LEADER Lo! where himself doth come, thy son Hippolytus, in good time;
dismiss thy hurtful rage, King Theseus, and bethink thee what is best
for thy house, (HIPPOLYTUS enters.)
HIPPOLYTUS I heard thy voice, father, and hasted to come hither;
yet know I not the cause of thy present sorrow, but would fain learn
of thee. (He sees PHAEDRA'S body.) Ha! what is this? thy wife is
dead? 'Tis very strange; it was but now I left her; a moment since
she looked upon the light. How came she thus? the manner of her death?
this would I learn of thee, father. Art dumb? silence availeth not
in trouble; nay, for the heart that fain would know all must show
its curiosity even in sorrow's hour. Be sure it is not right, father,
to hide misfortunes from those who love, ay, more than love thee.
THESEUS O ye sons of men, victims of a thousand idle errors, why
teach your countless crafts, why scheme and seek to find a way for
everything, while one thing ye know not nor ever yet have made your
prize, a way to teach them wisdom whose souls are void of sense?
HIPPOLYTUS A very master in his craft the man, who can force fools
to be wise! But these ill-timed subtleties of thine, father, make
me fear thy tongue is running wild through trouble.
THESEUS Fie upon thee! man needs should have some certain test set
up to try his friends, some touchstone of their hearts, to know each
friend whether he be true or false; all men should have two voices,
one the voice of honesty, expediency's the other, so would honesty
confute its knavish opposite, and then we could not be deceived.
HIPPOLYTUS Say, hath some friend been slandering me and hath he still
thine ear? and I, though guiltless, banned? I am amazed, for thy random,
frantic words fill me with wild alarm.
THESEUS O the mind of mortal man! to what lengths will it proceed?
What limit will its bold assurance have? for if it goes on growing
as man's life advances, and each successor outdo the man before him
in villainy, the gods will have to add another sphere unto the world,
which shall take in the knaves and villians. Behold this man; he,
my own son, hath outraged mine honour, his guilt most clearly proved
by my dead wife. Now, since thou hast dared this loathly crime, come,
look thy father in the face. Art thou the man who dost with gods consort,
as one above the vulgar herd? art thou the chaste and sinless saint?
Thy boasts will never persuade me to be guilty of attributing ignorance
to gods. Go then, vaunt thyself, and drive thy petty trade in viands
formed of lifeless food; take Orpheus for thy chief and go a-revelling,
with all honour for the vapourings of many a written scroll, seeing
thou now art caught. Let all beware, I say, of such hypocrites! who
hunt their prey with fine words, and all the while are scheming villainy.
She is dead; dost think that this will save thee? Why this convicts
thee more than all, abandoned wretch! What oaths, what pleas can outweigh
this letter, so that thou shouldst 'scape thy doom? Thou wilt assert
she hated thee, that 'twixt the bastard and the true-born child nature
has herself put war; it seems then by thy showing she made a sorry
bargain with her life, if to gratify her hate of thee she lost what
most she prized. 'Tis said, no doubt, that frailty finds no place
in man but is innate in woman; my experience is, young men are no
more secure than women, whenso the Queen of Love excites a youthful
breast; although their sex comes in to help them. Yet why do I thus
bandy words with thee, when before me lies the corpse, to be the clearest
witness? Begone at once, an exile from this land, and ne'er set foot
again in god-built Athens nor in the confines of my dominion. For
if I am tamely to submit to this treatment from such as thee, no more
will Sinis, robber of the Isthmus, bear me witness how I slew him,
but say my boasts are idle, nor will those rocks Scironian, that fringe
the sea, call me the miscreants' scourge.
LEADER I know not how to call happy any child of man; for that which
was first has turned and now is last.
HIPPOLYTUS Father, thy wrath and the tension of thy mind are terrible;
yet this charge, specious though its arguments appear, becomes a calumny,
if one lay it bare. Small skill have I in speaking to a crowd, but