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Heracles   


I slew Creon, the father of Megara, and am in possession of his throne.
So I have no wish that these children should grow up and be left to
take vengeance on me in requital for what I have done.
AMPHITRYON As for Zeus, let Zeus defend his son's case; but as for
me, Heracles, I am only anxious on thy behalf to prove by what I say
this tyrant's ignorance; for I cannot allow thee to be ill spoken
of. First then for that which should never have been said,-for to
speak of thee Heracles as coward is, methinks, outside the pale of
speech,-of that must I clear the with heaven to witness. I appeal
then to the thunder of Zeus, and the chariot wherein he rode, when
he pierced the giants, earth's brood, to the heart with his winged
shafts, and with gods uplifted the glorious triumph-song; or go to
Pholoe and ask the insolent tribe of four-legged Centaurs, thou craven
king, ask them who they would judge their bravest foe; will they not
say my son, who according to thee is but a pretender? Wert thou to
ask Euboean Dirphys, thy native place, it would nowise sing thy praise,
for thou hast never done a single gallant deed to which thy country
can witness. Next thou dost disparage that clever invention, an archer's
weapon; come, listen to me and learn wisdom. A man who fights in line
is a slave to his weapons, and if his fellow-comrades want for courage
he is slain himself through the cowardice of his neighbours, or, if
he break his spear, he has not wherewithal to defend his body from
death, having only one means of defence; whereas all who are armed
with the trusty bow, though they have but one weapon, yet is it the
best; for a man, after discharging countless arrows, still has others
wherewith to defend himself from death, and standing at a distance
keeps off the enemy, wounding them for all their watchfulness with
shafts invisible, and never exposing himself to the foe, but keeping
under cover; and this is far the wisest course in battle, to harm
the enemy, if they are not stationed out of shot, and keep safe oneself.
These arguments are completely opposite to thine with regard to the
point at issue. Next, why art thou desirous of slaying these children?
What have they done to thee? One piece of wisdom credit thee with,
thy coward terror of a brave man's descendants. Still it is hard on
us, if for thy cowardice we must die; a fate that ought to have overtaken
thee at our braver hands, if Zeus had been fairly disposed towards
us. But, if thou art so anxious to make thyself supreme in the land,
let us at least go into exile; abstain from all violence, else thou
wilt suffer by it whenso the deity causes fortune's breeze to veer
round.
Ah! thou land of Cadmus,-for to thee too will I turn, upbraiding thee
with words of reproach,-is this your succour of Heracles and his children?
the man who faced alone the Minyan host in battle and allowed Thebes
to see the light with freemen's eyes. I cannot praise Hellas, nor
will I ever keep silence, finding her so craven as regards my son;
she should have come with fire and sword and warrior's arms to help
these tender babes, to requite him for all his labours in purging
land and sea. Such help, my children, neither Hellas nor the city
of Thebes affords you; to me a feeble friend ye look, that am but
empty sound and nothing more. For the vigour which once I had, is
gone from me; my limbs are palsied with age, and my strength is decayed.
Were I but young and still a man of my hands, I would have seized
my spear and dabbled those flaxen locks of his with blood, so that
the coward would now be flying from my prowes beyond the bounds of
Atlas.
LEADER Have not the brave amongst mankind a fair opening for speech,
albeit slow to begin?
LYCUS Say what thou wilt of me in thy exalted phrase, but I by deeds
will make thee rue those words. (Calling to his servants) Ho! bid
wood-cutters go, some to Helicon, others to the glens of Parnassus,
and cut me logs of oak, and when they are brought to the town, pile
up a stack of wood all round the altar on either side thereof, and
set fire to it and burn them all alive, that they may learn that the
dead no longer rules this land, but that for the present I am king.

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