let the pearly nail be stained red, as it rends your cheeks, let your
skin be streaked with gore; for honours rendered to the dead are credit
to the living.
Sorrow's charm doth drive me wild, insatiate, painful, endless, even
as the trickling stream that gushes from some steep rock's face; for
'tis woman's way to fall a-weeping o'er the cruel calamity of children
dead. Ah me! would I could die and forget my anguish (THESEUS and
his retinue enter.)
THESEUS What is this lamentation that I hear, this beating of the
breast, these dirges for the dead, with cries that echo from this
shrine? How fluttering fear disquiets me, lest haply my mother have
gotted some mischance, in quest of whom I come, for she hath been
long absent from home. Ha! what now? A strange sight challenges my
speech; I see my aged mother sitting at the altar and stranger dames
are with her, who in various note proclaim their woe; from aged eyes
the piteous tear is starting to the ground, their hair is shorn, their
robes are not the robes of joy. What means it, mother? 'Tis thine
to make it plain to me, mine to listen; yea, for I expect some tidings
AETHRA My son, these are the mothers of those chieftains seven, who
fell around the gates of Cadmus' town. With suppliant boughs they
keep me prisoner, as thou seest, in their midst.
THESEUS And who is yonder man, that moaneth piteously in the gateway?
AETHRA Adrastus, they inform me, king of Argos.
THESEUS Are those his children, those boys who stand round him?
AETHRA Not his, but the sons of the fallen slain.
THESEUS Why are they come to us, with suppliant hand outstretched?
AETHRA I know; but 'tis for them to tell their story, my son.
THESEUS To thee, in thy mantle muffled, I address my inquiries; thy
head, let lamentation be, and speak; for naught can be achieved save
through the utterance of thy tongue.
ADRASTUS (rising) Victorious prince of the Athenian realm, Theseus,
to thee and to thy city I, a suppliant, come.
THESEUS What seekest thou? What need is thine?
ADRASTUS Dost know how I did lead an expedition to its ruin?
THESEUS Assuredly; thou didst not pass through Hellas, all in silence.
ADRASTUS There I lost the pick of Argos' sons.
THESEUS These are the results of that unhappy war.
ADRASTUS I went and craved their bodies from Thebes.
THESEUS Didst thou rely on heralds, Hermes' servants, in order to
ADRASTUS I did; and even then their slayers said me nay.
THESEUS Why, what say they to thy just request?
ADRASTUS Say! Success makes them forget how to bear their fortune.
THESEUS Art come to me then for counsel? or wherefore?
ADRASTUS With the wish that thou, O Theseus, shouldst recover the
sons of the Argives.
THESEUS Where is your Argos now? were its vauntings all in vain?
ADRASTUS Defeat and ruin are our lot. To thee for aid we come.
THESEUS Is this thy own private resolve, or the wish of all the city?
ADRASTUS The sons of Danaus, one and all, implore thee to bury the
THESEUS Why didst lead thy seven armies against Thebes?
ADRASTUS To confer that favour on the husbands of my daughters twain.
THESEUS To which of the Argives didst thou give thy daughters in
ADRASTUS I made no match for them with kinsmen of my family.
THESEUS What! didst give Argive maids to foreign lords?
ADRASTUS Yea, to Tydeus, and to Polyneices, who was Theban-born
THESEUS What induced thee to select this alliance?
ADRASTUS Dark riddles of Phoebus stole away my judgment.
THESEUS What said Apollo to determine the maidens' marriage?
ADRASTUS That I should give my daughters twain to a wild boar and