HECUBA 'Tis a rumour ill-boding I tell, my child; they bring me word
that sentence is passed upon thy life by the Argives' vote.
POLYXENA Alas, for thy cruel sufferings! my persecuted mother! woe
for thy life of grief! What grievous outrage some fiend hath sent
on thee, hateful, horrible! No more shall I thy daughter share thy
bondage, hapless youth on hapless age attending. For thou, alas! wilt
see thy hapless child torn from thy arms, as a calf of the hills is
torn from its mother, and sent beneath the darkness of the earth with
severed throat for Hades, where with the dead shall I be laid, ah
me! For thee I weep with plaintive wail, mother doomed to a life of
sorrow! for my own life, its ruin and its outrage, never a tear I
shed; nay, death is become to me a happier lot than life.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS See where Odysseus comes in haste, to announce
some fresh command to thee, Hecuba. (ODYSSEUS enters, with his attendants.)
ODYSSEUS Lady, methinks thou knowest already the intention of the
host, and the vote that has been passed; still will I declare it.
It is the Achaeans' will to sacrifice thy daughter Polyxena at the
mound heaped o'er Achilles' grave; and they appoint me to take the
maid and bring her thither, while the son of Achilles is chosen to
preside o'er the sacrifice and act as priest. Dost know then what
to do? Be not forcibly torn from her, nor match thy might 'gainst
mine; recognize the limits of thy strength, and the presence of thy
troubles. Even in adversity 'tis wise to yield to reason's dictates.
HECUBA Ah me! an awful trial is nigh, it seems, fraught with mourning,
rich in tears. Yes, I too escaped death where death had been my due,
and Zeus destroyed me not but is still preserving my life, that I
may witness in my misery fresh sorrows surpassing all before. Still
if the bond may ask the free of things that grieve them not nor wrench
their heart-strings, 'tis well that thou shouldst make an end and
hearken to my questioning.
ODYSSEUS Granted; put thy questions; that short delay I grudge thee
HECUBA Dost remember the day thou camest to spy on Ilium, disguised
in rags and tatters, while down thy cheek ran drops of blood?
ODYSSEUS Remember it! yes; 'twas no slight impression it made upon
HECUBA Did Helen recognize thee and tell me only?
ODYSSEUS I well remember the awful risk I ran.
HECUBA Didst thou embrace my knees in all humility?
ODYSSEUS Yea, so that my hand grew dead and cold upon thy robe.
HECUBA What saidst thou then, when in my power?
ODYSSEUS Doubtless I found plenty to say, to save my life.
HECUBA Was it I that saved and sent thee forth again?
ODYSSEUS Thou didst, and so I still behold the light of day.
HECUBA Art not thou then playing a sorry part to plot against me
thus, after the kind treatment thou didst by thy own confession receive
from me, showing me no gratitude but all the ill thou canst? A thankless
race! all ye who covet honour from the mob for your oratory. Oh that
ye were unknown to me ye who harm your friends and think no more of
it, if ye can but say a word to win the mob. But tell me, what kind
of cleverness did they think it, when against this child they passed
their bloody vote? Was it duty led them to slay a human victim at
the tomb, where sacrifice of oxen more befits? or does Achilles, if
claiming the lives of those who slew him as his recompense, show his
justice by marking her out for death? No! she at least ne'er injured
him. He should have demanded Helen as a victim at his tomb, for she
it was that proved his ruin, bringing him to Troy; or if some captive
of surpassing beauty was to be singled out for doom, this pointed
not to us; for the daughter of Tyndareus was fairer than all womankind,
and her injury to him was proved no les than ours. Against the justice
of his plea I pit this argument. Now hear the recompense due from
thee to me at my request. On thy own confession, thou didst fall at
my feet and embrace my hand and aged cheek; I in my turn now do the
same to thee, and claim the favour then bestowed; and I implore thee,