'Twas in the middle of the night my ruin came, in the hour when sleep
steals sweetly o'er the eyes after the feast is done. My husband,
the music o'er, and the sacrifice that sets the dance afoot now ended,
was lying in our bridal-chamber, his spear hung on a peg; with never
a thought of the sailor-throng encamped upon the Trojan shores;
and I was braiding my tresses 'neath a tight-drawn snood before my
golden mirror's countless rays, that I might lay me down to rest;
when lo! through the city rose a din, and a cry went ringing down
the streets of Troy, "Ye sons of Hellas, when, oh! when will ye sack
the citadel of Ilium, and seek your homes?"
Up sprang I from my bed, with only a mantle about me, like Dorian
maid, and sought in vain, ah me! to station myself at the holy hearth
of Artemis; for, after seeing my husband slain, I was hurried away
o'er the broad sea; with many a backward look at my city, when the
ship began her homeward voyage and parted me from Ilium's strand;
till alas! for very grief I fainted,
cursing Helen the sister of the Dioscuri, and Paris the baleful shepherd
of Ida; for 'twas their marriage, which was no marriage but a curse
by some demon sent, that robbed me of my country and drove me from
my home. Oh! may the sea's salt flood neer carry her home again; and
may she never set foot in her father's halls! (HECUBA comes out of
the tent as POLYMESTOR, his children and guards enter.)
POLYMESTOR My dear friend Priam, and thou no less, Hecuba, I weep
to see thee and thy city thus, and thy daughter lately slain. Alas!
there is naught to be relied on; fair fame is insecure, nor is there
any guarantee that weal will not be turned to woe. For the gods confound
our fortunes, tossing them to and fro, and introduce confusion, that
our perplexity may make us worship them. But what boots it to bemoan
these things, when it brings one no nearer to heading the trouble?
If thou art blaming me at all for my absence, stay a moment; I was
away in the very heart of Thrace when thou wast brought hither; but
on my return, just as I was starting from my home for the same purpose,
thy maid fell in with me, and gave me thy message, which brought me
here at once.
HECUBA Polymestor, I am holden in such wretched plight that I blush
to meet thine eye; for my present evil case makes me ashamed to face
thee who didst see me in happier days, and I cannot look on thee with
unfaltering gaze. Do not then think it ill-will on my part, Polymestor;
there is another cause as well, I mean the custom which forbids women
to meet men's gaze.
POLYMESTOR No wonder, surely. But what need hast thou of me? Why
didst send for me to come hither from my house?
HECUBA I wish to tell thee and thy children a private matter of my
own; prithee, bid thy attendants withdraw from the tent.
POLYMESTOR (to his Attendants) Retire; this desert spot is safe
enough. (The guards go out; to HECUBA) Thou art my friend, and this
Achaean host is well-disposed to me. But thou must tell me how prosperity
is to succour its unlucky friends; for ready am I to do so.
HECUBA First tell me of the child Polydorus, whom thou art keeping
in thy halls, received from me and his father; is he yet alive? The
rest will I ask thee after that.
POLYMESTOR Yes, thou still hast a share in fortune there.
HECUBA Well said, dear friend! how worthy of thee!
POLYMESTOR What next wouldst learn of me?
HECUBA Hath he any recollection of me his mother?
POLYMESTOR Aye, he was longing to steal away hither to thee.
HECUBA Is the gold safe, which he brought with him from Troy?
POLYMESTOR Safe under lock and key in my halls.
HECUBA There keep it, but covet not thy neighbour's goods.
POLYMESTOR Not I; God grant me luck of what I have, lady!
HECUBA Dost know what I wish to say to thee and thy children?