Iphigenia At Aulis
The sea-coast at Aulis. Enter AGAMEMNON and ATTENDANT.
AGAMEMNON Old man, come hither and stand before my dwelling.
ATTENDANT I come; what new schemes now, king Agamemnon?
AGAMEMNON Thou shalt hear.
ATTENDANT I am all eagerness. 'Tis little enough sleep old age allows
me and keenly it watches o'er my eyes.
AGAMEMNON What can that star be, steering his course yonder?
ATTENDANT Sirius, still shooting o'er the zenith on his way near
the Pleiads' sevenfold track.
AGAMEMNON The birds are still at any rate and the sea is calm; hushed
are the winds, and silence broods o'er this narrow firth.
ATTENDANT Then why art thou outside thy tent, why so restless, my
lord Agamemnon? All is yet quiet here in Aulis, the watch on the walls
is not yet astir. Let us go in.
AGAMEMNON I envy thee, old man, aye, and every man who leads a life
secure, unknown and unrenowned; but little I envy those in office.
ATTENDANT And yet 'tis there we place the be-all and end-all of existence.
AGAMEMNON Aye, but that is where the danger comes; and ambition,
sweet though it seems, brings sorrow with its near approach. At one
time the unsatisfied claims of Heaven upset our life, at another the
numerous peevish fancies of our subjects shatter it.
ATTENDANT I like not these sentiments in one who is a chief. It was
not to enjoy all blessings that Atreus begot thee, O Agamemnon; but
thou must needs experience joy and sorrow alike, mortal as thou art.
E'en though thou like it not, this is what the gods decree; but thou,
after letting thy taper spread its light abroad, writest the letter
which is still in thy hands and then erasest the same words again,
sealing and re-opening the scroll, then flinging the tablet to the
ground with floods of tears and leaving nothing undone in thy aimless
behaviour to stamp thee mad. What is it troubles thee? what news is
there affecting thee, my liege? Come, share with me thy story; to
a loyal and trusty heart wilt thou be telling it; for Tyndareus sent
me that day to form part of thy wife's dowry and to wait upon the
bride with loyalty.
AGAMEMNON Leda, the daughter of Thestius, had three children, maidens,
Phoebe, Clytaemnestra my wife, and Helen; this last it was who had
for wooers the foremost of the favoured sons of Hellas; but terrible
threats of spilling his rival's blood were uttered by each of them,
should he fail to win the maid. Now the matter filled Tyndareus, her
father, with perplexity; at length this thought occurred to him; the
suitors should swear unto each other and join right hands thereon
and pour libations with burnt sacrifice, binding themselves by this
curse, "Whoever wins the child of Tyndareus for wife, him will we
assist, in case a rival takes her from his house and goes his way,
robbing her husband of his rights; and we will march against that
man in armed array and raze his city to the ground, Hellene no less
Now when they had once pledged their word and old Tyndareus with no
small cleverness had beguiled them by his shrewd device, he allowed
his daughter to choose from among her suitors the one towards whom
the breath of love might fondly waft her. Her choice fell on Menelaus;
would she had never taken him! Anon there came to Lacedaemon from
Phrygia's folk the man who, legend says, adjudged the goddesses' dispute;
in robes of gorgeous hue, ablaze with gold, in true barbaric pomp;
and he, finding Menelaus gone from home, carried Helen off with him
to his steading on Ida, a willing paramour. Goaded to frenzy Menelaus
flew through Hellas, invoking the ancient oath exacted by Tyndareus
and declaring the duty of helping the injured husband. Whereat the
chivalry of Hellas, brandishing their spears and donning their harness,
came hither to the narrow straits of Aulis with armaments of ships
and troops, with many a steed and many a car, and they chose me to
captain them all for the sake of Menelaus, since I was his brother.
Would that some other had gained that distinction instead of me! But