such as reach the very heart's core; affection's ties should be light
upon them to let them slip or draw them tight. For one poor heart
to grieve for twain, as I do for my mistress, is a burden sore to
bear. Men say that too engrossing pursuits in life more oft cause
disappointment than pleasure, and too oft are foes to health. Wherefore
do not praise excess so much as moderation, and with me wise men will
agree. (PHAEDRA lies back upon the couch.)
LEADER OF THE CHORUS (speaking) O aged dame, faithful nurse of Phaedra,
our queen, we see her sorry plight; but what it is that ails her we
cannot discern, so fain would learn of thee and hear thy opinion.
NURSE I question her, but am no wiser, for she will not answer.
LEADER Nor tell what source these sorrows have?
NURSE The same answer thou must take, for she is dumb on every point.
LEADER How weak and wasted is her body!
NURSE What marvel? 'tis three days now since she has tasted food.
LEADER Is this infatuation, or an attempt to die?
NURSE 'Tis death she courts; such fasting aims at ending life.
LEADER A strange story if it satisfies her husband.
NURSE She hides from him her sorrow, and vows she is not ill.
LEADER Can he not guess it from her face?
NURSE He is not now in his own country.
LEADER But dost not thou insist in thy endeavour to find out her
complaint, her mind?
NURSE I have tried every plan, and all in vain; yet not even now
will I relax my zeal, that thou too, if thou stayest, mayst witness
my devotion to my unhappy mistress. Come, come, my darling child,
let us forget, the twain of us, our former words; be thou more mild,
smoothing that sullen brow and changing the current of thy thought,
and I, if in aught before failed in humouring thee, will let that
be and find some better course. If thou art sick with ills thou canst
not name, there be women here to help to set thee right; but if thy
trouble can to men's ears be divulged, speak, that physicians may
pronounce on it. Come, then, why so dumb? Thou shouldst not so remain,
my child, but scold me if I speak amiss, or, if I give good counsel,
yield assent. One word, one look this way! Ah me! Friends, we waste
our toil to no purpose; we are as far away as ever; she would not
relent to my arguments then, nor is she yielding now. Well, grow more
stubborn than the sea, yet be assured of this, that if thou diest
thou art a traitress to thy children, for they will ne'er inherit
their father's halls, nay, by that knightly queen the Amazon who bore
a son to lord it over thine, a bastard born but not a bastard bred,
whom well thou knowest, e'en Hippolytus- (At the mention of his name
PHAEDRA'S attention is suddenly caught.)
PHAEDRA Oh! oh!
NURSE Ha! doth that touch the quick?
PHAEDRA Thou hast undone me, nurse; I do adjure by the gods, mention
that man no more.
NURSE There now! thou art thyself again, but e'en yet refusest to
aid thy children and preserve thy life.
PHAEDRA My babes I love, but there is another storm that buffets
NURSE Daughter, are thy hands from bloodshed pure?
PHAEDRA My hands are pure, but on my soul there rests a stain.
NURSE The issue of some enemy's secret witchery?
PHAEDRA A friend is my destroyer, one unwilling as myself.
NURSE Hath Theseus wronged thee in any wise?
PHAEDRA Never may I prove untrue to himl
NURSE Then what strange mystery is there that drives thee on to die?
PHAEDRA O, let my sin and me alone, 'tis not 'gainst thee I sin.
NURSE Never willingly! and, if I fail, 'twill rest at thy door.
PHAEDRA How now? thou usest force in clinging to my hand.
NURSE Yea, and I will never loose my hold upon thy knees.
PHAEDRA Alas for thee! my sorrows, shouldst thou learn them, would
recoil on thee.