire's requirement.

Prometheus. Yerily

I owe him grateful service, and should pay it.

Hermes. Why, thou dost mock me, Titan, as I
A child before thy face.

Prometheus. No child, forsooth, mo

But yet more foolish than a foolish child,
If thou expect that I should answer aught
Thy Zeus can ask. No torture from his hand,
Nor any machination in the world,
Shall force mine utterance ere he loose, himself, 1175
These cankerous fetters from me. For the rest.
Let him now hurl his blanching lightnings down.
And with his white-winged snows, and mutterings deep
Of subterranean thunders, mix all things.
Confound them in disorder. None of this uso

Shall bend my sturdy will, and make me speak
The name of his dethroner who shall come.

Hermes. Can this avail thee ? Look to it !

Prometheus. Long ago

It was looked forward to, precounselled of.

Hermes. Vain god, take righteous courage ! Dare
for once uss

To apprehend and front thine agonies
With a just prudence.

Prometheus. Yainly dost thou chafe

My soul with exhortation, as yonder sea
Groes beating on the rock. Oh ! think no more
That I, fear-struck by Zeus to a woman's mind,
Will supplicate him, loathed as he is, U90

With feminine upliftings of my hands,
To break these chains. Far from me be the thought !


Hermes. I have indeed, methinks, said much in
For still thy heart beneath my showers of prayers 1195
Lies dry and hard, nay, leaps like a young horse
Who bites against the new bit in his teeth,
And tugs and struggles against the new-tried rein,
Still fiercest in the feeblest thing of all.
Which sophism is ; since absolute will disjoined 1200
From perfect mind is worse than weak. Behold,
Unless my words persuade thee, what a blast
And whirlwind of inevitable woe
Must sweep persuasion through thee ! For at first
The Father will split up this jut of rock 1205

W^ith the great thunder and the bolted flame,
And hide thy body where a hinge of stone
Shall catch it like an arm ; and, when thou hast passed
A long black time within, thou shalt come out
To front the sun while Zeus's winged hound, 1210

The strong, carnivorous eagle, shall wheel down
To meet thee, self-called to a daily feast.
And set his fierce beak in thee, and tear off
The long rags of thy flesh, and batten deep
Upon thy dusky liver .^ Do not look 1215

For any end, moreover, to this curse,
Or ere some god appear to accept thy pangs
On his own head vicarious, and descend
With un reluctant step the darks of helP
And gloomy abysses around Tartarus. 1220

Then ponder this, — this threat is not a growth

^ I. e., the vulture will feed upon the liver until it is black. The
liver was the seat of the affections, to the Greek mind, and thus is

^ The Centaur Chiron was to do this, being hopelessly wounded,
and therefore resigning immortality, but such an event seemed im-


Of vain invention ; it is spoken and meant :

King Zeus's mouth is impotent to lie,

Consummating the utterance by the act.

So, look to it, thou ! take heed, and nevermore 1225

Forget good counsel to indulge self-will.

Chorus. Our Hermes suits his reasons to the times,
At least I think so, since he bids thee drop
Self-will for prudent counsel. Yield to him !
When the wise err, their wisdom makes their shame.

[Third Scene of Exodus. ~\

Prometheus. Unto me the foreknower, this man-
date of power 1231
He cries, to reveal it.
What 's strange in my fate, if I suffer from hate

At the hour that I feel it ?
Let the locks of the lightning, all bristling and whiten-
ing, i2a5
Flash, coiling me round.
While the aether goes surging 'neath thunder and

Of wild winds unbound !
Let the blast of the firmament whirl from its place

The earth rooted below, 1240

And the brine of the ocean, in rapid emotion,

Be driven in the face
Of the stars up in heaven, as they walk to and fro !
Let him hurl me anon into Tartarus — on —

To the blackest degree, 1245

With Necessity's vortices strangling me down ;
But he cannot join death to a fate meant for me !
Hermes. Why, the words that he speaks and the
thoughts that he thinks
Are maniacal ! — add,


If the Fate who hath bound him should loose not the
links, 1250

He were utterly mad.
Then depart ye who groan with him,
Leaving to moan with him ;
Go in haste ! lest the roar of the thunder anearing
Should blast you to idiocy, living and hearing. 1255
Chorus. Change thy speech for another, thy thought

for a new,
If to move me and teach me indeed be thy care ;
For thy words swerve so far from the loyal and
That the thunder of Zeus seems more easy to
How I couldst teach me to venture such vileness ? be-
hold ! 1260

I choose with this victim this anguish foretold !
I recoil from the traitor in haste and disdain.
And I know that the curse of the treason is worse
Than the pang of the chain.
Hermes. Then remember, O nymphs, what I tell
you before, 1265

Nor, when pierced by the arrows that Ate ^ will
throw you.
Cast blame on your fate, and declare evermore

That Zeus thrust you on anguish he did not fore-
show you.
Nay, verily, nay ! for ye perish anon

For your deed, by your choice. By no blindness

of doubt, 1270

No abruptness of doom, but by madness alone.
In the great net of Ate, whence none cometh out,
Ye are wound and undone. \_Exit Hermes

^ The goddess of blind infatuation and hence of ruin.


Prometheus, Ay ! in act now, in word now no

Earth is rocking in space. 1275

And the thunders crash up with a roar upon roar,

And the eddying lightnings flash fire in my face.
And the whirlwinds are whirling the dust round and
And the blasts of the winds universal leap free,
And blow each upon each with a passion of sound, 1280

And aether goes mingling in storm with the sea.
Such a curse on my head, in a manifest dread.

From the hand of your Zeus has been hurtled along.
O my mother's fair glory ! O Aether, enringing
All eyes with the sweet common light of thy bring-
ing! 1285
Dost see how I suffer this wrong ? ^

^ The first words of Prometheus in the play are an invocation of
heaven and earth to look upon him. Here, he closes with the assur-
ance that these see how unjustly he suffers. The last sentence is best
taken as a statement, not as a question.


" Be his
My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild ;
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole ;
The mellow glory of the Attic stage,
Singer of sweet Colonus, and its child."

Matthew Arnold.

Sophocles was born about 495 b. c, in the village of
Colonus, near Athens. Little is known of his early life,
but he was chosen for his beauty to lead the chorus of boys
in celebration of the victory at Salamis in 480 B. c. He
took some part in public life, serving as a general with
Pericles in the Samian war. Throughout his lifetime he
was devoted to Athens, and died there at an advanced age
in 406 B. c.

He won applause early in life by his acting, when the
poet was also an actor, like Shakespeare, but we are told that
on account of a weak voice he gave up taking part in plays
and contented himself with writing them. His first literary
competition was in 468 B. c, when he won the victory over
Aeschylus, thirty years his senior. All through his career
he was a favorite with the Athenians, winning eighteen vic-
tories at the Dionysiac festivals, and never falling below
second place. His two important innovations in dramatic
art were the introduction of a third actor and the use of
painted scenery.

The difference in spirit between Aeschylus and Sopho-
cles is shown in Browning's lines : —

" Aeschylus enjoined us fear the gods,
And Sophocles advised respect the kings."


The older poet shows how the fate of mortals is worked
out by the inevitable laws of the gods. The younger,
though acknowledging the inevitability of these laws, lays
more stress on the motives of the individual, and is thus
able to make his characters seem more human and to portray
their development.

Of more than a hundred plays by Sophocles, we have
only seven, all belonging to the period of his finished style.
The subjects of all, as of Greek tragedy in general, are
taken from legends of the heroes of Greece.

Three of the plays, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Co-
lonus, and Antigone, are based on one story, — the fate of
the ruling house of Thebes, — and might seem to be a
" trilogy," but that the dates of their production show that
they were not written to form a sequence. •

The Antigone, although written earliest (443 b. c),
forms the climax of the story given in these three trage-
dies. After the death at Colonus of Oedipus, former king
of Thebes, his daughters Antigone and Ismene returned to
Thebes, and lived in the king's house with their brother
Eteocles. But Polyneices, their second brother, who had
been unjustly driven forth, came against the city to capture
it, with seven captains of Argos. The two brothers died at
each other's hands, and Creon, their uncle, was made king.
He decreed that Eteocles should be interred with due hon-
ors, but that Polyneices should lie unburied, since he had
come as an enemy to the city and the temples of the gods.
The offender of this decree should be put to death.

Here the play opens. The whole tragedy turns on the
determination of Antigone to resist the king's decree, and
follow out the divine law by burying her brother. This
she does with a lofty unselfishness, " a purity of passion, a
fixity of purpose, a sublime enthusiasm for duty," which
make her, as Syiiionds called her, " the most perfect female
character in Greek poetry."

The translation is by E. H. Plumptre.




Ckeon, King of Thebes. Eurydice, wife of Ckbok.

Habmon, son of Creon. Antigone, ) , , , „ ^

rry T r daughters of Oedipus.

IfiiRESiAs, a seer. Ismene, )

Guard. {Antigone is the betrothed of Haemon)

Messenger. Chorus of Thehan Elders.

Scene. — Thebes, in front of the Palace. Early morning. Hills
in the distance on the Left j on the right the city.

Enter Antigone and Ismene.

Antigone. Ismene, mine own sister, darling one !
Is there, of ills that sprang from Oedipus,
One left that Zeus will fail to bring on us,
The two who yet remain ? Nought is there sad,
Nought full of sorrow, steeped in sin or shame, 5

But I have seen it in thy woes and mine.
And now, what new decree is this they tell,
Our captain has enjoined on all the State ?
Know'st thou ? Hast heard ? Or are they hid from

The ills that come from foes upon our friends ? 10

Ismene. No tidings of our f rieijds, Antigone,
Pleasant or painful, since that hour have come,
When we, two sisters, lost our brothers twain,
In one day dying by a twofold blow.
And since in this last night the Argive host 15

Has left the field, I nothing further know.
Nor brightening fortune, nor increasing gloom.

Antigone. That knew I well, and therefore sent
for thee
Beyond the gates, that thou mayst hear alone.

Ismene. What meanest thou ? It is but all too clear
Thou broodest darkly o'er some tale of woe. 21


Antigone. And does not Creon treat our brothers
One with the rights of burial, one with shame ?
Eteocles, so say they, he interred
Fitly, with wonted rites, as one held meet 25

To pass with honor to the dead below.
But for the corpse of Polyneices, slain
So piteously, they say, he has proclaimed
To all the citizens, that none should give
His body burial, or ,bewail his fate, 30

But leave it still unwept, unsepulchred,^
A prize full rich for birds that scent afar
Their sweet repast. So Creon bids, they say,
Creon the good, commanding thee and me, —
Yes, me, I say, — and now is coming here, 35

To make it clear to those who know it not.
And counts the matter not a trivial thing ;
But whoso does the things that he forbids,
For him there waits within the city's walls
The death of stoning. Thus, then, stands thy case ; 40
And quickly thou wilt show, if thou art born
Of noble nature, or degenerate liv'st,
Base child of honored parents.

Ismene. How could I,

O daring in thy mood, in this our plight.
Or breaking law or keeping, aught avail ? 45

Antigone. Wilt thou with me share risk and toil?
Look to it.

^ The horror with which the Greek mind thought of this preven-
tion of burial rites is seen in the prayer of Polyneices ( Oed. Col.,

" Give me honors meet,
A seemly burial, decent funeral rites,"

Compare the last request of Hector, p. 12.


Ismene. What risk is this? What purpose fills

thy mind ?
Antigone. Wilt thou help this my hand to lift the

Ismene. Mean'st thou to bury him, when law for-
bids ?
Antigone, He is my brother ; yes, and thine, though
thou 50

Wouldst fain he were not. I desert him not.

Ismene. O daring one, when Creon bids thee not?
Antigone. He has no right to keep me from mine

Ismene. Ah me ! remember, sister, how our sire
Perished, with hate o'erwhelmed and infamy, 55

From evils that himself did bring to light.
With his own hand himself of eyes bereaving,
And how his wife and mother, both in one.
With twisted cordage, cast away her life ; ^
And thirdly, how our brothers in one day eo

In suicidal conflict wrought the doom.
Each of the other. And we twain are left ;
And think, how much more wretchedly than all
We twain shall perish, if, against the law.
We brave our sovereign's edict and his power, es

This first we need remember, we were born
Women ; as such, not made to strive with men.
And next, that they who reign surpass in strength,

1 Oedipus had been warned by an oracle that he would slay his
father and marry his own mother. While trying- to avoid this fate
by leaving- Corinth, the home of his supposed parents, he fulfils it
by slaying- Laius, King of Thebes, and wedding his queen locasta.
Many years later the terrible truth is made known that these were
his own parents, who had exposed him on a mountain to die when
he was an infant. The queen locasta hangs herself at the awful
news, and Oedipus puts out his own eyes.


And we must bow to this, and worse than this.

I then, entreating those that dwell below, 70

To judge me leniently, as forced to yield,

Will hearken to our rulers. Over-zeal

That still will meddle, little wisdom shows.

A?itigo7ie, I will not ask thee, nor though thou
shouldst wish
To do it, shouldst thou join with my consent. 75

Do what thou wilt, I go to bury him ;
And good it were, in doing this, to die.
Loved I shall be with him whom I have loved,
Guilty of holiest crime. More time is mine
In which to share the favor of the dead, so

Than that of those who live ; for I shall rest
For ever there. But thou, if thus thou please,
Count as dishonored what the Gods approve.

Ismene. I do them no dishonor, but I find
Myself too weak to war against the State. 85

Antigone. Make what excuse thou wilt, I go to rear
A grave above the brother whom I love.

Ismene. Ah, wretched me ! how much I fear for thee !

Antigone. Fear not for me. Thine own fate raise
to safety.

Ismene. At any rate, disclose this deed to none ; 90
Keep it close hidden : I will hide it too.

Antigone. Speak out ! I bid thee. Silent, thou
wilt be
More hateful to me, if thou fail to tell
My deed to all men.

Ismene, Fiery is thy mood,

Although thy deeds the very blood might chill. 95

Antigone. I know I please the souls I ought to

Ismene. Yes, if thou canst ; thou seek'st the irapos*


Antigone. When strength sliall fall me, then I '11

cease to strive.
Ismene. We should not hunt the impossible at all.
Antigone. If thou speak thus, my hatred wilt thou



And rightly wilt be hated of the dead.

Leave me and my ill counsel to endure

This dreadful doom. I shall not suffer aught

So evil as a death dishonorable.

Ismene. Go, then, if so thou wilt. Of this be sure, los

^-, Wild as thou art, thy friends must love thee still.
% [Exeunt.

Enter Chorus of Thehan Elders.

Strophe I.

Chorus. O light of yon bright sun,^
Fairest of all that ever shone on Thebes,

Thebes with her seven high gates,

Thou didst appear that day, m

Eye of the golden dawn,

O'er Dirc^'s ^ streams advancing,

Driving with quickened curb.

In haste of headlong flight,
The warrior ^ who, in panoply of proof, xis

From Argos came, with shield of glittering white ;

W^hom Polyneices brought,

Roused by the strife of tongues

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 9 of 29)