to tell? of all the lions, Typhons triple-bodied, and giants that
I slew; or of the battle I won against the hosts of four-legged Centaurs?
or how when I had killed the hydra, that monster with a ring of heads
with power to grow again, I passed through countless other toils besides
and came unto the dead to fetch to the light at the bidding of Eurystheus
the three-headed hound, hell's porter. Last, ah, woe is me have I
perpetrated this bloody deed to crown the sorrows of my house with
my children's murder. To this sore strait am I come; no longer may
I dwell in Thebes, the city that I love; for suppose I stay, to what
temple or gathering of friends shall I repair? For mine is no curse
that invites address. Shall I to Argos? how can I, when I am an exile
from my country? Well, is there a single other city I can fly to?
And if there were, am I to be looked at askance as a marked man, branded
by cruel stabbing tongues, "Is not this the son of Zeus that once
murdered wife and children? Plague take him from the land!"
Now to one who was erst called happy, such changes are a grievous
thing; though he who is always unfortunate feels no such pain, for
sorrow is his birthright. This, methinks, is the piteous pass I shall
one day come to; for earth will cry out forbidding me to touch her,
the sea and the river-springs will refuse me a crossing, and I shall
become like Ixion who revolves in chains upon that wheel. Wherefore
this is best, that henceforth I be seen by none of the Hellenes, amongst
whom in happier days I lived in bliss. What right have I to live?
what profit can I have in the possession of a useless, impious life?
So let that noble wife of Zeus break forth in dancing, beating with
buskined foot on heaven's bright floor; for now hath she worked her
heart's desire in utterly confounding the chiefest of Hellas' sons.
Who would pray to such a goddess? Her jealousy of Zeus for his love
of a woman hath destroyed the benefactors of Hellas, guiltless though
LEADER OF THE CHORUS This is the work of none other of the gods than
the wife of Zeus; thou art right in that surmise.
THESEUS I cannot counsel you to die rather than to go on suffering.
There is not a man alive that hath wholly 'scaped misfortune's taint,
nor any god either, if what poets sing is true. Have they not intermarried
in ways that law forbids? Have they not thrown fathers into ignominious
chains to gain the sovereign power? Still they inhabit Olympus and
brave the issue of their crimes. And yet what shalt thou say in thy
defence, if thou, child of man, dost kick against the pricks of fate,
while they do not? Nay, then, leave Thebes in compliance with the
law, and come with me to the city of Pallas. There, when I have purified
thee of thy pollution, will I give thee temples and the half of all
I have. Yea, I will give thee all those presents I received from the
citizens for saving their children, seven sons and daughters seven,
on the day I slew the bull of Crete; for I have plots of land assigned
me throughout the country; these shall henceforth be called after
thee by men, whilst thou livest; and at thy death, when thou art gone
to Hades' halls, the city of Athens shall unite in exalting thy honour
with sacrifices and a monument of stone. For 'tis a noble crown for
citizens to win from Hellas, even a reputation fair, by helping a
man of worth. This is the return that I will make thee for saving
me, for now art thou in need of friends. But when heaven delights
to honour a man, he has no need of friends; for the god's aid, when
he chooses to give it, is enough.
HERACLES Alas! this is quite beside the question of my troubles.
For my part, I do not believe that the gods indulge in unholy unions;
and as for putting fetters on parents' hands, I have never thought
that worthy of belief, nor will I now be so persuaded, nor again that
one god is naturally lord and master of another. For the deity, if
he be really such, has no wants; these are miserable fictions of the
poets. But I, for all my piteous plight, reflected whether I should
let myself be branded as a coward for giving up my life. For whoso
schooleth not his frail mortal nature to bear fate's buffets as he
ought, will never be able to withstand even a man's weapon. I will