Thou art sending hell's confusion against thy house, as erst did Pallas
on Enceladus. (A MESSENGER enters from the palace.)
MESSENGER Ye hoary men of eld!
CHORUS Why, oh! why this loud address to me?
MESSENGER Awful is the sight within!
CHORUS No need for me to call another to announce that.
MESSENGER Dead lie the children.
MESSENGER Ah weep! for here is cause for weeping.
CHORUS A cruel murder, wrought by parents' hands!
MESSENGER No words can utter more than we have suffered.
CHORUS What, canst thou prove this piteous ruin was a father's outrage
on his children? Tell me how these heaven-sent woes came rushing on
the house; say how the children met their sad mischance.
MESSENGER Victims to purify the house were stationed before the altar
of Zeus, for Heracles had slain and cast from his halls the king of
the land. There stood his group of lovely children, with his sire
and Megara; and already the basket was being passed round the altar,
and we were keeping holy silence. But just as Alcmena's son was bringing
the torch in his right hand to dip it in the holy water, he stopped
without a word. And as their father lingered, his children looked
at him; and lo! he was changed; his eyes were rolling; he was distraught;
his eyeballs were bloodshot and starting from their sockets, and foam
was oozing down his bearded cheek. Anon he spoke, laughing the while
a madman's laugh, "Father, why should I sacrifice before I have slain
Eurystheus, why kindle the purifying flame and have the toil twice
over, when I might at one stroke so fairly end it all? Soon as I have
brought the head of Eurystheus hither, I will cleanse my hands for
those already slain. Spill the water, cast the baskets from your hands.
Ho! give me now my bow and club! To famed Mycenae will I go; crow-bars
and pick-axes must I take, for I will heave from their very base with
iron levers those city-walls which the Cyclopes squared with red plumb-line
and mason's tools."
Then he set out, and though he had no chariot there, he thought he
had, and was for mounting to its seat, and using a goad as though
his fingers really held one. A twofold feeling filled his servants'
breasts, half amusement, and half fear; and one looking to his neighbour
said, "Is our master making sport for us, or is he mad?" But he the
while was pacing to and fro in his house; and, rushing into the men's
chamber, he thought he had reached the city of Nisus, albeit he had
gone into his own halls. So he threw himself upon the floor, as if
he were there, and made ready to feast. But after waiting a brief
space he began saying he was on his way to the plains amid the valleys
of the Isthmus; and then stripping himself of his mantle, he fell
to competing with an imaginary rival, o'er whom he proclaimed himself
victor with his own voice, calling on imaginary spectators to listen.
Next, fancy carrying him to Mycenae, he was uttering fearful threats
against Eurystheus. Meantime his father caught him by his stalwart
arm, and thus addressed him, "My son, what meanest thou hereby? What
strange doings are these? Can it be that the blood of thy late victims
has driven thee frantic?" But he, supposing it was the father of Eurystheus
striving in abject supplication to touch his hand, thrust him aside,
and then against his own children aimed his bow and made ready his
quiver, thinking to slay the sons of Eurystheus. And they in wild
affright darted hither and thither, one to his hapless mother's skirts,
another to the shadow of a pillar, while a third cowered 'neath the
altar like a bird. Then cried their mother, "O father, what art thou
doing? dost mean to slay thy children?" Likewise his aged sire and
all the gathered servants cried aloud. But he, hunting the child round
and round, the column, in dreadful circles, and coming face to face
with him shot him to the heart; and he fell upon his back, sprinkling
the stone pillars with blood as he gasped out his life. Then did Heracles
shout for joy and boasted loud, "Here lies one of Eurystheus' brood
dead at my feet, atoning for his father's hate." Against a second