Dear friends, while our visitor is saying his farewell to the
captive girls in the house, I have stolen forth to you,- partly to
tell you what these hands have devised, and partly to crave your
sympathy with my sorrow.
A maiden,- or, methinks, no longer a maiden, but a mistress,- hath
found her way into my house, as a freight comes to a mariner,- a
merchandise to make shipwreck of my peace. And now we twain are to
share the same marriage-bed, the same embrace. Such is the reward that
Heracles hath sent me,- he whom I called true and loyal,- for guarding
his home through all that weary time. I have no thought of anger
against him, often as he is vexed with this distemper. But then to
live with her, sharing the same union- what woman could endure it? For
I see that the flower of her age is blossoming, while mine is
fading; and the eyes of men love to cull the bloom of youth, but
they turn aside from the old. This, then, is my fear,- lest
Heracles, in name my spouse, should be the younger's mate.
But, as I said, anger ill beseems a woman of understanding. I will
tell you, friends, the way by which I hope to find deliverance and
relief. I had a gift, given to me long ago by a monster of olden time,
aid stored in an urn of bronze; a gift which, while yet a girl, I took
up from the shaggy-breasted Nessus,- from his life-blood, as he lay
dying; Nessus, who used to carry men in his arms across the deep
waters of the Evenus, using no oar to waft them, nor sail of ship.
I, too, was carried on his shoulders,- when, by my father's
sending, first went forth with Heracles as his wife; and when I was in
mid-stream, he touched me with wanton hands. I shrieked; the son of
Zeus turned quickly round, and shot a feathered arrow; it whizzed
through his breast to the lungs; and, in his mortal faintness, thus
much the Centaur spake:-
'Child of aged Oeneus, thou shalt have at least this profit of
my ferrying,- if thou wilt hearken,-because thou wast the last whom
I conveyed. If thou gatherest with thy hands the blood clotted round
my wound, at the place where the Hydra, Lerna's monstrous growth, hath
tinged the arrow with black gall,- this shall be to thee a charm for
the soul of Heracles, so that he shall never look upon any woman to
love her more than thee.'
I bethought me of this, my friends- for, after his death, I had
kept it carefully locked up in a secret place; and I have anointed
this robe, doing everything to it as he enjoined while he lived. The
work is finished. May deeds of wicked daring be ever far from my
thoughts, and from my knowledge,- as I abhor the women who attempt
them! But if in any wise I may prevail against this girl by
love-spells and charms used on Heracles, the means to that end are
ready;-unless, indeed, I seem to be acting rashly: if so, I will
Nay, if these measures give any ground of confidence, we think
that thy design is not amiss.
Well, the ground stands thus,- there is a fair promise; but I have
not yet essayed the proof.
Nay, knowledge must come through action; thou canst have no test
which is not fanciful, save by trial.
Well, we shall know presently:- for there I see the man already at
the doors; and he will soon be going.- Only may my secret be well kept
by you! While thy deeds are hidden, even though they be not seemly,
thou wilt never be brought to shame.
(LICHAS enters from the house.)
What are thy commands? Give me my charge, daughter of Oeneus;
for already I have tarried over long.