CHORUS (chanting, strophe 1)
O to be nestling 'neath some pathless cavern, there by god's creating
hand to grow into a bird amid the winged tribes! Away would I soar
to Adria's wave-beat shore and to the waters of Eridanus; where a
father's hapless daughters in their grief for Phaethon distil into
the glooming flood the amber brilliance of their tears.
And to the apple-bearing strand of those minstrels in the west then
would come, where ocean's lord no more to sailors grants passage o'er
the deep dark main, finding there the heaven's holy bound, upheld
by Atlas, where water from ambrosial founts wells up beside the couch
of Zeus inside his halls, and holy earth, the bounteous mother, causes
joy to spring in heavenly breasts.
O white-winged bark, that o'er the booming ocean-wave didst bring
my royal mistress from her happy home, to crown her queen 'mongst
sorrow's brides! Surely evil omens from either port, at least from
Crete, were with that ship, what time to glorious Athens it sped its
way, and the crew made fast its twisted cable-ends upon the beach
of Munychus, and on the land stept out.
Whence comes it that her heart is crushed, cruelly afflicted by Aphrodite
with unholy love; so she by bitter grief o'erwhelmed will tie a noose
within her bridal bower to fit it to her fair white neck, to modest
for this hateful lot in life, prizing o'er all her name and fame,
and striving thus to rid her soul of passion's sting. (The NURSE
rushes out of the palace.)
NURSE Help! ho! To the rescue all who near the palace stand! She
hath hung herself, our queen, the wife of Theseus.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Woe worth the day! the deed is done; our royal
mistress is no more, dead she hangs in the dangling noose.
NURSE Haste! some one bring a two-edged knife wherewith to cut the
knot about her neck.
FIRST SEMI-CHORUS Friends, what shall we do? think you we should
enter the house, and loose the queen from the tight-drawn noose?
SECOND SEMI-CHORUS Why should we? Are there not young servants here?
To do too much is not a safe course in life.
NURSE Lay out the hapless corpse, straighten the limbs. This was
a bitter way to sit at home and keep my master's house! (She goes
LEADER OF THE CHORUS She is dead, poor lady; 'tis this I hear. Already
are they laying out the corpse. (THESEUS and his retinue have entered,
THESEUS Women, can ye tell me what the uproar in the palace means?
There came the sound of servants weeping bitterly to mine ear. None
of my household deign to open wide the gates and give me glad welcome
as traveller from prophetic shrines. Hath aught befallen old Pittheus?
No, Though he be well advanced in years, yet should I mourn, were
he to quit this house.
LEADER 'Tis not against the old, Theseus, that fate, to strike thee,
aims this blow; prepare thy sorrow for a younger corpse.
THESEUS Woe is me! is it a child's life death robs me of?
LEADER They live; but, cruellest news of all for thee, their mother
is no more.
THESEUS What! my wife dead? By what cruel stroke of chance?
LEADER About her neck she tied the hangman's knot.
THESEUS Had grief so chilled her blood? or what had befallen her?
LEADER I know but this, for I am myself but now arrived at the house
to mourn thy sorrows, O Theseus.
THESEUS Woe is me! why have I crowned my head with woven garlands,
when misfortune greets my embassage? Unbolt the doors, servants, loose
their fastenings, that I may see the piteous sight, my wife, whose
death is death to me. (The central doors of the palace open, disclosing
the corpse.) Woe! woe is thee for thy piteous lot! thou hast done