ORESTES (staggering towards him from the couch) Behold the object
of thy inquiry, Menelaus; this is Orestes. To the will I of mine own
accord relate my sufferings. But as the prelude to my speech I clasp
thy knees in suppliant wise, seeking thus to tie to thee the prayer
of lips that lack the suppliant's bough; save me, for thou art arrived
at the very crisis of my trouble.
MENELAUS Ye gods! what do I see? what death's-head greets my sight?
ORESTES Thou art right; I am dead through misery, though I still
gaze upon the sun.
MENELAUS How wild the look thy unkempt hair gives thee, poor wretch!
ORESTES 'Tis not my looks, but my deeds that torture me.
MENELAUS How terribly thy tearless eyeballs glare!
ORESTES My body is vanished and gone, though my name hath not yet
MENELAUS Unsightly apparition, so different from what I expected!
ORESTES In me behold a man that hath slain his hapless mother.
MENELAUS I have heard all; be chary of thy tale of woe.
ORESTES I will; but the deity is lavish of woe to me.
MENELAUS What ails thee? what is thy deadly sickness?
ORESTES My conscience; I know that I am guilty of an awful crime.
MENELAUS Explain thyself; wisdom is shown in clearness, not in obscurity.
ORESTES 'Tis grief that is my chief complaint.
MENELAUS True; she is a goddess dire; yet are there cures for her.
ORESTES Mad transports too, and the vengeance due to a mother's blood.
MENELAUS When did thy fit begin? which day was it?
ORESTES On the day I was heaping the mound o'er my poor mother's
MENELAUS When thou wast in the house, or watching by the pyre?
ORESTES As I was waiting by night to gather up her bones.
CHORUS What news, slave of Helen, creature from Ida?
PHRYGIAN Ah me for Ilium, for Ilium, the city of Phrygia, and for
Ida's holy hill with fruitful soil! in foreign accents hear me raise
a plaintive strain over thee, whose ruin luckless Helen caused,-that
lovely child whom Leda bore to a feathered swan, to be a curse to
Apollo's towers of polished stone. Ah! well-a-day! woe to Dardania
for the wailings wrung from it by the steeds that bought his minion
Ganymede for Zeus.
CHORUS Tell us plainly exactly what happened in the house, for till
now have been guessing at what I do not clearly understand.
PHRYGIAN "Ah, for Linus! woe is him!" That is what barbarians say
in their eastern tongue as a prelude to the dirge of death, whene'er
royal blood is spilt upon the ground by deadly iron blades.
To tell thee exactly what happened: there came into the palace two
lion-like men of Hellas, twins in nature; your famous chief was sire
of one, 'twas said; the other was the son of Strophius; a crafty knave
was he, like to Odysseus, subtle, silent, but staunch to his friends,
daring enough for any valiant deed, versed in war and blood-thirsty
as a serpent. Ruin seize him for his quiet plotting, the villain!
In they came, their eyes bedimmed with tears, and took their seats
in all humility near the chair of the lady whom Paris the archer once
wedded, one on this side, one on that, to right and left, with weapons
on them; and both threw their suppliant arms round the knees of Helen;
whereon her Phrygian servants started to their feet in wild alarm,
each in his terror calling to his fellow, "Beware of treachery!" To
some there seemed no cause, but others thought that the viper who
had slain his mother, was entangling the daughter of Tyndareus in
the toils of his snare.
CHORUS And where wert thou the while? fled long before in terror?
PHRYGIAN It happened that I, in Phrygian style, was wafting the breeze
past Helen's curls with a round feather-fan, stationed before her
face; and she the while, as eastern ladies use, was twisting flax
on her distaff with her fingers, but letting her yarn fall on the
floor, for she was minded to embroider purple raiment as an offering