have few to witness it. I knew my sickly passion now; to yield to
it I saw how infamous; and more, I learnt to know so well that I was
but woman, a thing the world detests. Curses, hideous curses on that
wife who first did shame her marriage-vow for lovers other than her
lord! 'Twas from noble families this curse began to spread among our
sex. For when the noble countenance disgrace, poor folk of course
will think that it is right. Those too I hate who make profession
of purity, though in secret reckless sinners. How can these, queen
Cypris, ocean's child, e'er look their husbands in the face? do they
never feel one guilty thrill that their accomplice, night, or the
chambers of their house will find a voice and speak? This it is that
calls on me to die, kind friends, that so I may ne'er be found to
have disgraced my lord, or the children I have borne; no! may they
grow up and dwell in glorious Athens, free to speak and act, heirs
to such fair fame as a mother can bequeath. For to know that father
or mother has sinned doth turn the stoutest heart to slavishness.
This alone, men say, can stand the buffets of life's battle, a just
and virtuous soul in whomsoever found. For time unmasks the villain
soon or late, holding up to them a mirror as to some blooming maid.
'Mongst such may I be never seen!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Now look! how fair is chastity however viewed,
whose fruit is good repute amongst men.
NURSE My queen, 'tis true thy tale of woe, but lately told, did for
the moment strike me with wild alarm, but now I do reflect upon my
foolishness; second thoughts are often best even with men. Thy fate
is no uncommon nor past one's calculations; thou art stricken by the
passion Cypris sends. Thou art in love; what wonder? so are many more.
Wilt thou, because thou lov'st, destroy thyself? 'Tis little gain,
I trow, for those who love or yet may love their fellows, if death
must be their end; for though the Love-Queen's onset in her might
is more than man can bear, yet doth she gently visit yielding hearts,
and only when she finds a proud unnatural spirit, doth she take and
mock it past belief. Her path is in the sky, and mid the ocean's surge
she rides; from her all nature springs; she sows the seeds of love,
inspires the warm desire to which we sons of earth all owe our being.
They who have aught to do with books of ancient scribes, or themselves
engage in studious pursuits, know how Zeus of Semele was enamoured,
how the bright-eyed goddess of the Dawn once stole Cephalus to dwell
in heaven for the love she bore him; yet these in heaven abide nor
shun the gods' approach, content, I trow, to yield to their misfortune.
Wilt thou refuse to yield? thy sire, it seems, should have begotten
thee on special terms or with different gods for masters, if in these
laws thou wilt not acquiesce. How many, prithee, men of sterling sense,
when they see their wives unfaithful, make as though they saw it not?
How many fathers, when their sons have gone astray, assist them in
their amours? 'Tis part of human wisdom to conceal the deed of shame.
Nor should man aim at too great refinement in his life; for they cannot
with exactness finish e'en the roof that covers in a house; and how
dost thou, after falling into so deep a pit, think to escape? Nay,
if thou hast more of good than bad, thou wilt fare exceeding well,
thy human nature considered. O cease, my darling child, from evil
thoughts, let wanton pride be gone, for this is naught else, this
wish to rival gods in perfectness. Face thy love; 'tis heaven's will
thou shouldst. Sick thou art, yet turn thy sickness to some happy
issue. For there are charms and spells to soothe the soul; surely
some cure for thy disease will be found. Men, no doubt, might seek
it long and late if our women's minds no scheme devise.
LEADER Although she gives thee at thy present need the wiser counsel,
Phaedra, yet do I praise thee. Still my praise may sound more harsh
and jar more cruelly on thy ear than her advice.
PHAEDRA 'Tis even this, too plausible a tongue, that overthrows good
governments and homes of men. We should not speak to please the ear
but point the path that leads to noble fame.
NURSE What means this solemn speech? Thou needst not rounded phrases,-but