Yea, and oft o'er woman's wayward nature settles a feeling of miserable
helplessness, arising from pains of child-birth or of passionate desire.
I, too, have felt at times this sharp thrill shoot through me, but
I would cry to Artemis, queen of archery, who comes from heaven to
aid us in our travail, and thanks to heaven's grace she ever comes
at my call with welcome help. Look! where the aged nurse is bringing
her forth from the house before the door, while on her brow the cloud
of gloom is deepening. My soul longs to learn what is her grief, the
canker that is wasting our queen's fading charms. (PHAEDRA is led
out and placed upon a couch by the NURSE and attendants. The following
lines between the NURSE and PHAEDRA are chanted.)
NURSE O, the ills of mortal men! the cruel diseases they endure!
What can I do for thee? from what refrain? Here is the bright sunlight,
here the azure sky; lo! we have brought thee on thy bed of sickness
without the palace; for all thy talk was of coming hither, but soon
back to thy chamber wilt thou hurry. Disappointment follows fast with
thee, thou hast no joy in aught for long; the present has no power
to please; on something absent next thy heart is set. Better be sick
than tend the sick; the first is but a single ill, the last unites
mental grief with manual toil. Man's whole life is full of anguish;
no respite from his woes he finds; but if there is aught to love beyond
this life, night's dark pall doth wrap it round. And so we show our
mad love of this life because its light is shed on earth, and because
we know no other, and have naught revealed to us of all our earth
may hide; and trusting to fables we drift at random.
PHAEDRA (wildly) Lift my body, raise my head! My limbs are all unstrung,
kind friends. O handmaids, lift my arms, my shapely arms. The tire
on my head is too heavy for me to wear; away with it, and let my tresses
o'er my shoulders fall.
Be of good heart, dear child; toss not so wildly to and fro. Lie still,
be brave, so wilt thou find thy sickness easier to bear; suffering
for mortals is nature's iron law.
PHAEDRA Ah! would I could draw a draught of water pure from some
dew-fed spring, and lay me down to rest in the grassy meadow 'neath
the poplar's shade!
NURSE My child, what wild speech is this? O say not such things in
public, wild whirling words of frenzy bred!
PHAEDRA Away to the mountain take me! to the wood, to the pine-trees
will go, where hounds pursue the prey, hard on the scent of dappled
fawns. Ye gods! what joy to hark them on, to grasp the barbed dart,
to poise Thessalian hunting-spears close to my golden hair, then let
NURSE Why, why, my child, these anxious cares? What hast thou to
do with the chase? Why so eager for the flowing spring, when hard
by these towers stands a hill well watered, whence thou may'st freely
PHAEDRA O Artemis, who watchest o'er sea-beat Limna and the race-course
thundering to the horse's hoofs, would I were upon thy plains curbing
NURSE Why betray thy frenzy in these wild whirling words? Now thou
wert for hasting hence to the hills away to hunt wild beasts, and
now thy yearning is to drive the steed over the waveless sands. This
needs a cunning seer to say what god it is that reins thee from the
course, distracting thy senses, child.
PHAEDRA (more sanely) Ah me! alas! what have I done? Whither have
I strayed, my senses leaving? Mad, mad! stricken by some demon's curse!
Woe is me! Cover my head again, nurse. Shame fills me for the words
I have spoken. Hide me then; from my eyes the tear-drops stream, and
for very shame I turn them away. 'Tis painful coming to one's senses
again, and madness, evil though it be, has this advantage, that one
has no knowledge of reason's overthrow.
NURSE There then I cover thee; but when will death hide my body in
the grave? Many a lesson length of days is teaching me. Yea, mortal
men should pledge themselves to moderate friendships only, not to