thought weaker than mortal men.
O dread goddess, thine the soil whereon we stand, thine this city,
for thou art its mother, queen, and saviour; wherefore turn some other
way the impious king, who leadeth a host from Argos with brandished
lance against this land; for, such my worth, I little merit exile
from my home.
For thy worship is aye performed with many a sacrifice, and never
art thou forgotten as each month draweth to its close, when young
voices sing and dancers' music is heard abroad, while on our wind-swept
hill goes up the cry of joy to the beat of maidens' feet by night.
(The SERVANT enters.)
SERVANT Mistress, the message that I bring is very short for thee
to hear and fair for me, who stand before thee, to announce. O'er
our foes we are victorious, and trophies are being set up, with panoplies
upon them, taken from thy enemies.
ALCMENA Best of friends! this day hath wrought thy liberty by reason
of these tidings. But there still remains one anxious thought thou
dost not free me from;-a thought of fear;-are those, whose lives I
cherish, spared to me?
SERVANT They are, and high their fame through all the army spreads.
ALCMENA The old man Iolaus,-is he yet alive?
SERVANT Aye, that he is, a hero whom the gods delight to honour.
ALCMENA How so? Did he perform some deed of prowess?
SERVANT He hath passed from age to youth once more.
ALCMENA Thy tale is passing strange; but first I would that thou
shouldst tell me how our friends won the day.
SERVANT One speech of mine puts it all clearly before thee. When
we had deployed our troops and marshalled them face to face with one
another, Hyllus dismounted from his four-horsed chariot and stood
midway betwixt the hosts. Then cried he, "Captain, who art come from
Argos, why cannot we leave this land alone? No hurt wilt thou do Mycenae,
if of one man thou rob her; come! meet me in single combat. and if
thou slay me, take the children of Heracles away with thee, but, if
thou fall, leave me to possess my ancestral honours and my home."
The host cried yes! saying the scheme he offered was a fair one, both
to rid them of their trouble and satisfy their valour. But that other,
feeling no shame before those who heard the challenge or at his own
cowardice, quailed, general though he was, to come within reach of
the stubborn spear, showing himself an abject coward; yet with such
a spirit he came to enslave the children of Heracles. Then did Hyllus
withdraw to his own ranks again, and the prophets seeing that no reconciliation
would be effected by single combat, began the sacrifice without delay
and forthwith let flow from a human throat auspicious streams of blood.
And some were mounting chariots, while others couched beneath the
shelter of their shields, and the king of the Athenians, as a highborn
chieftain should, would exhort his host-"Fellow-citizens, the land,
that feeds you and that gave you birth, demands to-day the help of
every man." Likewise Eurystheus besought his allies that they should
scorn to sully the fame of Argos and Mycenae. Anon the Etrurian trumpet
sounded loud and clear, and hand to hand they rushed; then think how
loudly clashed their ringing shields, what din arose of cries and
groans confused! At first the onset of the Argive spearmen broke our
ranks; then they in turn gave ground; next, foot to foot and man to
man, they fought their stubborn fray, many falling the while. And
either chief cheered on his men, "Sons of Athens! Ye who till the
fields of Argos! ward from your land disgrace." Do all we could, and
spite of every effort, scarce could we turn the Argive line in flight.
When lo! old Iolaus sees Hyllus starting from the ranks, whereon he
lifts his hands to him with a prayer to take him up into his chariot.
Thereon he seized the reins and went hard after the horses of Eurystheus.
From this point onward must I speak from hearsay, though hitherto
as one whose own eyes saw. For as he was crossing Pallene's hill,