Idly, idly by the streams of Alpheus and in the Pythian shrines of Phoebus, Hellas heaps the slaughtered steers; while Love we worship not, Love, the king of men, who holds the key to Aphrodite's sweetest bower,-worship not him who, when he comes, lays waste and marks his path to mortal hearts by wide-spread woe.
There was that maiden in Oechalia, a girl unwed, that knew no wooer yet nor married joys; her did the Queen of Love snatch from her home across the sea and gave unto Alcmena's son, mid blood and smoke and murderous marriage-hymns, to be to him a frantic fiend of hell; woe! woe for his wooing!
Ah! holy walls of Thebes, ah! fount of Dirce, ye could testify what course the love-queen follows. For with the blazing levin-bolt did she cut short the fatal marriage of Semele, mother of Zeus-born Bacchus. All things she doth inspire, dread goddess, winging her flight hither and thither like a bee. PHAEDRA Peace, oh women, peace! I am undone. LEADER OF THE CHORUS What, Phaedra, is this dread event within thy house? PHAEDRA Hush! let me hear what those within are saying. LEADER I am silent; this is surely the prelude to evil. PHAEDRA (chanting) Great gods! how awful are my sufferings! CHORUS (chanting) What a cry was there! what loud alarm! say what sudden terror, lady, doth thy soul dismay. PHAEDRA I am undone. Stand here at the door and hear the noise arising in the house. CHORUS (chanting) Thou art already by the bolted door; 'tis for thee to note the sounds that issue from within. And tell me, O tell me what evil can be on foot. PHAEDRA 'Tis the son of the horse-loving Amazon who calls, Hippolytus, uttering foul curses on my servant. CHORUS (chanting) I hear a noise but cannot dearly tell which way it comes. Ah! 'tis through the door the sound reached thee. PHAEDRA Yes, yes, he is calling her plainly enough a go-between in vice, traitress to her master's honour. CHORUS (chanting) Woe, woe is me! thou art betrayed, dear mistress! What counsel shall I give thee? thy secret is out; thou art utterly undone. PHAEDRA Ah me! ah me! CHORUS (chanting) Betrayed by friends! PHAEDRA She hath ruined me by speaking of my misfortune; 'twas kindly meant, but an ill way to cure my malady. LEADER OF THE CHORUS O what wilt thou do now in thy cruel dilemma? PHAEDRA I only know one way, one cure for these my woes, and that is instant death.
(HIPPOLYTUS bursts out of the palace, followed closely by the NURSE.)
HIPPOLYTUS O mother earth! O sun's unclouded orb! What words, unfit for any lips, have reached my ears! NURSE Peace, my son, lest some one hear thy outcry. HIPPOLYTUS I cannot hear such awful words and hold my peace. NURSE I do implore thee by thy fair right hand. HIPPOLYTUS Let go my hand, touch not my robe. NURSE O by thy knees I pray, destroy me not utterly. HIPPOLYTUS Why say this, if, as thou pretendest, thy lips are free from blame? NURSE My son, this is no story to be noised abroad. HIPPOLYTUS A virtuous tale grows fairer told to many. NURSE Never dishonour thy oath, my son. HIPPOLYTUS My tongue an oath did take, but not my heart. NURSE My son, what wilt thou do? destroy thy friends? HIPPOLYTUS Friends indeed! the wicked are no friends of mine. NURSE O pardon me; to err is only human, child. HIPPOLYTUS Great Zeus, why didst thou, to man's sorrow, put woman, evil counterfeit, to dwell where shines the sun? If thou wert minded that the human race should multiply, it was not from women they should have drawn their stock, but in thy temples they should have paid gold or iron or ponderous bronze and bought a family, each man proportioned to his offering, and so in independence dwelt, from women free. But now as soon as ever we would bring this plague into our home we bring its fortune to the ground. 'Tis clear from this how great a curse a woman is; the very father, that begot and nurtured her, to rid him of the mischief, gives her a dower and packs her off; while the husband, who takes the noxious weed into his home, fondly decks his sorry idol in fine raiment and tricks her out in robes, squandering by degrees, unhappy wight! his house's wealth. For he is in this dilemma; say his marriage has brought him good connections, he is glad then to keep the wife he loathes; or, if he gets a good wife but useless kin, he tries to stifle the bad luck with the good. But it is easiest for him who has settled in his house as wife mere cipher, incapable from simplicity. I hate a clever woman; never may she set foot in my house who aims at knowing more than women need; for in these clever women Cypris implants a larger store of villainy, while the artless woman is by her shallow wit from levity debarred. No servant should ever have had access to a wife, but men should put to live with them beasts, which bite, not talk, in which case they could not speak to any one nor be answered back by them. But, as it is, the wicked in their chambers plot wickedness, and their servants carry it abroad. Even thus, vile wretch, thou cam'st to make me partner in an outrage on my father's honour; wherefore I must wash that stain away in running streams, dashing the water into my ears. How could I commit so foul a crime when by the very mention of it I feel myself polluted? Be well assured, woman, 'tis only my religious scruple saves thee. For had not I unawares been caught by an oath, 'fore heaven! I would not have refrained from telling all unto my father. But now I will from the house away, so long as Theseus is abroad, and will maintain strict silence. But, when my father comes, I will return and see how thou and thy mistress face him, and so shall I learn by experience the extent of thy audacity. Perdition seize you both! I can never satisfy my hate for women, no! not even though some say this is ever my theme, for of a truth they always are evil. So either let some one prove them chaste, or let me still trample on them for ever. (HIPPOLYTUS departs in anger.) CHORUS (chanting) O the cruel, unhappy fate of women! What arts, what arguments have we, once we have made a slip, to loose by craft the tight-drawn knot? PHAEDRA (chanting) I have met my deserts. O earth, O light of day! How can I escape the stroke of fate? How my pangs conceal, kind friends? What god will appear to help me, what mortal to take my part or help me in unrighteousness? The present calamity of my life admits of no escape. Most hapless I of all my sex! LEADER OF THE CHORUS Alas, alas! the deed is done, thy servant's schemes have gone awry, my queen, and all is lost. PHAEDRA (to the NURSE) Accursed woman! traitress to thy friends! How hast thou ruined me! May Zeus, my ancestor, smite thee with his fiery bolt and uproot thee from thy place. Did I not foresee thy purpose, did I not bid thee keep silence on the very matter which is now my shame? But thou wouldst not be still; wherefore my fair name will not go with me to the tomb. But now I must another scheme devise. Yon youth, in the keenness of his fury, will tell his father of my sin, and the aged Pittheus of my state and fill the world with stories to my shame. Perdition seize thee and every meddling fool who by dishonest means would serve unwilling friends! NURSE Mistress, thou may'st condemn the mischief I have done, for sorrow's sting o'ermasters thy judgment; yet can I answer thee in face of this, if thou wilt hear. 'Twas I who nurtured thee; I love thee still; but in my search for medicine to cure thy sickness I found what least I sought. Had I but succeeded, I had been counted wise, for the credit we get for wisdom is measured by our success. PHAEDRA Is it just, is it any satisfaction to me, that thou shouldst wound me first, then bandy words with me? NURSE We dwell on this too long; I was not wise, I own; but there are yet ways of escape from the trouble, my child. PHAEDRA Be dumb henceforth; evil was thy first advice to me, evil too thy attempted scheme. Begone and leave me, look to thyself; I will my own fortunes for the best arrange. (The NURSE goes into the palace.) Ye noble daughters of Troezen, grant me the only boon I crave; in silence bury what ye here have heard. LEADER By majestic Artemis, child of Zeus, I swear I will never divulge aught of thy sorrows. PHAEDRA 'Tis well. But I, with all my thought, can but one way discover out of this calamity, that so I may secure my children's honour, and find myself some help as matters stand. For never, never will I bring shame upon my Cretan home, nor will I, to save one poor life, face Theseus after my disgrace. LEADER Art thou bent then on some cureless woe? PHAEDRA On death; the means thereto must I devise myself. LEADER Hush! PHAEDRA Do thou at least advise me well. For this very day shall I gladden Cypris, my destroyer, by yielding up my life, and shall own myself vanquished by cruel love. Yet shall my dying be another's curse, that he may learn not to exult at my misfortunes; but when he comes to share the self-same plague with me, he will take a lesson in wisdom. (PHAEDRA enters the palace.) CHORUS (chanting)
O to be nestling 'neath some pathless cavern, there by god's creating hand to grow into a bird amid the winged tribes! Away would I soar to Adria's wave-beat shore and to the waters of Eridanus; where a father's hapless daughters in their grief for Phaethon distil into the glooming flood the amber brilliance of their tears.
And to the apple-bearing strand of those minstrels in the west then would come, where ocean's lord no more to sailors grants passage o'er the deep dark main, finding there the heaven's holy bound, upheld by Atlas, where water from ambrosial founts wells up beside the couch of Zeus inside his halls, and holy earth, the bounteous mother, causes joy to spring in heavenly breasts.
O white-winged bark, that o'er the booming ocean-wave didst bring my royal mistress from her happy home, to crown her queen 'mongst sorrow's brides! Surely evil omens from either port, at least from Crete, were with that ship, what time to glorious Athens it sped its way, and the crew made fast its twisted cable-ends upon the beach of Munychus, and on the land stept out.