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The Persians

Ah me, how sudden have the storms of Fate,

Beyond all thought, all apprehension, burst

On my devoted head.! O Fortune, Fortune!

With what relentless fury hath thy hand

Hurl'd desolation on the Persian race!

Raise high the mournful strain,

And let the voice of anguish pierce the sky

Or roll beneath the roaring tide.,

By monsters rent of touch, abhorr'd

While through the widow'd mansion, echoing wide

Sounds the deep groan, and wails its slaughter'd lord.

Invidious Fortune, how thy baleful power

Hath sunk the hopes of Persia! Bitter fruit

My son hath tasted from his purposed vengeance

On Athens, famed for arms, the fatal field

Of Marathon, red with barbaric blood,

Sufficed not; that defeat he thought to avenge

And pull'd this hideous ruin on his head.

But tell me, if thou canst, where didst thou leave

The ships that happily escaped the wreck?




Admetus, you see how it is with me. I want to declare my wishes before I die. I have honored you, and at the price of my life I have caused you to look upon this light. For your sake I die, though I could have survived and married any Thessalian I wished and lived in a house happy with kingship. But I was not willing to live separated from you, with my children orphaned, and I did not begrudge my youth, which I possessed and enjoyed. And yet he that begot you and she that bore you betrayed you, though they had come to a time of life fitting for death, fitting to save their son and die glorious. You were their only child, and they had no hope of getting other children if you were dead. Then I should have lived, and you too, the rest of our time, and you would not be groaning at the loss of your wife, and would not have to bring up your children motherless. But some god has caused these things to work out this way. So be it. But do you remember to render me gratitude for these things. I do not seek an equal return. That is impossible, for nothing is so precious as life. What I ask is only fair, as you yourself will admit.


Seven against Thebes



Mighty Furies that triumphant

Ride on ruin’s baleful wings,

Crushed ye have and clean uprooted

This great race of Theban kings.

Who shall help me? Who shall give me,

Sure advice, and counsel clear?

Shall mine eyes freeze up their weeping?

Shall my feet refuse to follow

Thy loved remnant? but I fear

Much the rulers, and their mandate

Sternly sanctioned. Shall it be?

Him shall many mourners follow?

Thee, rejected by thy country,

Thee no voice of wailing nears,

All thy funeral march a sister

Weeping solitary tears?


The Oresteia Trilogy


Oh, the torment bred in the race,

the grinding scream of death

and the stroke that hits the vein,

the hemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,

the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house, and not outside it, no,

not from others but from them,

their bloody strife. We sing to you,

dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground --

answer the call, send help.

Bless the children, give them triumph now.

The truth has to be melted out of our stubborn lives by suffering. Nothing speaks the truth, nothing tells us how things really are, nothing forces us to know what we do not want to know except pain. And this is how the gods declare their love.

And now it goes as it goes

and where it ends is Fate.

And neither by singeing flesh

nor tipping cups of wine

nor shedding burning tears can you

enchant away the rigid Fury.


The Eumenides

The man who boldly transgresses, amassing a great heap unjustly--by force, in time, he will strike his sail, when trouble seizes him as the yardarm is splintered. He calls on those who hear nothing and he struggles in the midst of the whirling waters. The god laughs at the hot-headed man, seeing him, who boasted that this would never happen, exhausted by distress without remedy and unable to surmount the cresting wave. He wrecks the happiness of his earlier life on the reef of Justice, and he perishes unwept, unseen.


The Suppliants


Zeus! Lord and guard of suppliant hands

Look down benign on us who crave

Thine aid-whom winds and waters drave

From where, through drifting shifting sands,

Pours Nilus to the wave.

From where the green land, god-possest,

Closes and fronts the Syrian waste,

We flee as exiles, yet unbanned

By murder’s sentence from our land;

But-since Aegyptus had decreed

His sons should wed his brother’s seed,-

Ourselves we tore from bonds abhorred,

From wedlock not of heart but hand,

Nor brooked to call a kinsman lord!

And Danaus, our sire and guide,

The king of counsel, pond’ring well

The dice of fortune as they fell,

Out of two griefs the kindlier chose,

And bade us fly, with him beside,

Heedless what winds or waves arose,

And o’er the wide sea waters haste,

Until to Argos’ shore at last

Our wandering pinnace came-

Argos, the immemorial home

Of her from whom we boast to come-

Io, the ox-horned maiden, whom,

After long wandering, woe, and scathe,

Zeus with a touch, a mystic breath,

Made mother of our name.

Therefore, of all the lands of earth,

On this most gladly step we forth,

And in our hands aloft we bear-

Sole weapon for a suppliant’s wear-

The olive-shoot, with wool enwound!

City, and land, and waters wan

Of Inachus, and gods most high,

And ye who, deep beneath the ground,

Bring vengeance weird on mortal man,

Powers of the grave, on you we cry!

And unto Zeus the Saviour, guard

Of mortals’ holy purity!

Receive ye us-keep watch and ward

Above the suppliant maiden band!

Chaste be the heart of this your land

Towards the weak! but, ere the throng,

The wanton swarm, from Egypt sprung,

Leap forth upon the silted shore,

Thrust back their swift-rowed bark again,

Repel them, urge them to the main!

And there, ‘mid storm and lightning’s shine,

And scudding drift and thunder’s roar,

Deep death be theirs, in stormy brine!

Before they foully grasp and win

Us, maiden-children of their kin,

And climb the couch by law denied,

And wrong each weak reluctant bride.