Authors born between500 and 400 BCE
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Insincerity and a Vacillating Mind
Oaths Made with Slight Thought
The Rebuke of a Husband
A Daughter’s Plea for Her Life
War and a Mother
A Daughter’s Sorrow after War
Marriage and War
Murder of a Child by War
Outward Signs Do Not Denote the Man
Riches Do Not Make a Man
Better Poor and Honest
Patriotism and War are Good for You
Generals May Act Like Brutes
In the plays of Euripides (485-408 BCE) the heroes of Homer and the classic Greek legends about the Trojan War become ordinary men, with very human traits that give complexity and depth to the dramas. In this respect, Euripides has been regarded as the first modern dramatist. When one compares his characters with those of Aeschylus, it is clear that a revolutionary move has been made towards portraying the human situation. Menelaus and Agamemnon are no longer supermen but ordinary men with human failings. The women in the Trojan war are no longer background figures but come into the foreground with their vivid description of the sufferings of civilians in warfare. Euripides shows great sympathy for the victims of society, particularly women and children, but also for immigrants, captives, and slaves. It has been said, perhaps by another great Greek dramatist, Sophocles, that whereas Sophocles showed people as they should be, Euripides showed people as they are.
In Iphigenia in Aulis, Iphigenea is sacrificed at the orders of Menelaus and Agamemnon, who are portrayed as indecisive political braggarts. Iphigenea, who has only a small part in the play, turns out to be the heroine. In The Trojan Women, Euripides portrays the utter ruin brought about by war by focusing on the suffering of women and children, and the demoralizing effect it has on the victors. In Andromache he shows Menelaus returning as a murderous but cowardly bully who is faced down by Peleus, the elderly father of Achilles. The plays contain more than the particular viewpoints of these extracts, of course. They are highly successful dramas that have survived for millennia because their popularity caused a large number of copies to be circulated, and because the moral questions they raised made them a subject of study by the philosophers of Alexandria.
The main characters appearing in the following brief extracts are King Menelaus, whose wife, Helen, was abducted to Troy by Paris, son of Priam, the King of Troy, or Illium. Priam’s wife, Hecuba, is the mother of Paris, Hector (the Trojan hero), and Cassandra, a prophetess. The brother of Menelaus, Agamemnon leads the Greek army by sea to Troy. Clytemnestra is his wife, Iphigenia and Electra, his two daughters, and Orestes his son. With the overthrow of Troy, Cassandra is given as a concubine to Agamemnon; Andromache, the wife of Hector, is given to Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles and the killer of Priam. Her daughter Polyxena is murdered over the grave of Achilles as a sacrifice to a ghost. Her son, Astyanax, is flung off the battlements to be smashed to death on the rocks below. (Modern explosives have made the shattering of children’s bodies in this primitive way unnecessary.) In this as in other plays, Euripides discredits the sort of mind that believes bloody sacrifices can bring special favors.
In Iphigenia in Aulis, Agamemnon at first seizes on the idea of sacrificing his daughter to obtain a fair wind for his fleet and then changes is mind. He therefore writes a letter to Clytemnestra telling here not to bring Iphigenea to Aulis. Menelaus steals this letter and after reading its contents upbraids Agamemnon.
How unsteady is your mind—your thoughts change
quickly to cancel out the ones that went before!
Quickly you twist things , but you should know
I loathe the evil coming from a crafty tongue.
An ever changing mind is a degrading quality,
and is disloyal to our friends: That I will prove.
But do not fret: you hold back your bluster
and I’ll not press you hard.
Remember when your ambition was to lead
the Grecian troops to Troy? You tried to look
as if you didn’t care, but your desire was ravenous.
What humility you showed: grasping the hand
of everyone, holding your door wide open
for all, even to the meanest, and haranguing
everyone in turn, even to those who would not listen.
And in this way you sought by servile manner
to purchase your ambitious wish.
The supreme command obtained,
your manner changed at once. To friends
you were much cooler than before; and getting in
to see you was not easy—often denied, in fact.
It ill becomes an honest man to change his tune
when he is raised to power. Rather, he is most
approved when he remains a steadfast friend,
when through his rise in power he can aid his friends.
This I lodge against you as my first charge—
where I first found you contemptible.
But when you came to Aulis, with the troops
of Greece in arms, you hit the very bottom.
Aghast at your bad luck to be have no
wind to swell your sails, you heard the Greeks
demand that you dismiss the ships forthwith,
and not waste further time at Aulis.
How down fallen then your face, how great
the turmoil of your mind. No longer commander
of a thousand ships? Not able to throw a
might army in full battle across the plains of Priam?
You had to turn to me and plead,
"What shall I do, what expedient can I find,
to save me from loss of my command,
loss of my high honor?"
When Calchas, at his mysterious rites, pronounced
a sacrificial killing of your daughter to Diana
was necessary for the Greeks to sail, your thoughts
leapt up with joy. And willingly you marked
down your girl as victim. Freely—no one forced you,
don’t claim that—you sent a message to your wife
to send your daughter here, pretending she would wed
Achilles. But you soon stood down that plan,
and secretly devised a letter with a different plot.
Now you will not be the murderer of your daughter.
This air around us is my witness!
It has heard these things from you.
This is the way of a thousand others
caught up in arduous tasks. They freely take them
up, and then retreat in shame as they fail to deliver,
sometimes because of bad judgment by their countrymen,
or by a sense of justice perhaps, for when pressed
to the wall, they recognize their lack of power
to protect the safety of the state.
But beyond all this I feel most anguish for
the unhappy fate of Greece, who, prompt
to direct her noble vengeance at barbarians,
shall let them now go scoffing off,
worthless as they are, because of you
and your daughter. Never would I appoint
a leader in arms or a ruler of a state
simply on the basis of his name.
A man should be graced by wisdom
if he is to lead his country in arms.
A man must be wise in counsel to govern.
Iphigenia in Aulis
Agamemnon responds to Menelaus with some harsh words of his own about his brother’s motivation and responsibilities.
For this outburst I will rebuke you briefly
and temperately—no insolent looks—
because you are my brother, and because
a good man like me always acts with modesty.
But tell me, why do you swell with rage this way?
Why do you roll your blood-shot eyes?
Who injured you? Of what are you in need?
A sumptuous connubial bed, is that it?
To get you this is not within my power.
You had one once, but ruled it badly.
So, shall I, never charged with any fault,
suffer for your bad conduct? Is your heart
envious of my honors? No, you lust to hold
a beautiful woman in your foolish arms,
transgressing decency and reason.
Such pleasures are disgusting in an evil man.
But I, having made a foolish decision,
have in light of sober reason changed my mind.
Must I then be considered off my head?
No! That’s you, rather, who has lost a wife
that brought you shame, and still hotly pursues her,
should heaven grant you your wish.
Eager for marriage, the suitors unwisely
pledged their oath to Tyndarus,
at the urging, I believe, of the fancy-looking
bride, rather than for your grace or power.
Take that bunch, and march with them to war!
You will soon find what ill-pledged oaths made
with slight thought and by compulsion lead to.
But I will not slay my children.
Your wishes extend beyond the just
punishment of your shameful wife.
My nights, my days would pass away in tears,
if I should wrong with outrage and injustice
those who derived their birth from me.
These things I have replied to you in brief,
freely, and with plainness: but if you will not be wise,
I will be right to take care of my own concerns.
Iphigenia in Aulis
Agamemnon changes his mind again. Then when Clytemnestra finally recognizes that Agamemnon actually plans to have Iphigenia killed rather than marry her to Achilles, she feels free to tell her husband what she thinks of him.
Now hear me out, for I will speak my mind
in no obscure or flamboyant style of speech.
To start then, I will rebuke you first with this.
You seized me by force and wed me against my will.
You slew my former husband Tantalus. You violently
tore my infant son from my breast, whirled him round
and dashed him against the ground. My brothers,
the sons of Zeus, advanced in arms against you
glittering on their horses; but old Tyndarus,
my father, saved you, a supplicant at his knees.
And thus you gained my bed.
When my mind was reconciled to you and
to your house, you will yourself attest
how irreproachable a wife I was,
how chaste, and with what care I increased
the splendor of your home. Entering there
you had delight, and going out, happiness went
along with you. A wife like this is a rare prize;
and the two special daughters and this son
I have borne you are not worthless.
One of these you will —O piercing grief!—
tear from me.
Should some one ask you why you kill your daughter,
what will you say? Speak, or I must speak for you!
Even this: so that Menelaus may get back his Helen.
That would be a splendid thing, to have our children pay
the price of his wanton wife: what we most hate
we redeem with what is dearest to us.
But if you lead the army on, leaving me
at Argos, and your absence is prolonged,
think what my heart must feel, when in the house
I see the seats all vacant of my child,
And her room empty. I shall sit alone in tears,
mourning her always in these words:
"Your father, child, has murdered you; he
that gave you birth, has killed you—no one else,
no other hand; this is the present he left his house."
But do not, by heaven, compel me to be
anything but good to you. And don’t you be
anything but good to me, since it will not take
much for me and my daughters left at home,
to welcome you, as we see fit, on your return.
Well, you will sacrifice your child: what vows
will you make at that time? What blessing will you
ask to wait you—you, who slits your daughter’s throat?
You, who march with shame to this unlucky war?
Is it just that I should pray for
anything good for you? Should I not judge
heaven unwise if it shower favors on those
who stain their willing hands with blood?
Will you, on coming back to Argos, hug
your children? But you will have no right!
Which of your children will look you in the face
if with cool deliberate purpose you kill one of them?
Now I come to this point. If on this occasion
you alone were called to bear the scepter,
to lead the troops, should you not have put
forward a just solution to Greece in this way:
"Do you want, Greeks, to sail to Phrygian shores?
Cast lots then for whose daughter must be slain."
This had at least been equal; then you would not
have been singled out to give your child
as victim for the Greeks. Alternatively,
Menelaus, whose cause this is, should
slay their daughter Hermione to get back Helen.
But no, I, who am faithful to your bed
shall have my child taken from me, and she
who is faithless shall bring to Sparta
her young daughter and be filled with joy!
If anything I said is wrong, pray tell me.
But if my words speak nothing but sober reason,
act wisely and do not slay your child and mine.
Iphigenia in Aulis
Iphigenia comes forward herself to plea for her life.
Had I, my father, the persuasive voice
of Orpheus, and his skill to charm even rocks
to follow me, and with winning words to
soothe anyone I please, I would try my best.
But I have nothing to offer you now
but tears, my only eloquence; and those
I can present you. On your knees I hang
like a suppliant wreath, this body which she bore
for you. Oh, do not kill me in the flower of youth!
The light under heaven is sweet; do not
send me to the death world’s gloom.
I was the first to call you father,
I was the first you called your child;
I was the first that on your knees fondly
caressed you, and from you received
a fond caress. This was what you said to me:
"Shall I, my child, ever see you live and
flourish in some house of splendor, happy in your
husband, as becomes my dignity?"
Leaning against your cheek, which with my hand
I now caress, my answer to you was,
"And what shall I do then for you? Shall I receive
my father when he’s grown old, and in my house
cheer him with each fond duty, to repay
the careful nurture which he gave my youth?"
These words are deeply written on my memory.
You have forgotten them, and will kill your child.
By Pelops I entreat you, by your father Atreus,
by my mother here, who has suffered
pangs of childbirth for me, now must
suffer such pains again, do not kill me.
If Paris is infatuated with his bride,
his Helen, why does it affect me?
And how does he come to be the source of
my destruction? Look upon me,
give me a smile, give me a kiss, my father,
that, if my words do not persuade you, I may
have in death this memorial of your love.
My brother, you can give small assistance to
your friends, yet for your sister implore your papa
with your tears that she may not die.
Even infants have a sense of wrong: and see,
father, though he is silent, he pleads for
you to be gentle with me, to have pity
on my life. Your two children entreat you
at this beard, your dear, dear children,
one still an infant, one arrived at riper years.
I will sum it all in this, which shall contain
more than long speech: To view the light of life
is most sweet to mortal man, but the world beneath
is nothing. He who has a wish to die
has lost his senses; for life, though ill,
surpasses anything good in death.
Iphigenia in Aulis
In The Trojan Women, the wives and daughters of the leaders of the Trojan army bewail their fates among the ruins of Troy. Hecuba, wife of the King of Troy, now sprawled on the ground, reflects on how much she has lost in the war and on her future fate.
Rise, you unhappy being; from the cold ground
raise your head, your neck. This is no longer Troy,
we no longer rule in Troy. O the shift in fortune!
Bear the change; go with the tidal flow.
Sail where fortune takes you, don’t turn the bows
of life against the waves, or struggle with your fate.
Oh woe, woe, woe! Why is a wretch like me
forbidden to moan—my country lost, my children,
and my husband! That proud boast of noble
ancestry, how it is shrunk, how wiped out!
What shall I hold back in silence? Or not
enclose in silence? What bewail?
In what a woeful state are these poor limbs
splayed out, how ill stretched across this hard bed!
Aia, my head! My temples! My sides!
O, how I long to change my place,
to roll and shift from side to side—
proof of the restless torture of my mind!
Even here the unhappy have a Muse to give
these woes a voice, far different than the notes
attuned to joy and dance.
You winged ships, which from the purple seas
and sheltered bays of Greece, sailed proudly—
your oars moving to the inauspicious
sound of flutes and oaten pipes, with all your
pennants flying—sailing to sacred Ilium,
to Troy ports to get back the hated wife
of Menelaus, a foul disgrace to Castor,
and a stain dishonoring Eurotas.
She has been the death of Priam, reverend
father of fifty children, and in this gulf
of misery has plunged wretched Hecuba.
My place is now—O, what a place!—
at Agamemnon's tent. And I am led,
in my old age, a captive from my house,
my head shorn of its gray hairs, sad symbol
of my grief. But, O you wretched wives of Trojans
once valiant in war, you virgins, and you brides
torn from your loves, Troy smokes: let us lament;
and, as the parent bird that swells her shrill notes
over her young, I will begin a song. But not
like those I sang in happier days, leaning
on Priam's sceptre, when my feet,
in Phrygian steps taught by the Graces,
led happy, festive dances to good fortune.
The Trojan Women
Cassandra, who has the gift of prophesy, is given as a concubine to Agamemnon. She sees herself ironically as given the opportunity as a "bride" to kill her "husband" and thus incur her own destruction. She then goes on to paint a picture of the sorry end of invaders killed in battle.
Mother, put a crown upon my head;
for I have made a conquest by marriage to a king.
Rejoice. Come, lead me to him. If I go too slow,
push me forward, for by Apollo I swear
that famous Agamemnon, King of Greece,
shall get by wedding me more woe
than Paris when he married Helen.
For I will kill him, and lay waste his house.
Thus will I have vengeance for my brothers'
and my father's deaths. But no word of this.
I will say nothing either of the axe that bites
into my neck and that of others too;
nor of the bloody struggle where a mother dies—
this also shall my wedding cause—
nor of the House of Atreus sunk in ruins.
I will prove this city to be blessed far more
than those of Greeks. Prophesy rises in me,
but I hold off the swelling fury to tell you this.
They in seeking Helen—one woman and one
fatal bed—have lost thousands.
Their clever chief himself, to gain what most
the soul abhors, has thrown away what most
it loves. He gave up the sweet love of his
children to get back his brother's wife.
Yet she was borne consentingly, not forcibly away.
Greeks died when they sailed to the banks
of the Scamander, destroyed by the sword.
They were not defending their country,
or its high-towered towns.
Yet their children they saw no more,
nor were their limbs wrapped decently
in shrouds by their wives' hands. Instead
they lie abandoned in some foreign field.
At their homes an equal desolation reigns.
Their widowed wives now die alone.
Their parents, childless now, have sought in vain
to rear descendants to their line. No son
survives to make oblations at their tombs.
Such are the triumphs of this mighty horde.
And I have passed in silence over
other scandals taking place. I do not
let the Muse inspire a song in me that
raises blushes on a modest cheek.
The Trojans, with what is glory's brightest grace,
died in defense of their own piece of land.
They who fell beneath the spear were
borne home by their friends. The dead
found sepulchers in their native soil. They
were buried by those honored to provide
the burial rites. And those that did not
perish on the field dwelt daily with their
wives and children. The Greeks were outcasts
from such sweet company.
The fate of Hector seems mournful to you,
but weigh it well: he died esteemed the bravest
of the brave; the Greeks gave him this high fame
by coming here. Had they not come, this
hero's virtues would have remained obscure.
Paris married the daughter of mighty Zeus;
had she not been his bride, he would have formed
some mean alliance at home, remaining
unrenowned. The man ruled by prudence will
shun war, but if the flames of war are lit,
one who dies bravely defending his own
home wins no mean honor.
Not to act bravely is inglorious shame.
Therefore it behooves you, mother, not to
lament for your country or my future bed;
because those whose acts have been
most hostile to us both I will send by
this my marriage to their most certain death.
The Trojan Women
Among the Trojan women, Andromache has multiple causes for sorrow as a result of the war. She answers her mother, who is trying to comfort her after the death of her daughter Polyxena, that in this war the dead are more fortunate than the living.
Listen, so that I may bring a touch of
comfort to your soul. I contend that not
to be born, and to die, are much the same.
But to die is far better than to live
a wretched life; for he who has no sense
of misery does not know grief.
But falling from the happy height of fortune
to the low state of abject wretchedness
muddles the mind with a keen sense
of former happiness. Polyxena is dead,
as if she never saw the light of life. She
knows nothing of her ills. I, who aimed
at glorious rank, and reached my aim,
have been cast down by fortune.
In Hector's house my efforts went into all
that lends grace to prudent wives.
First, asserted openly or not, blame
attaches to such women as roam abroad.
I checked this desire for wandering,
and remained at home, within my house.
Nor was idle female gossip allowed there.
Rather, I judged myself well occupied
with taking care of what was useful.
I entertained my husband with quiet
tongue and cheerful look, knowing when to
assert myself and when to yield obedience.
Word of this got to the army of the Greeks
and brought about my ruin. For as soon
as I was captured, the son of fierce Achilles
wished to take me as his wife. I was
doomed to be a slave in the house of those
whose butcher’s hands torment me. If I could
tear Hector from my fond heart and offer up
my breasts to this new husband, I would
appear faithless to the dead. If I do
disdain his love, I shall excite the malice
of my lords.
They say a new love quickly
disarms a woman's hate. But my soul abhors
a woman who for a new marriage disdains
her former husband and loves another.
Even the gregarious horse when parted
from its fellow draws its yoke reluctantly.
Yet this beast, formed less complete than man
by nature knows neither speech nor reason.
O my beloved Hector, I was blest in you.
You were the lord of all my wishes—great
in noble birth, understanding, wealth, and valor.
You first led me, a maiden, from my father's
house to the bridal bed. Now you are perished,
and I board a ship for Greece, captive
to a servile yoke. Does not the death, then,
of Polyxena, whom you bewail, bring
lighter ills than mine? For even hope,
which is apportioned to all mortals,
does not remain for me. No thought
deludes me with the pleasing expectation
that better fortune will ever come my way.
The Trojan Women
Andromache’s little son is to be killed by the Greek victors at Troy. Like any mother whose child is threatened with death in a war, Andromache asks why soldiers attack little children. She is then led of to the ship of Neoptolemus. When the boy’s crushed body is brought back, his grandmother, Hecuba, rails against this disgraceful act of the Greek, or for that matter, any, army.
Do you weep, my son? Have you a sense of
what’s to be your wretched fate? Why do you
clasp me with your hands, why tug my dress and
hide beneath my wings like a young bird?
Our Hector comes no more, he’s not
returning from the tomb. His glittering spear
he wields no more to bring protection to you.
Nor do your father's kinsfolk, nor the brave
warriors of our Phrygia.
But from the heights of Troy you’ll plummet,
hurled headlong by merciless hands,
to have the breath crushed from your body.
0 soft embrace, so dear to your mother!
0 fragrant breath! In vain I clothed your infant limbs,
in vain I gave you nurture at this breast,
and toiled for you, till wasted with care.
If ever, now is time to embrace, to clasp
your mother, to throw your arms around my neck,
and join your cheek, your lips to mine.
Why, O you Greeks, pursuing barbarous evil,
why, why will you kill my son? He has not
wronged you. Helen, daughter of Tyndareus
but not of Zeus, I judge you to have sprung
from many fathers—from Vengeance first, then
Hate, from Slaughter, Death and all the ills
that this earth breeds:
The mangled body of the dead child is brought back, and Hecuba bewails his mangled body, as many a woman has done after her child has been killed in war.
Why, you Greeks, excelling more in arms than
generous minds, why in fear of this my child,
have you engaged in murder unheard of
to this hour? Was it for fear that the time
might come when he would raise fallen Troy?
There was no cause. Even when my Hector
glittered in prosperous arms and thousands
with him shook the purple spear, we all still
perished. Since our vanquished city sank as
prey to you, and in the war the Phrygian
force was wasted, how could you fear such a child?
I loathe this fear, which reason cannot justify.
O darling child, how ill-timed was your death!
If you in manhood's prime, possessed a marriage
bed, and high imperial godlike power,
and then died for your country, you would have
been happy, if any such things can be
considered happy now, my child.
Even though present in your eyes and thought,
you did not taste them, nor enjoy a thing
of what your house contained.
Ah me, how wretchedly your father's walls,
the towers raised up by Phoebus,
have ripped from your head the tight curls which your
fond mother cherished, and gave a frequent kiss!
But now, the bones all crushed portray Death’s
bloody grimace, a ghastliness of which
I cannot speak. O, these hands, whose joints once
bore the dear image of your father's, now
lie with tattered nerves! O, your dear mouth,
which uttered so many quick-spirited remarks,
how it is smashed away! Where is your promise now
which you once made me, hanging on my dress?
"Old mother," you did say, "these lengthy locks
I will cut off for you, and bear them to your tomb
with my companions, remembering you
with precious words." Such honors you cannot
pay me now. Instead I, old, robbed of my country,
robbed of my children, must bury you, unhappy child,
dead in your early bloom. Ah me, are all my fond
embraces, all my nursing pains to lull your infancy
to sleep, so lost? And on your tomb what verse
recording this your death shall poet inscribe?
" Because they feared him, this child was murdered
by the Greeks", words telling the disgrace of Greece.
. . .
I judge a mortal man unwise who, finding
that his state is blessed celebrates it as secure.
For Fortune, like a man out of his senses,
now staggering in this direction, now that,
can find no constant course. So no man knows
The Trojan Women
In Orestes, Electra, the daughter of Clytemnestra, is married to a humble man, a move engineered by her mother to prevent her being in a position to avenge Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband, Agamemnon. The honorable behavior of Electra’s husband causes Orestes, Electra’s brother, to reflect on how one might judge men.
Nature has given no outward mark to
tag the generous mind. The qualities
of men are not distinct to the five senses.
I have often seen a worthless man shame
a noble father, and worthy children
spring from vile parents. In the rich man's mind
meanness often grows, and often exalted
spirits find their dwelling in the poor.
How shall we then judge properly, with
discernment? By riches? They would pass the
test poorly. By poverty? There is this
problem with poverty: that dire need prompts
some sordid deeds.
Shall we make skill with arms the test?
But who can see, by looking at the spear,
the fearless heart? Such judgment can be
false; for this man, not great among the Greeks,
nor puffed up with proud honors of his house,
just one of many, has proved to have a
generous heart. Will you not then learn wisdom,
you whose minds error leads astray
with false appearances?
Will you not learn to judge the noble by
manners and by deeds? Such ones discharge
their trust with honor to the state, and to their house.
Mere flesh, without a spirit, is no more
than statues in the forum. Also, in war,
the strong arm the does not the repel the
dangerous assault better than the weak.
Rather this depends on character and
an intrepid mind.
Orestes kills Aegisthus, Electra’s uncle and the lover of Clytemnestra. Electra rebukes the dead Aegisthus for assuming that riches made him a great man
Your pride was most deceived, when you proclaimed
yourself as great, being vainly raised up
by the power of riches. But these are
nothing, their enjoyment is both frail and brief.
Character is firm, not riches; it stays
for ever, and lifts its head in triumph.
But unjust wealth residing with the wicked,
glitters for some short time, then fades away.
In Andromache Euripides shows how leaders like Menelaus who make a great show of their honor may in fact act most dishonorably, while an old man, in this case Peleus, may act honorably and vigorously in defense of his grandchild. Peleus finds that Menelaus has persuaded Andromache to surrender herself to him, to be put to death, in exchange for his letting her son by Achilles live. Menelaus immediately goes back on his word, binds up Andromache, and says he will give her son to his daughter, Hermione, to kill.
O you villain, born from a line of irreverent fathers,
what right have you to be called illustrious,
and numbered with the truly brave?
You, who by a Phrygian tramper was deprived
of your fair woman, after you had left your house
unbarred and with no guards, as if you kept
a virtuous wife in your mansion though
she was the most dissolute of her sex.
Nor can any Spartan girl be chaste,
even if she tries. Skipping from their homes
with loosened dresses, showing off bare thighs,
they strive against young men on track and mat.
Such customs I hold in abhorrence.
Why doubt that women educated in this way
lack modesty? Your Helen should have sparked
such questions in your mind, before
she spurned your love and left her native land,
seduced by that youthful and illicit lover,
gallivanting wantonly in foreign lands.
Yet for her sake you collected that band
of Grecian tribes and led them off
to storm the Phrygian walls.
When you found that cute baggage of no worth,
you should have despised her. You ought not
have taken up one javelin on her behalf,
but let her stay in Troy. You should have
sent rich gifts to Paris, making a deal
that she would not be sent back home.
But you did not allow these reasonable
considerations to trouble your mind.
Instead, you led many valiant men to death,
made aged mothers childless, and deprived
gray-haired fathers of their illustrious sons.
My wretched self I place with those that
owe their ruin to you. In my indignant eyes
you are, like some evil genius, the killer of Achilles.
You alone, unharmed even by a grazing arrow,
came back from Troy’s hostile shore unwounded.
In burnished chests you now bring back
the same bedazzling arms you carried there.
Before he married, I warned my grandson
to form no connection with you, nor to admit
into these dwellings the young of that adulteress;
for daughters emulate their mothers shameful acts.
Remember this well, young men, and choose
a girl who has an honorable mother!
And with what scorn you ruled your brother,
commanding him to take leave of his senses
and sacrifice his daughter. Because you were
so scared of losing that loose wife of yours.
I also hold this against you. When you
had taken Troy, though you had your wife
within your clutches, you did not cut her throat.
No, when you gazed upon that rising bosom
you cast away your sword, to receive the kisses
and soothe away the fears, of the one who
had betrayed you. You worthless criminal,
whom Aphrodite has so debased!
After this, you thrust yourself into my
grandson's palace, and in his absence
perpetrate these outrages. Treacherously,
you would kill a miserable woman
and her child—one who will give you and your
daughter cause to weep for this,
though his birth be trebly illegitimate.
Often the parched ground when skillfully worked
yields more than the richest soil, and greater
instances of virtue are often found
in bastards than in the lawful line.
But get your daughter out of here. It’s far
better to choose relatives and close friends
from poor and honest folks than from those who
join iniquity with wealth. And as for you,
you are an utterly worthless thing..
. . .
Why do we speak in such exalted terms
of aged men, as if they were imbued
with wisdom as in former days, when the
whole Greek race assumed they showed
good judgment? Why? When you, Peleus,
from an illustrious father born,
and linked so closely with my house,
use language disgraceful to your very self.
You slander me for a barbarian woman,
who you should banish from this land—
far beyond the Nile, beyond the Phasis even.
You should applaud my vengeance;
because she comes from Asiatic shores,
where many a valiant Grecian chief lies slain.
She has in part been guilty of the blood
of your famed son; for Paris, whose arrow
pierced Achilles and dropped him dead,
was the brother, and she the wife, of Hector.
Yet you enter the same house with her, share
genial meals, and allow her to bring up
a detestable brood beneath your very roof.
Aware of this danger to both you and me,
old man, I have snatched her from your grasp
and mean to kill her.
for there is nothing wrong in talking hypothetically,
that my daughter bears no child, and this
other thing has sons. Will you appoint them lords
of your Phthian land? Shall children springing
from a barbarian race rule over Greeks?
Am I, because I hate injustice, void of
understanding, and you yourself discerning?
Reflect on this: if you had married your daughter
to any citizen and she were thus mistreated,
would you sit down and bear her wrongs in silence?
I think you would not do so.
Why then do you speak with so much harshness
against your nearest friends in favor of
a foreign woman? As great a right
to vengeance as her husband, has the wife
injured by her husband. A man has in his hands
the power to set things right if an unchaste wife
comes within his doors. But a woman's strength
lies only in her parents and her friends.
I am, therefore, bound to help my daughter.
You exhibit the disabilities of age my friend:
for when you rail against that famous war I waged,
you befriend me more than if you had been silent.
Helen was plunged deep in woe, not by her
own consent but by the gods. And this event
has proved most advantageous to the Greeks,
because its sons, who didn’t know till then
the handling of a spear, have grown valiant.
From experience, the best of tutors,
men gather all the knowledge they possess.
But when I saw my wife, I acted prudently
in not depriving her of life. And would that
you had done like me, and not slain your brother Phocus;
I tell you this in pure benevolence, and not in anger.
But if resentment takes away your reason,
your intemperate tongue will wag more shamefully,
whilst I by prudent forethought shall get what I want.
. . . Andromache
Ah me, what mischievous opinions have prevailed
in Greece! When an army sets up a trophy
with the loot from beaten foes, they do not
think how it was gained by ordinary soldiers
who endure the toil of battle bravely while
their general bears away public renown.
He gains a larger portion of applause
though he was just one among thousands
waving a spear, and surpassed no one man
in combat. As venerable rulers of a city,
high in position yet devoid of real merit,
they look down upon the common people,
though many in the crowd below are far
more wise than they, if courage and honest zeal
happily combine to thrust them into public view.
You and your brother are thus fat with pride,
from having led those troops to conquer Troy,
and triumph amid the sufferings of your friends.
But from now on I will teach you to not
look on Paris, a sheep chaser from Mount Ida,
as a foe more terrible than Peleus.
If with speed you do not quit these dwellings,
and take away your childless daughter,
my indignant grandson will drag this barren
woman by her disheveled hair around the palace:
this woman so stung with envy that she
cannot endure the fruitful mother's joy.
And, if she prove so luckless as to bare no child,
should she thus deprive us of posterity?
Step aside, you slaves, so I may see who
dares obstruct my loosening of her hands.
Get up. Though trembling with old age,
I can unbind your ties. You worthless man,
Did you tear her wrists this way? Did you
think you held a bull or lion in your snare?
Or did you tremble in case she should snatch up
a sword, and wreak just vengeance on your head?
My child, come to these sheltering arms,
untie your mother's bonds. I'll educate you
in Phthia, to regard these here as a bitter foes.
If you sons of Sparta can obtain no fame
with thrusting spears, nor demonstrate your
prowess on the battle field, be well assured
you have no other source of merit.
Phthia: a town in Thessaly, the birthplace of Achilles.
Adapted from the Euripides translations of Robert Potter, 1780, appearing in The Plays of Euripides translated by Shelley, Milman, Potter, and Woodhull. Everyman’s Library. J. M. Dent & Co London, 1906.
Euripides Volumes I and II, translated by A. S. Way. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1912. Has the Greek text. A new translation is in the works.
Ten Plays By Euripides, translated by Moses Hadas and John McLean. Bantam Books, New York, 1960. Originally published by Dial Press, 1936. An excellent prose translation.
Euripides: Ten Plays, translated by Paul Roche. Signet Classic, New York, 1998. An excellent new verse translation that presents the chorus verses particularly well..