(First Century A.D.)
THYESTES, TRANSLATED BY FRANK JUSTUS MILLER
Pelops, the son of Tantalus, had banished his sons for the murder of their half-brother, Chrysippus, with a curse upon them, that they and their posterity might perish by each others’ hands. Upon the death of Pelops, Atreus returned and took possession of his father’s throne. Thyestes, also, claimed the throne, and sought to gain it by the foulest means. For he seduced his brother’s wife, Aėrope, and stole by her assistance the magical, gold-fleeced ram from Atreus’ flocks, upon the possession of which the right to rule was said to rest. For this act he was banished by the king.
But Atreus has long been meditating a more complete revenge upon his brother; and now in pretended friendship has recalled him from banishment, offering him a place beside himself upon the throne, that thus he may have Thyestes entirely in his power.
THE GHOST OF TANTALUS Who from the accursed regions of the dead haleth me forth, snatching at food which ever fleeth from my hungry lips? What god for his undoing showeth again to Tantalus the abodes of the living? Hath something worse been found than parching thirst midst water, worse than ever-gaping hunger? Cometh the slippery stone of Sisyphus to be borne upon my shoulders? or the wheel [of Ixion] stretching apart my limbs in its swift round? or Tityus’ pangs, who, stretched in a huge cavern, with torn out vitals feeds the dusky birds and, by night renewing whatever he lost by day, lies an undiminished banquet for new monsters? To what new suffering am I shifted? O whoever thou art, harsh judge of shades, who dost allot fresh punishments to the dead, if aught can be added to my sufferings whereat even the guardian of our dread prison-house would quake, whereat sad Acheron would be seized with dread, with fear whereof I, too, should tremble, seek thou it out. Now from my seed a multitude is coming up which its own race shall out-do, which shall make me seem innocent, and dare things yet undared. Whatever space is still empty in the unholy realm, I [i.e. with my descendants] shall fill up; never while Pelops’ house is standing, will Minos [judge in Hades] be at rest.
THE FURY Onward, damned shade, and goad thy sinful house to madness. Let there be rivalry in guilt of every kind; let the sword be drawn on this side and on that; let their passions know no bounds, no shame; let blind fury prick on their souls; heartless be parents’ rage, and to children’s children let the long trail of sin lead down; let time be given to none to hate old sins – ever let new arise, many in one, and let crime, even midst its punishment, increase. From haughty brothers’ hands let kingdoms fall, and in turn let them call back the fugitives [in the present case Atreus is on the throne, and Thyestes, who has been exiled, is recalled]; let the wavering fortune of a home of violence midst changing kings totter to its fall; from power to wretchedness, from wretchedness to power – may this befall, and may chance with her ever-restless waves bear the kingdom on. For crimes’ sake exiled, when God shall bring them home, to crime may they return and may they be as hateful to all men as to themselves; let there be naught which passion deems unallowed; let brother brother fear, father fear son, and son father; let children vilely perish and be yet more vilely born; let a murderous wife lift hand against her husband, let wars pass over sea, let streaming blood drench every land, and over the mighty chiefs of earth let Lust exult, triumphant. In this sin-stained house let shameful defilement be a trivial thing; let fraternal sanctity and faith and every right be trampled under foot. By our sins let not heaven be untainted – why do the stars glitter in the sky? Why do their fires preserve the glory due the world? Let the face of night be changed, let day fall from heaven. Embroil thy household gods, summon up hatred, slaughter, death, and fill the whole house with Tantalus.
Adorn the lofty pillar and with laurel let the festal doors be green; let torches worthy of thine approach shine forth – then let the Thracian crime [Procne and her wronged sister, Philomela, served up Itys as a banquet to his father, Tereus, king of Thrace] be done with greater number [i.e. with the murder of three sons instead of one]. Why is the uncle’s [Atreus] hand inactive? Not yet does Thyestes bewail his sons – and when will he lift his hand? Now set over the flames let cauldrons foam; let the rent members one by one pass in; let ancestral hearth be stained with blood, let the feast be spread – to no novel feast of crime [Pelops suffered the same] wilt come as banqueter. To-day have we made thee free, have loosed thy hunger to the banquet yonder; go, feed full thy fasting, and let blood, with wine commingled, be drunk before thine eyes. I have found feast which thou thyself wouldst flee – but stay! Whither dost headlong rush?
GHOST OF TANTALUS Back to my pools and streams and fleeing waters, back to the laden tree which shuns my very lips. Let me return to the black couch of my prison-house; let it be mine, if I seem too little wretched, to change my stream; in thy bed’s midst, O Phlegethon, let me be left, hemmed round with waves of fire.
Whoever thou art, by the fates’ law bidden to suffer allotted punishment; whoever liest quaking beneath the hollowed rocks, and fearest the downfall of the mountainous mass even now coming on thee; whoever shudderest at the fierce gaping of greedy lions, and, entangled in their toils, dost shudder at the dread ranks of furies; whoever, half burned, shunnest their threatening torches, hear ye the words of Tantalus now hasting to you: believe me who know, and love your punishments. Oh, when shall it fall to me to escape the upper world?
THE FURY First throw thy house into confusion dire, bring strife with thee, bring lust for the sword, an evil thing for rulers, and rouse to mad passion the savage breast.
GHOST OF TANTALUS ‘Tis meet for me to suffer punishments, not be a punishment. I am sent as some deadly exhalation from the riven earth, or as a pestilence, spreading grievous plague among the people, that I a grandsire may lead my grandsons into fearful crime. O mighty sire of gods, my father, too, however to thy shame I say it, though to cruel punishment my tattling tongue be doomed, I will not hold my peace; I warn ye, defile not your hands with accursed slaughter, nor stain your altars with a madman’s crime. Here will I stand and prevent the evil deed. [To THE FURY.] Why with thy scourge dost fright mine eyes, and fiercely threaten with thy writhing snakes? Why deep in my inmost marrow dost rouse hunger pains? My heart is parched with burning thirst, and in my scorched vitals the fire is darting – I follow thee.
THE FURY This, this very rage of thine distribute throughout thy house! So, even as thou, may they be driven on, raging to quench their thirst each in the other’s blood. Thy house feels thy near approach, and has shrunk in utter horror from thine accursed touch. Enough! more than enough! Go thou to the infernal caves and well-known stream; now is the grieving earth weary of thy presence. Seest thou how the water, driven far within, deserts the springs, how river banks are empty, how the fiery wind drives away the scattered clouds? Every tree grows pale, and from the bare branches the fruit has fled; and where this side and that the Isthmus is wont to roar with neighboring waves, dividing near seas with narrow neck of land, the shore but faintly hears the far off sound. Now Lerna has shrunk back, the Phoronean stream [the river Inachus] has disappeared, the sacred Alpheus no longer bears his waters on, Cithaeron’s heights have lost their snows and nowhere stand hoary now, and the lordly Argos fears its ancient drought [i.e. in the time of Phaėthon]. Lo! Titan himself stands doubtful whether to bid day follow on, and, plying the reins, compel it to come forth to its undoing.
CHORUS If any god loves Achaian Argos and Pisa’s homes renowned for chariots; if any loves Corinthian Isthmus’ realm, its twin harbors, its dissevered sea; if any, the far-seen snows of Mount Ta’getus, snows which, when in winter-time the Sarmatian blasts have laid them on the heights, the summer with its sail-filling Etesian breezes melts away; if any is moved by the cool, clear stream of Alpheus, famed for its Olympic course – let him his kindly godhead hither turn, let him forbid the recurrent waves of crime to come again, forbid that on his grandsire follow a worse grandson, and greater crime please lesser men. Wearied at last, may the impious race of thirsty Tantalus give over its lust for savagery. Enough sin has been wrought; nothing has right availed, or general wrong. Himself betrayed, fell Myrtilus, betrayer of his lord, and, dragged down by the faith which he had shown, he made a sea [the Myrtoan sea] famous by its change of name; to Ionian ships no tale is better known. While the little son [Pelops] ran to his father’s kiss, welcomed by sinful sword, he fell, an untimely victim at the hearth, and by the right hand was carved, O Tantalus, that thou mightest spread a banquet for the gods, thy guests. Such food eternal hunger, such eternal thirst pursues; nor for such bestial viands could have been meted penalty more fit.
Weary, with empty throat, stands Tantalus; above his guilty head hangs food in plenty, than Phineus’ [the Harpies] birds more elusive; on either side, with laden boughs, a tree leans over him and, bending and trembling beneath its weight of fruit, makes sport with his wide-straining jaws. The prize, though he is eager and impatient of delay, deceived so oft, he tries no more to touch, turns away his eyes, shuts tight his lips, and behind clenched teeth he bars his hunger. But then the whole grove lets its riches down nearer still, and the mellow fruits above his head mock him with drooping boughs and whet again the hunger, which bids him ply his hands in vain. When he has stretched these forth and gladly has been baffled, the whole ripe harvest of the bending woods is snatched far out of reach. Then comes a raging thirst, harder to bear than hunger; when by this his blood has grown hot and glowed as with fiery torches, the poor wretch stands catching at waves that seem to approach his lips; but these the elusive water turns aside, failing in meager shallows, and leaves him utterly, striving to pursue; then deep from the whirling stream he drinks – but dust.
ATREUS [In soliloquy.] O undaring, unskilled, unnerved, and (what in high matters I deem a king’s worst reproach) yet unavenged, after so many crimes, a brother’s treacheries, and all right broken down, in idle complaints dost busy thyself – a mere wrathful Atreus? By now should the whole world be resounding with thy arms, on either side thy fleets be harrying both seas; by now should fields and cities be aglow with flames and the drawn sword be gleaming everywhere. Let the whole land of Argolis resound with our horses’ tread; let no forests shelter my enemy, nor citadels, built on high mountain tops; let the whole nation leave Mycenae and sound the trump of war; and whoso hides and protects that hateful head, let him die a grievous death. This mighty palace itself, illustrious Pelops’ house, may it even fall on me, if only on my brother, too, it fall. Up! my soul, do what no coming age shall approve, but none forget. I must dare some crime, atrocious, bloody, such as my brother would more wish were his. Crimes thou dost not avenge, save as thou dost surpass them. And what crime can be so dire as to overtop his sin? Does he lie downcast? Does he in prosperity endure control, rest in defeat? I know the untamable spirit of the man; bent it cannot be – but it can be broken. Therefore, ere he strengthen himself or marshal his powers, we must begin the attack, lest, while we wait, the attack be made on us. Slay or be slain will he; between us lies the crime for him who first shall do it.
ATTENDANT Does public disapproval deter thee not?
ATREUS The greatest advantage this of royal power, that their master’s deeds the people are compelled as well to bear as praise.
ATTENDANT Whom fear compels to praise, them, too, fear makes into foes; but he who seeks the glory of true favor, will wish heart rather than voice to sing his praise.
ATREUS True praise even to the lowly often comes; false, only to the strong. What men choose not, let them choose.
ATTENDANT Let a king choose the right; then none will not choose the same.
ATREUS Where only right to a monarch is allowed, sovereignty is held on sufferance.
ATTENDANT Where is no shame, no care for right, no honor, virtue, faith, sovereignty is insecure.
ATREUS Honor, virtue, faith are the goods of common men; let kings go where they please.
ATTENDANT O count it wrong to harm even a wicked brother.
ATREUS Whatever is wrong to do unto a brother is right to do to him. For what has he left untouched by crime, or where has he failed to sin? My wife has he debauched, my kingdom stolen; the ancient token [a ram with golden fleece] of our dynasty by fraud he gained, by fraud overturned our house. There is within Pelops’ lofty folds a lordly flock, and a wondrous ram, the rich flock’s leader. Over all his body a fleece of spun gold hangs, and from his back the new-crowned kings of the house of Tantalus have their scepters wreathed with gold. His owner rules; him does the fortune of the whole house follow. Hallowed and apart he grazes in safe meadows fenced with stone, that guards the fated pasture with its rocky wall. Him did the perfidious one [Thyestes], daring a monstrous crime, steal away, with the partner of my bed helping the sinful deed. From this source has flowed the whole evil stream of mutual destruction; throughout my kingdom have I wandered, a trembling exile; no part of my family is safe and free from snares; my wife seduced, our pledge [i.e. by which the two brothers were to reign alternately] of empire broken, my house impaired, my offspring dubious – no one thing certain save my brother’s enmity. Why standest inactive? At last begin, put on thy courage; Tantalus and Pelops – look on them; to work like theirs my hands are summoned. Tell thou, by what means I may bring ruin on his wicked head.
ATTENDANT Slain by the sword, let him spew forth his hateful soul.
ATREUS Thou speakest of punishment’s completion; I punishment itself desire. Let the mild tyrant slay; in my dominion death is a boon to pray for.
ATTENDANT Does piety move thee not?
ATREUS Be gone, O Piety, if ever in our house thou hadst a place. Let the dread band of Furies come, the fiend Discord, and Megaera, brandishing her torches twain; not great enough the frenzy with which my bosom burns; with some greater horror would I be filled.
ATTENDANT What strange design does thy mad soul intend?
ATREUS Naught that the measure of accustomed rage can hold; no crime will I leave undone, and no crime is enough.
ATTENDANT The sword?
ATREUS ‘Tis not enough.
ATTENDANT Fire, then?
ATREUS Still not enough.
ATTENDANT What weapon, pray, will thy great anguish use?
ATREUS Thyestes’ self.
ATTENDANT This plague is worse than passion.
ATREUS I do confess it. A frantic tumult shakes and heaves deep my heart. I am hurried I know not wither, but I am hurried on. The ground rumbles from its lowest depths, the clear sky thunders, the whole house crashes as though it were rent asunder, and the trembling Lares turn away their faces – let it be done, let a deed of guilt be done whereat, O gods, ye are affrighted.
ATTENDANT What, pray, wouldst do?
ATREUS Some greater thing, larger than the common and beyond the bounds of human use is swelling in my soul, and it urges on my sluggish hands – I know not what it is, but ‘tis some mighty thing. So let it be. Haste, thou, my soul, and do it. ‘Tis a deed worthy of Thyestes and of Atreus worthy; let each perform it. The Odrysian [i.e. Thracian] house once saw a feast unspeakable – ‘tis a monstrous crime, I grant, but it has been done before; let my smart find something worse than this. Inspire my soul, O Daulian [Procne] mother, aye and sister [Philomela], too; my case is like to yours; help me and urge on my hand. Let the father with joyous greed rend his sons, and his own flesh devour. ‘Tis well, more than enough. This way of punishment is pleasing.
Meanwhile, where is he? Why does Atreus so long live harmless? Already before mine eyes flits the whole picture of the slaughter; his lost children heaped up before their father’s face – O soul, why dost shrink back in fear and halt before the deed? Come! thou must dare it! What is the crowning outrage in this crime he himself shall do.
ATTENDANT But with what wiles caught will he be led to set foot within our snares? He counts us all enemies.
ATREUS He could not be caught were he not bent on catching. Even now he hopes to gain my kingdom; in this hope he will face Jove as he brandishes his thunder-bolt, in this hope will brave the whirlpool’s rage and enter the treacherous waters of the Libyan sands; in this hope (what he deems the greatest curse of all), he will see his brother.
ATTENDANT Who will give him confidence in peace? Whose word will he so greatly trust?
ATREUS Base hope is credulous. Still to my sons will I give a message to carry to their uncle: let the exiled wanderer quit strangers’ homes, for a throne exchange his wretched state and rule at Argos, a partner of my sway. If too stubbornly Thyestes spurns my prayer, his sons, guileless and spent with hard misfortunes and easy to be entreated, will be moved. On this side, his old mad thirst for power, on that, grim want and unfeeling toil by their many woes will force the man, however stiff, to yield.
ATTENDANT By now time has made his troubles light.
ATREUS Not so; a sense of wrongs increases day by day. ‘Tis easy to bear misfortune; to keep on bearing it a heavy task.
ATTENDANT Choose other agents of thy grim design.
ATREUS To the worse schooling youth lends ready ear.
ATTENDANT Toward their father they will act as toward their uncle thou instructest them; often upon the teacher have his bad teachings turned.
ATREUS Though none should teach them the ways of treachery and crime, the throne will teach them. Lest they become evil, fearest thou? They were born evil. What thou callest savage, cruel, thinkest is done ruthlessly, with no regard for heaven’s law, perchance even there is being done.
ATTENDANT Shall thy sons know that this snare is being laid?
ATREUS Silent discretion is not found in years so inexperienced; perchance they will disclose the plot; the art of silence is taught by life’s many ills.
ATTENDANT Even those by whom thou plannest to deceive another, wilt thou deceive?
ATREUS That they themselves may be free even from blame of crime. What need to entangle my sons in guilt? By my own self let my hatred be wrought out. – Thou dost ill, thou shrinkest back, my soul. Let Agamemnon be the witting agent of my plan, and Menelaus wittingly assist his father. By this deed let their uncertain birth be put to proof: if they refuse the combat, if they will not wage the war of hate, if they plead he is their uncle, he is their sire. Let them set forth. – But a troubled countenance oft discloses much; great plans betray their bearer even against his will; let them not know of how great a matter they are the ministers. And do thou conceal my plans.
ATTENDANT No need to admonish me; both fear and loyalty shall shut them in my heart, but rather loyalty.
CHORUS At last our noble house, the race of ancient Inachus, hath allayed the strife of brothers.
What madness pricks you on to shed by turns each others’ blood, and by crime to gain the throne? Ye know not, for high place greedy, wherein true kingship lies. A king neither riches makes, nor robes of Tyrian hue, nor crown upon the royal brow, nor doors with gold bright-gleaming; a king is he who has laid fear aside and the base longings of an evil heart; whom ambition unrestrained and the fickle favor of the reckless mob move not, neither all the mined treasures of the West nor the golden sands which Tagus sweeps along in his shining bed, nor all the grain trod out on burning Libya’s threshing-floors; whom no hurtling path of the slanting thunderbolt will shake, nor Eurus, harrying the sea, nor wind-swept Adriatic’s swell, raging with cruel wave; whom no warrior’s lance nor bare steel ever mastered; who, in safety established, sees all things beneath his feet, goes gladly to meet his fate nor grieves to die.
Though kings should gather themselves together, both they who vex the scattered Scythians and they who dwell upon the Red Sea’s marge, who hold wide sway over the blood-red main with its gleaming pearls, they who leave unguarded the Caspian heights to the bold Sarmatians; though he strive against him, who dares on foot to tread the Danube’s waves [i.e. the frozen surface] and (whersoever they dwell,) the Serians for fleeces famous – ‘tis the upright mind that holds true sovereignty. He has no need of horses, none of arms and the coward weapons which the Parthian hurls from far when he feigns flight, no need of engines hurling rocks, stationed to batter cities to the ground. A king is he who has no fear; a king is he who shall naught desire. Such kingdom on himself each man bestows.
Let him stand who will, in pride of power, on empire’s slippery height; let me be filled with sweet repose; in humble station fixed, let me enjoy untroubled ease, and, to my fellow citizens unknown, let my life’s stream flow in silence. So when my days have passed noiselessly away, lowly may I die and full of years. On him does death lie heavily, who, but too well known to all, dies to himself unknown.
[Enter THYESTES, returning from banishment, accompanied by his three sons.]
THYESTES At last I see the welcome dwellings of my fatherland, the wealth of Argolis, and, the greatest and best sights to wretched exiles, a stretch of native soil and my ancestral gods (if after all gods there are), the sacred towers reared by the Cyclopes, in beauty far excelling human effort, the race-course thronged with youth, where more than once, lifted to fame, have I in my father’s chariot won the palm. Argos will come to meet me, and the thronging populace will come – but surely Atreus too! Rather seek again thy retreats in the forest depths, the impenetrable glades, and life shared with beasts and like to theirs; this gleaming splendor of the throne is naught that should blind my eyes with its false tinsel show; when thou lookest on the gift, scan well the giver, too. Of late midst such fortune as all count hard, I was brave and joyous; but now I am returned to fears; my courage falters and, eager to go back, I move unwilling feet along.
TANTALUS [Aside.] My father (what can it mean?) with faltering pace goes as if dazed, keeps turning his face away, and holds uncertain course.
THYESTES [In soliloquy.] Why O soul, dost hestitate, or why doest so long turn over and over a plan so simple? Dost thou trust to things most unsure, to a brother and to kingship? Dost fear hardships already mastered, already easier to bear, and dost flee from distresses well employed? ‘Tis sweet now to be wretched. Turn back, while still thou mayest, and save thyself.
TANTALUS What cause compels thee, father, to turn thee back from sight of thy native land? Why from so great blessings dost withhold thy bosom? Thy brother returns to thee with wrath given over, gives thee back half the realm, unites the members of thy sundered house, and to thyself restores thee.
THYESTES My cause of fear, which I myself know not, thou demandest of me. Naught to be feared I see, but still I fear. Fain would I go, but my limbs totter with faltering knees, and other-whither than I strive to go am I borne away in thrall. Just so a ship, urged on by oar and sail, the tide, resisting both oar and sail, bears back.
TANTALUS Overcome thou whatever opposes and thwarts thy will, and see how great rewards await thee on thy return. Father, thou canst be king.
THYESTES Yea, since I can die.
TANTALUS The height of power is –
THYESTES Naught, if nothing thou desirest.
TANTALUS To thy sons wilt thou bequeath it.
THYESTES The throne admits not two.
TANTALUS Would he wish wretchedness who can be blest?
THYESTES False, believe me, are the titles that give greatness charm; idle our fears of hardship. While I stood high in power, never did I cease to dread, yea, to fear the very sword upon my thigh. Oh, how good it is to stand in no man’s road, care-free to eat one’s bread, on the ground reclining! Crime enters not lowly homes, and in safety is food taken at a slender board; poison is drunk from cups of gold. I speak that I do know: evil fortune is to be preferred to good. The lowly citizen fears no house of mine set high and threatening on a mountain top; my towering roofs flash not with gleaming ivory, no guard watches over my slumbers; with no fleet of boats I fish, with no piled break-water do I drive back the sea; I gorge not my vile belly at the world’s expense; for me no fields are harvested beyond the Getae and the Parthians; no incense burns for me, nor are my shrines adorned in neglect of Jove; no planted grove waves on my battlements, nor does many a pool heated by art steam for me; my days are not given to sleep nor are my nights linked with wakeful revelry: but I am not feared, safe without weapons is my house and to my small estate great peace is granted. ‘Tis a boundless kingdom, – the power without kingdoms to be content.
TANTALUS Neither is empire to be refused if a god bestows it, nor needst thou seek it; thy brother invites thee to be king.
THYESTES Invites? Then must I fear. Some trick strays hereabouts.
TANTALUS Brotherly regard ofttimes returns unto the heart whence it was driven, and true love regains the vigor it has lost.
THYESTES His brother love Thyestes? Sooner shall ocean bathe the heavenly Bears, and the devouring waves of the Sicilian tides stand still; sooner shall ripening grain spring from the Ionian sea, and dark night illumine the world; sooner shall fire with water, life with death commingle, and winds join faith and treaty with the sea.
TANTALUS And yet what treachery dost thou fear?
THYESTES All treachery; to my fear what limit shall I set? His power is boundless as his hate.
TANTALUS What power has he against thee?
THYESTES For myself I have now no fear; ‘tis you, my sons, who make Atreus cause of dread to me.
TANTALUS Dost fear to be entrapped if on thy guard?
THYESTES ‘Tis too late to guard when in the midst of dangers; but let us on. Yet this one thing your father doth declare: I follow you, not lead.
TANTALUS God will protect us if we heed well our ways. With assured step haste thou on.
[Enter ATREUS. Seeing THYESTES and his sons, he gloats over the fact that his brother is at last in his power.]
ATREUS [Aside.] The prey is fast caught in the toils I spread; both the sire himself and, together with the sire, the offspring of his hated race I see. Now on safe footing does my hatred fare. At last has Thyestes come into my power; he has come, and the whole [i.e. sons and all] of him! Scarce can I control my spirit, scarce does my rage admit restraint. So when the keen Umbrian hound tracks out the prey and, held on a long leash, with lowered muzzle snuffs out the trail, while with faint scent he perceives the boar afar, obediently and with silent tongue he scours the field; but when the game is nearer, with his whole strength of neck he struggles, loudly protests against his master’s loitering, and breaks away from his restraint. When rage scents blood, it cannot be concealed; yet let it be concealed. See how his thick hair, all unkempt, covers his woeful face, how foul his beard hangs down. [In bitter irony.] Now let me keep my promise. [To THYESTES.] ‘Tis sweet to see my brother once again. Give me the embrace that I have longed for. Let all our angry feelings pass away; from this day let ties of blood and love be cherished and let accursed hatred vanish from our hearts.
THYESTES I might excuse all my deeds wert thou not such as this. But I confess, Atreus, I confess that I have done all that thou believedst of me. Most foul has thy love to-day made my case appear. Sinful indeed is he who has been proved sinful toward so good a brother. My tears must plead for me; thou art he first to see me suppliant. These hands, which have never touched man’s feet, beseech thee: put away all thy wrath and let swollen anger pass from thy heart and be forgot. As pledge of my faith, O brother, take these guiltless boys.
ATREUS From my knees remove thy hand and come rather into my embrace. And you, too, boys, all of you, comforters of age, come cling about my neck. Thy foul garments put off, spare my eyes, and put on royal trappings equal to my own, and with glad heart share a brother’s kingdom. Mine is the greater glory, to restore to a brother all unharmed ancestral dignity; wielding power is the work of chance, bestowing of it, virtue’s.
THYESTES May the gods, my brother, fitly repay thee for so great deserts. The kingly crown my wretched state refuses, and the sceptre my ill-omened hand rejects. Let it be mine to hide amidst the throng.
ATREUS Our throne has room for two.
THYESTES I count, my brother, all of thine as mine.
ATREUS Who puts aside inflowing fortune’s gifts?
THYESTES Whoso has found how easily they ebb.
ATREUS Dost forbid thy brother to gain great glory?
THYESTES Thy glory is won already; mine is still to win: to refuse the throne is my fixed intent.
ATREUS My glory must I abandon, unless thou accept thy share.
THYESTES I do accept; the name of king set on me will I wear; but unto thee shall laws and arms along with myself be subject.
ATREUS [Placing the crown upon his brother’s head.] This crown, set on thy reverend head, wear thou; but I the destined victims to the gods will play. [Exit.]
CHORUS Such things are past belief. Atreus, there, the fierce and savage, reckless of soul and cruel, at sight of his brother stood as one amazed. There is now power stronger than true love; angry strife ‘twixt strangers doth endure, but whom true love has bound ‘twill bind for ever. When wrath, by great causes roused, has burst friendship’s bonds and sounded alarms of war; when fleet squadrons with ringing bridles come; when the brandished sword gleams now here, now there, which the mad god of war, thirsting for fresh-flowing blood, wields with a rain of blows, – then will Love stay the steel, and lead men, even against their will, to the clasped hands of Peace.
This sudden lull out of so great uproar what god has wrought? But now throughout Mycenae the arms of civil strife resounded; pale mother held fast their sons, the wife feared for her lord full armed, when to his hand came the reluctant sword, foul with the rust of peace; one strove to repair tottering walls, one to strengthen towers, crumbling with long neglect; another strove to shut gates tight with iron bars, while on the battlements the trembling guard kept watch over the troubled night – for worse than war is the very fear of war. Now the sword’s dire threats have fallen; now still is the deep trumpet-blare; now silent the shrill clarion’s blast; deep peace to a glad city is restored. So, when the floods heave up from ocean’s depths and Corus [the North-west wind] lashes the Bruttian waters; when Scylla roars in her disturbed cavern, and mariners in harbor tremble at the sea which greedy Charybdis drains and vomits forth again; when the wild Cyclops, sitting on burning Aetna’s crag, dreads his sire’s [Neptune] rage, lest the overwhelming waves put out the fires that roar in immemorial furnaces; and when beggared Laėrtes thinks, while Ithaca reels beneath the shock, that his kingdom may be submerged – then, if their strength has failed the winds, the sea sinks back more peaceful than a pool; and the deep waters which the ship feared to cleave, now far and wide studded with bellying sails, a beauteous sight, to pleasure-boats spread out their waves; and you may now count the fish swimming far below, where but lately beneath the mighty hurricane the tossed Cyclads trembled at the sea.
No lot endureth long; pain and pleasure, each in turn, give place; more quickly, pleasure. Lowest with highest the fickle hour exchanges. He who wears crown on brow, before whom trembling nations bend the knee, at whose nod the Medes lay down their arms, and the Indians of the nearer sun, and the Dahae who hurl their horse upon the Parthians – he with anxious hand holds the sceptre, and both foresees and fear fickle chance and shifting time that change all things.
O you, to whom the ruler of sea and land has given unbounded right over life and death, abate your inflated, swelling pride; all that a lesser subject fears from you, against you a greater lord shall threaten; all power is subject to a weightier power. Whom the rising sun hath seen high in pride, him the setting sun hath seen laid low. Let none be over-confident when fortune smiles; let none despair of better things when fortune fails. Clotho blends weal and woe, lets no lot stand, keeps ever fate a-turning. No one has found the gods so kind that he may promise to-morrow to himself. God keeps all mortal things in swift whirl turning.
[Enter MESSENGER breathlessly announcing the horror which has just been enacted behind the scenes.]
MESSENGER What whirlwind will headlong bear me through the air and in murky cloud enfold me, that it may snatch this awful horror from my sight? O house, to Pelops even and to Tantalus a thing of shame!
CHORUS What news bringst thou?
MESSENGER What place is this? Is it Argos? Is it Sparta, to which fate gave loving brothers? [Castor and Pollux.] Corinth, resting on the narrow boundary of two seas? Or the Ister, giving chance of flight to the barbarous Alani? Or the Hyrcanian land beneath its everlasting snows? Or the wide-wandering Scythians? What place is this that knows such hideous crime
CHORUS Speak out and tell this evil, whatever it is.
MESSENGER When my spirit is composed, when numbing fear lets go its hold upon my limbs. Oh, but I see it still, the picture of that ghastly deed! Bear me far hence, wild winds, oh, thither bear me whither the vanished day is borne.
CHORUS More grievously dost thou hold our minds in doubt. Tell thou what is this thing which makes thee shudder, and point out the doer of it. I ask not who it is, but which. Speak out and quickly.
MESSENGER On the summit of the citadel a part of Pelops’ palace faces south; its farthest side rises to mountainous height, and overlooks the city, having beneath its menace the people, insolent to their kings. Here gleams the great hall that could contain a multitude, whose gilded architraves columns glorious with varied hues upbear. Behind this general hall, which nations throng, the gorgeous palace stretches out over many a space; and, deep withdrawn, there lies a secret spot containing in a deep vale an ancient grove, the kingdom’s innermost retreat. Here no tree ever affords cheerful shade or is pruned by any knife; but the yew-tree and the cypress and woods of gloomy ilex-trees wave obscure, above which, towering high, an oak looks down and overtops the grove. From this spot the sons of Tantalus are wont to enter on their reign, here to seek aid midst calamity and doubt. Here hang their votive gifts; resounding trumpets and broken chariots, spoils of the Myrtoan Sea, and wheels overcome by treacherous axle-trees hang there, and memorials of the race’s every crime; in this place is Pelops’ Phrygian turban hung, here spoil of the enemy, and the embroidered robe, token of triumph over barbaric foes.
A dismal spring starts forth beneath the shadow, and sluggish in a black pool creeps along; such are the ugly waters of dread Styx, on which the gods take oath. ‘Tis said that from this place in the dark night the gods of death make moan; with clanking chains the grove resounds, and the ghosts howl mournfully. Whatever is dreadful but to hear of, there is seen; throngs of the long-since dead come forth from their ancient tombs and walk abroad, and creatures more monstrous than men have known spring from the place; nay more, through all the wood flames go flickering, and the lofty beams glow without the help of fire. Oft-times the grove re-echoes with three-throated bayings; oft-times the house is affrighted with huge, ghostly shapes. Nor is terror allayed by day; the grove is a night unto itself, and the horror of the underworld reigns even at midday. From this spot sure responses are given to those who seek oracles; with thundering noise the fates are uttered from the shrine, and the cavern roars when the god sends forth his voice.
When to this place maddened Atreus came, dragging his brother’s sons, the altars were decked – but who could worthily describe the deed? Behind their back he fetters the youths’ princely hands and their sad brows he binds with purple fillets. Nothing is lacking, neither incense, nor sacrificial wine, the knife, the salted meal to sprinkle on the victims. The accustomed ritual is all observed, lest so great a crime be not duly wrought.
CHORUS Who lays his hand unto the knife?
MESSENGER Himself is priest; himself with baleful prayer chants the death-song with boisterous utterance; himself stands by the altar; himself handles those doomed to death, sets them in order and lays hand upon the knife; himself attends to all – no part of the sacred rite is left undone. The grove begins to tremble; the whole palace sways with the quaking earth, uncertain whither to fling its ponderous mass, and seems to waver. From the left quarter of the sky rushes a star, dragging a murky trail. The wine, poured upon the fire, changes from wine and flows as blood; from the king’s head falls the crown twice and again, and the ivory statues in the temples weep.
These portents moved all, but Atreus alone, true to his purpose, stands, and even appalls the threatening gods. And now, delay at end, he stands before the altar with lowering, sidelong glance. As in the jungle by the Ganges river a hungry tigress wavers between two bulls, eager for each prey, but doubtful where first to set her fangs (to the one she turns her jaws, then to the other turns, and keeps her hunger waiting), so does cruel Atreus eye the victims doomed by his impious wrath. He hesitates within himself whom first to slay, whom next to sacrifice by the second stroke. It matters not, but still he hesitates, and gloats over the ordering of his savage crime.
CHORUS Whom, for all that, does he first attack with the steel?
MESSENGER The place of honor (lest you deem him lacking in reverence) to his grandsire [the boy, Tantalus, is named after his grandfather] is allotted – Tantalus is the first victim.
CHORUS With what spirit, with what countenance bore the lad his death?
MESSENGER Careless of self he stood, nor did he plead, knowing such prayer were vain; but in his wound the savage buried the sword and, deep thrusting, joined hand with throat. The sword withdrawn, the corpse still stood erect, and when it had wavered long whether here or there to fall, it fell upon the uncle. Then Plisthenes to the altar did that butcher drag and set him near his brother. His head with a blow he severed; down fell the body when the neck was smitten, and the head rolled away, grieving with murmur inarticulate.
CHORUS What did he then after the double murder? Did he spare one boy, or did he heap crime on crime?
MESSENGER Even as a maned lion in the Armenian woods with much slaughter falls victorious on the herd (his jaws reek with gore, and still, though hunger is appeased, he rages on; now here, now there charging the bulls, he threatens the calves, sluggishly now and with weary fangs) – not otherwise Atreus raves and swells with wrath and, still grasping his sword drenched with double slaughter, scarce knowing against whom he rages, with deadly hand he drives clean through the body; and the sword, entering the boy’s breast, straightway stood out upon his back. He falls and, staining the altar with his blood, dies by a double wound.
CHORUS Oh, savage crime!
MESSENGER Are you so horror-stricken? If only the crime stops there, ‘tis piety.
CHORUS Does nature admit crime still greater or more dread?
MESSENGER Crime’s limit deemst thou this? ‘Tis the first step of crime.
CHORUS What further could he do? Did he perchance throw the bodies to the beasts to tear, and refuse them fire?
MESSENGER Would that he had refused! I pray not that earth cover or fire consume the dead! He may give them to the birds to feast upon, may drag them out as a ghastly meal for ravenous beasts – oh, after what befell, one might pray for what is oft held punishment – unburied may the father gaze upon his sons! O crime incredible to any age, which coming generations will deny – torn from the still living breasts the vitals quiver; the lungs still breathe and the fluttering heart still beats. But he handles the organs and enquires the fates, and notes the markings of the still warm entrails.
When with the victims he has satisfied himself, he is now free to prepare his brother’s banquet. With his own hands he cuts the body into parts, severs the broad shoulders at the trunk, and the retarding arms, heartlessly strips off the flesh and severs the bones; the heads only he saves, and the hands that had been given to him in pledge of faith. Some of the flesh is fixed on spits and, set before slow fires, hangs dripping; other parts boiling waters tosses in heated kettles. The fire overleaps the feast that is set before it and, twice and again thrown back upon the shuddering hearth and forced to tarry there, burns grudgingly. The liver sputters on the spits; nor could I well say whether the bodies or the flames made more complaint. The fire dies down in pitchy smoke; and the smoke itself, a gloomy and heavy smudge, does not rise straight up and lift itself in air – upon the household gods themselves in disfiguring cloud it settles.
O all-enduring Phoebus, though thou didst shrink afar, and in mid-sky didst bury the darkened day, still thou didst set too late. The father rends his sons and with baleful jaws chews his own flesh; with hair dripping with liquid nard he sits resplendent, heavy with wine; oft-times the food sticks in his choking gullet. In the midst of these thy woes, Thyestes, this only good remains, that thou knowest not thy woes. But even this will perish. Though Titan himself should turn his chariot back, taking the opposite course; through heavy night, rising at dawn and at another’s time, with strange shadows should bury this ghastly deed, still it must out. There is no sin but it shall be revealed.
[Unnatural darkness has settled over the world.]
CHORUS Whither, O father of the lands and skies, before whose rising thick night with all her glories flees, whither dost turn thy course and why dost blot out the day in mid-Olympus? Why, O Phoebus, dost snatch away thy face? Not yet does Vesper, twilight’s messenger, summon the fires of night; not yet does thy wheel, turning its western goal, bid free thy steeds from their completed task; not yet as day fades into night has the third trump sounded [the Greek day was divided into three parts of four hours each. The third trump sounding would indicate the beginning of day’s last third]; the plowman with oxen yet unwearied stands amazed at his supper-hour’s quick coming. What has driven thee from thy heavenly course? What cause from their fixed track has turned aside thy horses? Is the prison-house of Dis thrown wide and are the conquered Giants again essaying war? Doth sore-wounded Tityos renew in his weary breast his ancient wrath? Has Typhoeus thrown off the mountainous mass and set his body free? Is a highway being built by the Phlegraean [i.e. the Giants, so called from Phlegra, a valley in Thrace, where started their battle against the gods] foe, and does Thessalian Pelion press on Thracian Ossa?
Heaven’s accustomed alternations are no more; no setting, no rising shall there be again. The dewy mother [Aurora] of the early dawn, wont to hand over to the god his morning reins, looks in amaze upon the disordered threshold of her kingdom; she is not skilled to bathe his weary chariot, nor to plunge his steeds, reeking with sweat, beneath the sea. Startled himself at such unwonted welcoming, the sinking sun beholds Aurora, and bids the shadows arise, though night is not yet ready. No stars come out; the heavens gleam not with any fires: no moon dispels the darkness’ heavy pall.
But whatever this may be, would that night were here! Trembling, trembling are our hearts, sore smit with fear, lest all things fall shattered in fatal ruin and once more gods and men be overwhelmed by formless chaos; lest the lands, the encircling sea, and the stars that wander in the spangled sky, nature blot out once more. No more by the rising of his quenchless torch shall the leader of the stars, guiding the procession of the years, mark off the summer and the winter times; no more shall Luna, reflecting Phoebus’ rays, dispel night’s terrors, and outstrip her brother’s reins, as in scantier space she speeds on her circling path. Into one abyss shall fall the heaped-up throng of gods. [By gods is meant planets, i.e. Saturn, Jupiter, Mars.] The Zodiac, which, making passage through the sacred stars, crosses the zones obliquely, guide and sign-bearer for the slow-moving years, falling itself, shall see the fallen constellations; the Ram, who, ere kindly spring has come, gives back the sails to the warm West-wind, headlong shall plunge into the waves over which he had borne the trembling Helle; the Bull, who before him on bright horns bears the Hyades, shall drag the Twins down with him and the Crab’s wide-curving claws; Alcides’ Lion, with burning heat inflamed, once more shall fall down from the sky; the Virgin [Astraea] shall fall to the earth she once abandoned, and the Scales of justice with their weights shall fall and with them shall drag the fierce Scorpion down; old Chiron [Chiron is Sagittarius in the constellations of the Zodiac], who sets the feathered shafts upon Haemonian chord, shall lose his shafts from the snapped bowstring; the frigid Goat [Capricornus] who brings back sluggish winter, shall fall and break thy urn, whoever thou art; with thee shall fall the Fish, last of the stars of heaven, and the Wain, which was never bathed by the sea, shall be plunged beneath the all-engulfing waves; the slippery Serpent which, gliding like a river, separates the Bears, shall fall, and icy Cynosura, the Lesser Bear, together with the Dragon vast, congealed with cold; and that slow-moving drive of his wain, Arctophylax, no longer fixed in place, shall fall.
Have we of all mankind been deemed deserving that heaven, its poles uptorn, should overwhelm us? In our time has the last day come? Alas for us, by bitter fate begotten, to misery doomed, whether we have lost the sun or banished it! Away with lamentations, begone, O fear! Greedy indeed for life is he who would not die when the world is perishing in his company.
[Enter ATREUS, exulting.]
ATREUS Peer of the stars I move, and, towering over all, touch with proud head the lofty heavens. Now the glory of the realm I hold, now my father’s throne. I release the gods, for the utmost of my prayers have I attained. ‘Tis well, ‘tis more than well, now ‘tis enough even for me. But why enough? Nay, I will go forward, even though the father is full-fed with his dead sons. That shame might not hold me back, day has departed. On! while heaven is tenantless. O that I might stay the fleeing deities, might force and draw them hither that they all might see the avenging feast! But ‘tis enough if but the father see. Even though daylight refuse me aid, I’ll dispel the darkness from thee, beneath which thy woes are lurking. Too long thou liest at feast with care-free and cheerful countenance; now enough time has been given to tables, enough to wine; for such monstrous ills there needs Thyestes sober. [To the slaves.] Ye menial throng, open the temple doors, let the banquet-hall be disclosed. ‘Tis sweet to note, when he sees his children’s heads, what hue his cheeks display, what words his first grief pours forth, how his body, breathless with the shock, grows stiff. This is the fruit of all my toil. To see him wretched I care not, but to see the wretchedness come upon him.
[The doors are thrown open, showing THYESTES at the banquet-table.]
The open hall with many a torch is gleaming. There he himself reclines at full length on gold and purple, propping his wine-heavy head on his left hand. He belches with content. Oh, most exalted of the gods am I, and king of kings! I have overtopped my hopes. His meal is done; from the great silver cup he quaffs the wine – spare not thy drinking; there still remains the blood of all the victims, and this the color of old wine will well disguise. With this, this goblet let the meal be done. His sons’ mingled blood let the father drink; he would have drunk my own. Lo, now he raises his joyous voice in song, nor well controls his spirit.
[THYESTES sits alone at the banquet-table, half overcome with wine; he tries to sing and be gay, but, in spite of this, some vague premonition of evil weighs upon his spirits.]
THYESTES O heart, dulled with long miseries, now put aside anxious cares. Away with grief, away with terror, away with bitter want, the companion of hunted exiles, and shame that weighs heavy on misfortune; more matters it whence thou fallest, than to what. ‘Tis a great thing, when fallen from a lofty pinnacle, to set foot firmly on the plain; great, midst the ruins of huge and crushing woes, with unbending neck to endure a wrecked kingdom’s weight, and with soul heroic, by woes unconquered, erect to bear the burden of misfortune. But now, banish the clouds of bitter fate, and remove all marks of those unhappy days; greet present happiness with joyful countenance, and dismiss the old Thyestes from thy thoughts.
But this peculiar failing dogs the wretched, never to believe that happiness is here; though lucky fortune come again, still they who have suffered find it hard to smile. Why dost restrain me and oppose my celebration of this joyful day? Why dost bid me weep, O grief, that rises from no cause? Why dost forbid with beauteous flowers to wreathe my hair? It forbids, it does forbid! The spring roses have fallen from my head; my hair, dripping with precious nard, has started up in sudden horror, a rain of tears falls down my unwilling cheeks, and in the midst of speech comes groaning. Grief loves her accustomed tears, and to the wretched comes an ominous desire for weeping. Even so, I long to utter ill-omened lamentation, I long to rend these garments, rich dyed with Tyrian purple, I long to shriek aloud. My mind gives warnings of distress at hand, presaging its own woe; oft does a fierce storm draw nigh to mariners, when without wind the tranquil waters heave. What distresses, what upheavals dost thou imagine for thyself, thou fool? Let thy heart trust thy brother. Already, whatever it be, either causelessly or too late thou fearest. I would fain not be unhappy, but within me vague terror wanders, sudden tears pour from mine eyes, and all for naught. Is it from grief or fear? Or doth great joy hold tears?
ATREUS [Advancing to his brother with show of effusive affection.]
THYESTES [Pushing the remains of the feast from
ATREUS Be sure that here, in their father’s bosom, are thy sons;– here now, and here shall be; no one of thy children shall be taken from thee. The faces thou desirest shall be thine, and wholly with his family will I fill the sire. Thou shalt be satisfied, have no fear of that. Just now, in company with my own, at the children’s table, they are sharing the joyful feast; but I will summon them. Take thou this cup, an heirloom, filled with wine.
THYESTES I accept this bounty of my brother’s feast; let wine be poured to our ancestral gods, and then be quaffed.– But what is this? My hands refuse their service, and the cup grows heavy and weighs down my hand; the lifted wine recoils from my very lips; around my gaping jaws, cheating my mouth, it flows, and the very table leaps up from the trembling floor. The lights burn dim; nay, the very heavens, grown heavy, stand in amaze ‘twixt day and night, deserted. What next? Now more, still more the vault of the shattered sky is tottering; a thicker gloom with dense shades is gathering, and night has hidden away in a blacker night; every star is in full flight. Whatever it is, I beg it may spare my brother and my sons, and may the storm break with all its force on this vile head. Give back now my sons to me!
ATREUS I will give them back, and no day shall tear them from thee. [Exit.]
THYESTES What is this tumult that disturbs my vitals? What trembles in me? I feel a load that will not suffer me, and my breast groans with a groaning that is not mine. O come, my sons, your unhappy father calls you, come; this pain will pass away at the sight of you – whence come their reproachful voices?
[Re-enter ATREUS with a covered platter in his hands.]
ATREUS Now, father, spread out thine arms; they are here. [He uncovers the platter, revealing the severed heads of THYESTES’ sons.] Dost recognize thy sons?
THYESTES I recognize my brother. Canst thou endure, O Earth, to bear a crime so monstrous? Why dost not burst asunder and plunge thee down to the infernal Stygian shades and, by a huge opening to void chaos, snatch this kingdom with its king away? Why dost not raze this whole palace to the very ground, and overturn Mycenae? We should both of us long since have been with Tantalus. Rend asunder thy prison-bars on every side, and if there is any place beneath Tartarus and our grandsires, thither with huge abyss let down thy chasm and hide us buried beneath all Acheron. Let guilty souls wander above our head, and let fiery Phlegethon, with glowing flood downpouring all his sands, flow tempestuous above our place of exile – but the earth lies all unmoved, an insensate mass; the gods have fled away.
ATREUS Now, rather, take these with joy, whom thou hast so long desired. Thy brother delays thee not; enjoy them, kiss them, divide thy embraces amongst the three.
THYESTES Is this thy bond? Is this thy grace, this thy fraternal pledge? Thus puttest thou hate away? I do not ask that I, a father, may have my sons unharmed; what can be granted with crime and hate intact, this I, a brother, of a brother ask: that I may bury them. Give me back what thou mayst see burned at once. The father asks naught of thee with hopes of having, but of losing it.
ATREUS Whatever of thy sons is left, thou hast; whatever is not left, thou hast.
THYESTES Do they lie a prey for the wild birds? Are they reserved for monsters? Are they food for beasts?
ATREUS Thyself hast feasted on thy sons, an impious meal.
THYESTES ‘Twas this that shamed the gods; this drove the day back against its dawning. What cries in my misery shall I utter, what complaints? What words will suffice for me? I see the severed heads, the torn-off hands, the feet wrenched from the broken legs – this much the father, for all his greed, could not devour. Their flesh is turning round within me, and my imprisoned crime struggles vainly to come forth and seeks way of escape. Give me thy sword, O brother, the sword reeking with my blood; by the steel let deliverance be given to my sons. Dost refuse the sword? Then let my breast resound, bruised by crushing blows – hold thy hand, unhappy man, let us spare the shades. Who ever beheld such a crime? What Heniochian, dwelling on wild Caucasus’ rough rocks, or what Procrustes, terror of the Cecropian land? Lo, I, the father, overwhelm my sons, and by my sons am overwhelmed – of crime is there no limit?
ATREUS Crime should have limit, when the crime is wrought, not when repaid. Even this is not enough for me. Straight from the very wound I should have poured the hot blood down thy throat, that thou mightst drink gore of thy living sons – my wrath was cheated by my haste. With the deep-driven sword I smote them; I slew them at the altars; with their offered blood I appeased the sacred fires; hewing their lifeless bodies, into small scraps I tore them, and some into boiling cauldrons did I plunge, and some before slow fires I set to drip. Their limbs and sinews I rent asunder while still they lived, and their livers, transfixed on slender spits and sputtering I saw, and with my own hand I fed the flames. All these things better the father might have done; my grief has fallen fruitless; with impious teeth he tore his sons, but unwittingly, but them unwitting.
THYESTES Hear, O ye seas, by shifting shores imprisoned, and ye, too, hear this crime, whithersoever you have fled, ye gods; hear, lords of the underworld; hear, lands, and Night, heavy with black, Tartarean fogs, give ear unto my cries; (to thee am I abandoned, thou only lookest on my woe, thou also forsaken of the stars;) no wicked pleas will I make, naught for myself implore – and what now can I ask in my own behalf? For you shall my prayers be offered. O thou, exalted ruler of the sky, who sittest in majesty upon the throne of heaven, enwrap the whole universe in awful clouds, set the winds warring on every hand, and from every quarter of the sky let the loud thunders roll; not with what hand thou seekest houses and undeserving homes, using thy lesser bolts, but with that hand by which the threefold mass of mountains fell, and the Giants, who stood level with the mountains – these arms let loose and hurl thy fires. Make compensation for the banished day, brandish thy flames, and the light that was snatched from heaven with thy lightning’s flash supply. Let the cause, lest long thou hesitate, of each one of us be evil; if not, let mine be evil; aim thou at me, through this heart send thy three-forked flaming bolt. If I their father would give his sons to burial and commit them to the funeral flames, I must myself be burned. But if naught moves the gods, and no divinity hurls darts against the impious, may night stay on for ever, and cover with endless darkness boundless crimes. No protest do I make, O sun, if thou continue steadfast.
ATREUS Now do I praise my handiwork, now is the true palm won. I had wasted my crime, didst thou not suffer thus. Now do I believe my children are my own, now may I trust once more that my marriage-bed is pure.
THYESTES What was my children’s sin?
ATREUS That they were thine.
THYESTES Sons to the father –
ATREUS Yea, and what gives me joy, surely thy sons.
THYESTES I call on the gods who guard the innocent.
ATREUS Why not the marriage-gods?
THYESTES Who punishes crime with crime?
ATREUS I know what thou complainest of: thou grievest that I have forestalled thee in the crime, and art distressed, not because thou hast consumed the ghastly feast, but because thou didst not offer it to me. This had been thy purpose, to prepare for thine unwitting brother a like feast, and with their mother’s aid to assail his sons and lay them low in like destruction. This one thing stayed thee – thou didst think them thine.
THYESTES The gods will be present to avenge; to them for punishment my prayers deliver thee.
thy sons for punishment do I deliver thee.