Euripides - 410 BC
Helen (wife of Menelaus) Teucer (Greek warrior, who fought at Troy)
Chorus of captive Greek women attending Helen, Menelaus (King of Sparta)
Portress of Theoclymenus, Messenger, second messenger, Theonoe (sister of
Theoclymenus) Theoclymenus (King of Egypt) Servants of Theoclymenus, The
Dioscuri, Guards, attendants, etc.
(SCENE:-Before the palace of THEOCLYMENUS in Egypt. It is near the
mouth of the Nile. The tomb of Proteus, the father of THEOCLYMENUS
is visible. HELEN is discovered alone before the tomb.)
Lo! These are the fair virgin streams of Nile, the river that
waters Egypt's tilth, fed by pure melting snow instead of rain from
heaven. Proteus during his life-time was king of this land, dwelling
in the isle of Pharos, and ruling o'er Egypt; and he took to wife
one of the daughters of the sea, Psamathe, after she left the embraces
of Aeacus. Two children she bare in this his palace, a son
Theoclymenus, who hath passed his life in duteous service to the gods,
and likewise a noble daughter, her mother's pride, called Eido in
her infancy, but when she reached her youthful prime, the age for
wedded joys, renamed Theonoe; for well she knew whate'er the gods
design, both present and to come, for she had won this guerdon from
her grandsire Nereus. Nor is my fatherland unknown to fame, e'en
Sparta, or my sire Tyndareus; for a legend tells how Zeus winged his
way to my mother Leda's breast, in the semblance of a bird, even a
swan, and thus as he fled from an eagle's pursuit, achieved by guile
his amorous purpose, if this tale be true. My name is Helen, and I
will now recount the sorrows I have suffered. To a hollow vale on
Ida came three goddesses to Paris, for beauty's prize contending, Hera
and Cypris, and the virgin child of Zeus, eager to secure his
verdict on their loveliness. Now Cypris held out my beauty,-if aught
so wretched deserves that name,-as a bride before the eyes of Paris,
saying he should marry me; and so she won the day; wherefore the
shepherd of Ida left his steading, and came to Sparta, thinking to win
me for his bride. But Hera, indignant at not defeating the
goddesses, brought to naught my marriage with Paris, and gave to
Priam's princely son not Helen, but a phantom endowed with life,
that she made in my image out of the breath of heaven; and Paris
thought that I was his, although I never was,-an idle fancy! Moreover,
the counsels of Zeus added further troubles unto these; for upon the
land of Hellas and the hapless Phrygians he brought a war, that he
might lighten mother-earth of her myriad hosts of men, and to the
bravest of the sons of Hellas bring renown. So I was set up as a prize
for all the chivalry of Hellas, to test the might of Phrygia, yet
not I, but my name alone; for Hermes caught me up in the embracing
air, and veiled me in a cloud; for Zeus was not unmindful of me; and
he set me down here in the house of Proteus, judging him to be the
most virtuous of all mankind; that so I might preserve my marriage
with Menelaus free from taint. Here then I abide, while my hapless
lord has gathered an army, and is setting out for the towers of
Ilium to track and recover me. And there by Scamander's streams hath
many a life breathed out its last, and all for me; and I, that have
endured all this, am accursed, and seem to have embroiled all Hellas
in a mighty war by proving a traitress to my husband. Why, then, do
I prolong my life? Because I heard Hermes declare, that I should yet
again make my home on Sparta's glorious soil, with my lord,-for Hermes
knew I never went to Ilium,-that so I might never submit to any
other's wooing. Now as long as Proteus gazed upon yon glorious sun,
I was safe from marriage; but when o'er him the dark grave closed, the
dead man's son was eager for my hand. But I, from regard to my
former husband, am throwing myself down in suppliant wise before
this tomb of Proteus, praying him to guard my husband's honour,
that, though through Hellas I bear a name dishonoured, at least my
body here may not incur disgrace.
Who is lord and master of this fenced palace? The house is one I
may compare to the halls of Plutus, with its royal bulwarks and
towering buildings. Ha! great gods! what sight is here? I see the
counterfeit of that fell murderous dame, who ruined me and all the
Achaeans. May Heaven show its loathing for thee, so much dost thou
resemble Helen! Were I not standing on a foreign soil, with this
well-aimed shaft had worked thy death, thy reward for resembling the
daughter of Zeus.
Oh! why, poor man, whoe'er thou art, dost thou turn from me,
loathing me for those troubles Helen caused?
I was wrong; I yielded to my anger more than I ought; my reason
was, the hate all Hellas bears to that daughter of Zeus. Pardon me,
lady, for the words I uttered.
Who art thou? whence comest thou to visit this land?
One of those hapless Achaeans am I, lady.
No wonder then that thou dost bate Helen. But say, who art thou?
Whence comest? By what name am I to call thee?
My name is Teucer; my sire was Telamon, and Salamis is the land
Then why art thou visiting these meadows by the Nile?
A wanderer I, an exile from my native land.
Thine must be a piteous lot; who from thy country drives thee out?
My father Telamon. Couldst find a nearer and a dearer?
But why? This case is surely fraught with woe.
The death of Ajax my brother at Troy was my ruin.
How so? surely 'twas not thy sword that stole his life away?
He threw himself on his own blade and died.
Was he mad? for who with sense endowed would bring himself to
Dost thou know aught of Achilles. son of Peleus?
He came, so I have heard, to woo Helen once.
When he died, he left his arms for his comrades to contest.
Well, if he did, what harm herein to Ajax?
When another won these arms, to himself he put an end.
Art thou then a sufferer by woes that he inflicted?
Yes, because I did not join him in his death.
So thou camest, sir stranger, to Ilium's famous town?
Aye, and, after helping to sack it, myself did learn what ruin
Is Troy already fired and utterly by flames consumed?
Yea, so that not so much as one vestige of her walls is now to
Woe is thee, poor Helen! thou art the cause of Phrygia's ruin.
And of Achaea's too. Ah! 'tis a tale of grievous misery!
How long is it since the city was sacked?
Nigh seven fruitful seasons have come and gone.
And how much longer did ye abide in Troy?
Many a weary month, till through ten full years the moon had
held her course.
And did ye capture that Spartan dame?
Menelaus caught her by the hair, and was for dragging her away.
Didst thou thyself behold that unhappy one? or art thou speaking
As plain as I now see thee, I then saw her.
Consider whether ye were but indulging an idle fancy sent by
Bethink thee of some other topic; no more of her!
Are you so sure this fancy was reliable?
With these eyes I saw her face to face, if so be I see thee now.
Hath Menelaus reached his home by this time with his wife?
No; he is neither in Argos, nor yet by the streams of Eurotas.
Ah me! here is evil news for those to whom thou art telling it.
'Tis said he disappeared with his wife.
Did not all the Argives make the passage together?
Yes: but a tempest scattered them in every direction.
In what quarter of the broad ocean?
They were crossing the Aegean in mid channel.
And after that, doth no man know of Menelaus' arrival?
No; none; but through Hellas is he reported to be dead.
Then am I lost. Is the daughter of Thestius alive?
Dost speak of Leda? She is dead; aye, dead and gone.
Was it Helen's shame that caused her death?
Aye, 'tis said she tied the noose about her noble neck.
Are the sons of Tyndareus still alive or not?
Dead, and yet alive: 'tis a double story.
Which is the more credible report? Woe is me for my sorrows!
Men say that they are gods in the likeness of stars.
That is happy news; but what is the other rumour?
That they by self-inflicted wounds gave up the ghost because of
their sister's shame. But enough of such talk! I have no wish to
multiply my griefs. The reason of my coming to this royal palace was a
wish to see that famous prophetess Theonoe. Do thou the means
afford, that I from her may obtain an oracle how I shall steer a
favourable course to the sea-girt shores of Cyprus; for there Apollo
hath declared my home shall be, giving to it the name of Salamis, my
island home, in honour of that fatherland across the main.
That shall the voyage itself explain, sir stranger; but do thou
leave these shores and fly, ere the son of Proteus, the ruler of
this land, catch sight of thee. Now is he away with his trusty
hounds tracking his savage quarry to the death; for every stranger
that he catcheth from the land of Hellas doth he slay. His reason
never ask to know; my lips are sealed; for what could word of mine
Lady, thy words are fair. Heaven grant thee a fair requital for
this kindness! For though in form thou dost resemble Helen, thy soul
is not like hers, nay, very different. Perdition seize her! May she
never reach the streams of Eurotas! But thine be joy for evermore,
(TEUCER departs. The CHORUS OF CAPTIVE GREEK WOMEN enter. They
sing responsively with HELEN.)
Ah me! what piteous dirge shall I strive to utter, now that I am
beginning my strain of bitter lamentation? What Muse shall I
approach with tears or songs of death or woe? Ah me! ye Sirens,
Earth's virgin daughters, winged maids, come, oh! come to aid my
mourning, bringing with you the Libyan flute or pipe, to waft to
Persephone's ear a tearful plaint, the echo of my sorrow, with grief
for grief, and mournful chant for chant, with songs of death and
doom to match my lamentation, that in return she may receive from
me, besides my tears, dirges for the departed dead beneath her
Beside the deep-blue water I chanced to be hanging purple robes
along the tendrils green and on the sprouting reeds, to dry them in
the sun-god's golden blaze, when lo! I heard a sound of woe, a
mournful wail, the voice of one crying aloud in her anguish; yea, such
a cry of woe as Naiad nymph might send ringing o'er the hills, while
to her cry the depths of rocky grots re-echo her screams at the
violence of Pan.
Woe! woe! ye maids of Hellas, booty of barbarian sailors! one hath
come, an Achaean mariner, bringing fresh tears to me, the news of
Ilium's overthrow, how that it is left to the mercy of the foeman's
flame, and all for me the murderess, or for my name with sorrow
fraught. While for anguish at my deed of shame, hath Leda sought her
death by hanging; and on the deep, to weary wandering doomed my lord
hath met his end; and Castor and his brother, twin glory of their
native land, are vanished from men's sight, leaving the plains that
shook to their galloping steeds, and the course beside reed-fringed
Eurotas, where those youthful athletes strove.
Ah, misery! Alas! for thy grievous destiny! Woe for thy sad lot,
lady! Ah! 'twas a day of sorrow meted out for thee when Zeus came
glancing through the sky on snowy pinions like a swan and won thy
mother's heart. What evil is not thine? Is there a grief in life
that thou hast not endured? Thy mother is dead; the two dear sons of
Zeus have perished miserably, and thou art severed from thy
country's sight, while through the towns of men a rumour runs,
consigning thee, my honoured mistress, to a barbarian's bed; and
'mid the ocean waves thy lord hath lost his life, and never, never
more shalt thou fill with joy thy father's halls or Athena's temple of
the "Brazen House."
Ah! who was that Phrygian, who was he, that felled that pine
with sorrow fraught for Ilium, and for those that came from Hellas?
Hence it was that Priam's son his cursed barque did build, and sped by
barbarian oars sailed unto my home, in quest of beauty, woman's curse,
to win me for his bride; and with him sailed the treacherous queen
of Love, on slaughter bent, with death alike for Priam's sons, and
Danai too. Ah me! for my hard lot! Next, Hera, stately bride of
Zeus, seated on her golden throne, sent the son of Maia, swift of
foot, who caught me up as I was gathering fresh rose-buds in the folds
of my robe, that I might go to the "Brazen House," and bore me
the air to this loveless land, making me an object of unhappy strife
'twixt Hellas and the race of Priam. And my name is but a sound
without reality beside the streams of Simois.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Well I know thou hast a bitter lot to bear; still 'tis best to
bear as lightly as we may the ills that life is heir to.
Good friends, to what a fate am I united? Did not my mother bear
me to be a monster to the world? For no woman, Hellene or barbarian,
gives birth to babes in eggs inclosed, as they say Leda bare me to
Zeus. My life and all I do is one miracle, partly owing to Hera, and
partly is my beauty to blame. Would God I could rub my beauty out like
a picture, and assume hereafter in its stead a form less comely, and
oh! that Hellas had forgotten the evil fate that now I bear, and
were now remembering my career of honour as surely as they do my deeds
of shame. Now, if a man doth turn his eyes to a single phase of
fortune, and meets ill-usage at heaven's hands, 'tis hard no doubt;
but still it can be borne; but I in countless troubles am involved.
First, although I never sinned, my good name is gone. And this is a
grief beyond the reality, if a man incurs blame for sins that are
not his. Next, have the gods removed me from my native land, to
dwell with men of barbarous ways, and reft of every friend, I arn
become a slave though free by birth; for amongst barbarians all are
slaves but one. And the last anchor that held my fortunes, the hope
that my husband would return one day, and rid me of my woes, is now no
more, lost since the day he died. My mother too is dead, and I am
called her murderess, unjustly it is true, but still that injustice is
mine to bear; and she that was the glory of my house, my darling
child, is growing old and grey, unwedded still; and those twin
brethren, called the sons of Zeus, are now no more. But 'tis
fortune, not my own doing, that hath crushed me with sorrow and
slain me. And this is the last evil of all; if ever I come to my
native land. they will shut me up in prison, thinking me that Helen of
Ilium, in quest of whom Menelaus came thither. Were my husband still
alive, we might have recognized each other, by having recourse to
tokens which ourselves alone would know. But now this may not be,
nor is there any chance of his escape. Why then do I prolong my
life? What fortune have I still in store? Shall I choose marriage as
an alternative of evils, and dwell with a barbarian lord, seated at
his sumptuous board? No! when a husband she loathes is mated with a
woman, even life is loathly to her. Best for her to die; but how shall
I die a noble death? The dangling noose is an uncomely end; even
slaves consider it disgrace; to stab oneself hath something fair
and. noble in it; 'tis a small thing that moment of ridding the
flesh of life. Yes, it must be; I am plunged so deep in misery; for
that beauty, which to other women is a boon, to me hath been a very
Helen, never believe that the stranger, whoe'er he was that
came, has spoken naught but truth.
Yet he said so clearly that my lord was dead.
There is much that falsehood seems to make quite clear.
The word of truth hath a very different sound to falsehood.
Thou art inclined to misfortune, rather than to luck.
Fear girds me with terrors as with a garment, and takes me in
What friends hast thou within the palace?
All are my friends here save him who seeks to wed-me.
Thy action then is clear; leave thy seat at the tomb.
To what words or advice art thou leading up?
Go in and question the daughter of the ocean Nereid, who knoweth
all things, even Theonoe, whether thy husband is still alive, or
whether he hath left the light of day; and when thou knowest for
certain, be glad or sorrowful, as fits thy fortune. But before thou
hast right knowledge, what shall sorrow avail thee? Nay, hearken to
me; leave this tomb and seek the maiden's company, that she may tell
thee the truth, for from her shalt thou learn all. If thou abide
here in this seat, what prospect hast thou? And I will myself go in
with thee, and with thee inquire of the maiden's oracles; for 'tis a
woman's bounden duty to share a sister's trouble.
(The following lines are chanted responsively by HELEN and the
Kind friends, I welcome your advice. Come in, come in, that ye may
learn the result of my struggle within the palace.
Thy invitation comes to very willing ears.
Woe for this heavy day! Ah me! what mournful tidings shall hear?
Dear mistress mine, be not a prophetess of sorrow, forestalling
What is the fate of my poor husband? Doth he still behold the
light turning towards the sun-god's chariot and the stars in their
courses? Or among the dead, beneath the earth, is he to death
Of the future take a brighter view, whatever shall betide.
On thee I call, and thee adjure, Eurotas green with river-reeds,
to tell me if this rumour of my husband's death be true.
What boots this meaningless appeal?
About my neck will I fasten the deadly noose from above, or
drive the murderous knife with self-aimed thrust deep into my throat
to sever it, striving to cut my flesh, a sacrifice to those
goddesses three and to that son of Priam, who in days gone by would
wake the music of his pipe around his steading.
Oh may sorrow be averted otherwhither, and thou be blest!
Woe is thee, unhappy Troy! Thou through deeds not done by the
art ruined, and hast suffered direst woe; for the gift that Cypris
gave to me, hath caused a sea of blood to flow, and many an eye to
weep, with grief on grief and tear on tear. All this hath Ilium
suffered and mothers have lost their children; and virgin sisters of
the slain have cut off their tresses by the swollen tide of Phrygian
Scamander. And the land of Hellas hath lifted her voice of woe and
broken forth in wailing, smiting on her head, and making tender cheeks
to stream with gore beneath the rending nail. Ah blest maid
Callisto, who long ago in Arcady didst find favour with Zeus, in the
semblance of beast four-footed, how much happier was thy lot than my
mother's, for thou hast changed the burden of thy grief and now with
savage eye art weeping o'er thy shaggy monster-shape; aye, and hers
was a happier lot, whom on a day Artemis drove from her choir, changed
to a hind with horns of gold, the fair Titanian maid, daughter of
Merops, because of her beauty; but my fair form hath proved the
curse of Dardan Troy and doomed Achaea's sons.
(HELEN and the CHORUS go into the palace. After the doors have
closed upon them, MENELAUS enters. He is alone and clad in rags.)
Ah! Pelops, easy victor long ago o'er thy rival Oenomaus in the
chariot-race on Pisa's plain, would thou hadst ended thy career
amongst the gods that day thou wert beguiled into making a banquet for
them, or ever thou hadst begotten my father Atreus, to whom were
born by Aerope his wife, Agamemnon and myself Menelaus, an illustrious
pair; and herein I make no idle boast, for 'twas a mighty host, I
trow, that I their leader carried o'er the sea to Troy, using no
violence to make them follow me, but leading all the chivalry of
Hellas by voluntary consent. And some of these must we number 'mid the
slain, and some to their joy have 'scaped the sea, bearing to their
homes again names long reckoned dead. But I, poor wretch, go wandering
o'er grey Ocean's swell a weary space, long as that which saw me
sick the towers of Ilium; and for all my longing to reach my country I
am not counted worthy of this boon by heaven, but to Libya's desert
cheerless roadsteads have I sailed, to each and all of them; and
whensoe'er I draw me near my native land, the storm-wind drives me
back again, and never yet have favouring breezes filled my sails, to
let me reach my fatherland. And now a wretched, shipwrecked mariner,
my friends all lost, am I cast up upon this shore; and my ship is
shattered in a thousand pieces against the rocks; and its keel was
wrested from its cunning fastenings; thereon did I with difficulty
escape, most unexpectedly, and Helen also, for her had I rescued
from Troy and had with me. But the name of this country and its people
I know not; for I blushed to mingle with the crowd to question them,
anxious for very shame to hide my misfortunes which reduce me to these
sorry rags. For when a man of high degree meets with adversity, he
feels the strangeness of his fallen state more keenly than a
sufferer of long standing. Dire want is wasting me; for I have neither
food, nor raiment to gird myself withal; behold the facts before you
to judge from-I am clad in tatters cast up from the ship; while all
the robes I once did wear, glorious attire and ornaments, bath the sea
swallowed; and in a cavern's deep recesses have I hidden my wife,
the cause of all my trouble, and have come hither, after straitly
charging the survivors of my friends to watch her. Alone am I come,
seeking for those there left some help, if haply I may find it after
careful search. So when I saw this palace girt with towering walls and
stately gates of some prosperous lord, I drew nigh; for I have hope to
obtain somewhat for my sailors from this wealthy house, whereas from
houses which have no store, the inmates for all their goodwill could
furnish naught. Ho! there, who keeps the gate and will come forth to
bear my tale of woe into the house?
(A PORTRESS comes out of the palace in answer to his call.)
Who stands before the door? Begone from the housel stand not at
the court-yard gate, annoying my masters! otherwise shalt thou die,
for thou art a Hellene born. and with them have we no dealings.
Mother, herein sayest thou rightly on all points. 'Tis well; I
will obey; but moderate thy words.
Away! stranger, my orders are to admit no Hellene to this palace.
Ha! do not seek to push me hence, or thrust me away by violence.
Thou dost not heed my words, and therefore hast thyself to blame.
Carry my message to thy master in the palace.
Some one would rue it, methinks, were I to take thy message.
I come as a shipwrecked man and a stranger, whom heaven protects.
Well, get thee to some other house than this.
Nay, but I will pass into the house; so listen to me.
Let me tell thee thou art unwelcome, and soon wilt be forcibly
Ah me! where are now those famous troops of mine?
Elsewhere maybe thou wert a mighty man; thou art not here.
O fortune! I have not deserved such insult.
Why are thy eyes with tear-drops wet? Why so sad?
'Tis the contrast with my fortunes erst so blest.
Hence! then, and give thy friends those tears.
What land is this? whose is the palace?
Proteus lives here. It is the land of Egypt.
Egypt? Woe is me! to think that hither I have sailed!
Pray, what fault hast thou to find with the race of Nile?
'Twas no fault I found; my own disasters I lament.
There be plenty in evil case; thou art not the only one.
Is the king, of whom thou speakest, here within?
There is his tomb; his son rules in his stead.
And where may he be? abroad, or in the house?
He is not within. To Hellas is he a bitter foe.
His reason, pray, for this enmity? the results whereof I have
Beneath this roof dwells the daughter of Zeus, Helen.
What mean'st thou? what is it thou hast said? Repeat, I pray, thy
The daughter of Tyndareus is here, who erst in Sparta dwelt.
Whence came she? What means this business?
She came from Lacedaemon hither.
When? Surely I have never been robbed of my wife from the cave!
Before the Achaeans went to Troy, sir stranger. But get thee
hence; for somewhat hath chanced within, whereat the whole palace is
in an uproar. Thou comest most unseasonably; and if my master catch
thee, death will be thy stranger's gift. This say I, because to Hellas
I am well disposed, albeit I gave thee harsh answers for fear of my
(The PORTRESS goes back into the palace.)
What can I think or say? For after my previous troubles, this is a
fresh piece of ill-luck I hear, if, indeed, after recovering my wife
from Troy and bringing her hither, and putting her for safety in the
cave, I am then to find another woman living here with the same name
as my wife. She called her the begotten child of Zeus. Can there be
a man that hath the name of Zeus by the banks of Nile? The Zeus of
heaven is only one, at any rate. Where is there a Sparta in the
world save where Eurotas glides between his reedy banks? The name of
Tyndareus is the name of one alone. Is there any land of the same name
as Lacedaemon or Troy? I know not what to say; for naturally there are
many in the wide world that have the same names, cities and women too;
there is nothing, then, to marvel at. Nor yet again will I fly from
the alarm a servant raises; for there is none so cruel of heart as
to refuse me food when once he hears my name. All have heard of
Ilium's burning, and I, that set it ablaze, am famous now throughout
the world, I, Menelaus. I therefore wait the master of this house.
There are two issues I must watch; if he prove somewhat stern of
heart, I will to my wreck and there conceal myself; but if he show any
sign of pity, I will ask for help in this my present strait. This is
the crowning woe in all my misery, to beg the means of life from other
princes, prince though I be myself; still needs must I. Yea, this is
no saying of mine, but a word of wisdom, "Naught in might exceedeth
(HELEN and the CHORUS enter from the palace. They do not notice
I have heard the voice of the maiden inspired. Clear is the answer
she hath vouchsafed within yon palace, declaring that Menelaus is
not yet dead and buried, passed to the land of shades, where
darkness takes the place of light; but on the stormy main is wearing
out his life, nor yet hath reached the haven of his country, a
wanderer dragging out a piteous existence, reft of every friend,
setting foot in every corner of the world, as he voyageth home from
Lo! once again I seek the shelter of this tomb, with Theonoe's
sweet tidings in my ears; she that knoweth all things of a truth;
for she saith my lord is yet alive and in the light of day, albeit
he is roaming to and fro after many a weary voyage, and hither shall
he come whenso he reach the limit of his toils, no novice in the
wanderer's life. But one thing did she leave unsaid. Is he to escape
when he hath come? And I refrained from asking that question
clearly, so glad was I when she told me he was safe. For she said that
he was somewhere nigh this shore, cast up by shipwreck with a
handful of friends. Ah! when shall I see thee come? How welcome will
thy advent be! (She catches sight of MENELAUS.) Ha! who is this? Am
I being snared by some trick of Proteus' impious son? Oh! let me, like
a courser at its speed, or a votary of Bacchus, approach the tomb! for
there is something wild about this fellow's looks, who is eager to
Ho there! thou that with fearful effort seekest to reach the
basement of the tomb and the pillars of burnt sacrifice, stay thee.
Wherefore art flying? Ah! with what speechless amaze the sight of thee
O friends! I am being ill-treated. This man is keeping me from the
tomb, and is eager to take and give me to his master, whose wooing I
was seeking to avoid.
No robber I, or minister of evil.
At any rate the garb wherein thou art clad is unseemly.
Stay thy hasty flight; put fear aside.
I do so, now that I have reached this spot.
Who art thou? whom do I behold in thee, lady?
Nay, who art thou? The self-same reason prompts us both.
never saw a closer resemblance.
Great God! Yea, for to recognize our friends is of God.
Art thou from Hellas, or a native of this land?
From Hellas; but I would learn thy story too.
Lady, in thee I see a wondrous likeness to Helen.
And I in thee to Menelaus; I know not what to say.
Well, thou hast recognized aright a man of many sorrows.
Hail! to thy wife's arms restored at last!
Wife indeed! Lay not a finger on my robe.
The wife that Tyndareus, my father, gave thee.
O Hecate, giver of light, send thy visions favourably!
In me thou beholdest no spectre of the night, attendant on the
queen of phantoms.
Nor yet am I in my single person the husband of two wives.
What other woman calls thee lord?
The inmate of yonder cave, whom I from Troy convey.
Thou hast none other wife but me.
Can it be my mind is wandering, my sight failing?
Dost not believe thou seest in me thy wife?
Thy form resembles her, but the real truth robs me of this belief.
Observe me well; what need hast thou of clearer proof?
Thou art like her; that will I never deny.
Who then shall teach thee, unless it be thine own eyes?
Herein is my dilemma; I have another wife.
To Troy I never went; that was a phantom.
Pray, who fashions living bodies?
The air, whence thou hast a wife of heaven's workmanship.
What god's handiwork? Strange is the tale thou tellest.
Hera made it as a substitute, to keep me from Paris.
How then couldst thou have been here, and in Troy, at the same
The name may be in many a place at once, though not the body.
Unhand me! the sorrows I brought with me suffice.
What! wilt leave me, and take that phantom bride away?
For thy likeness unto Helen, fare thee well.
Ruined! in thee I found my lord only to lose thee.
The greatness of my troubles at Troy convinces me; thou dost not.
Ah, woe is me! who was ever more unfortunate than I? Those whom
I love best are leaving me, nor shall I ever reach Hellas, my own dear
(The FIRST MESSENGER enters in haste.)
At last I find thee, Menelaus, after an anxious search, not till I
have evandered through the length and breadth of this foreign
strand; I am sent by thy comrades, whom thou didst leave behind.
What news? surely you are not being spoiled by the barbarians?
A miracle hath happened; my words are too weak for the reality.
Speak; for judging by this haste, thou hast stirring news.
My message is: thy countless toils have all been toiled in vain.
That is an old tale of woe to mourn! come, thy news?
Thy wife hath disappeared, soaring away into the embracing air; in
heaven she now is hidden, and as she left the hollowed cave where we
were guarding her, she hailed us thus, "Ye hapless Phrygians, and
all Achaea's race! for me upon Scamander's strand by Hera's arts ye
died from day to day, in the false belief that Helen was in the
hands of Paris. But I, since I have stayed my appointed time, and kept
the laws of fate, will now depart unto the sky that gave me birth; but
the unhappy daughter of Tyndareus, through no fault of hers, hath
borne an evil name without reason." (Catching Sight of HELEN) Daughter
of Leda, hail to thee, so thou art here after all! I was just
announcing thy departure to the hidden starry realms, little knowing
that thou couldst fly at will. I will not a second time let thee flout
us thus, for thou didst cause tiki lord and his comrades trouble all
for naught in Ilium.
This is even what she said; her words are proved true; O
longed-for day, how hath it restored thee to my arms!
O Menelaus, dearest husband, the time of sorrow has been long, but
joy is now ours at last. Ah, friends, what joy for me to hold my
husband in a fond embrace after many a weary cycle of yon blazing lamp
What joy for me to hold my wife! but with all that I would ask
about these years, I now know not where I may first begin.
O rapture! the very hair upon my head starts up for joy! my
tears run down! Around thy neck I fling my arms, dear husband, to
hug my joy to me.
O happy, happy sight! I have no fault to find; my wife, he
daughter of Zeus and Leda, is mine again, she whom her brothers on
their snow-white steeds, whilst torches blazed, made my happy bride,
but gods removed her from my home. Now is the deity guiding us to a
new destiny, happier than of yore.
Evil into good transformed hath brought us twain together at last,
dear husband; but late though it be, God grant me joy of my good luck!
God grant thee joy! I join thee in the self-same prayer; for of us
twain one cannot suffer without the other.
No more, my friends, I mourn the past; no longer now I grieve.
My own dear husband is restored to me, whose coming from Troy I have
waited many a long year.
I to thee, and thou to me. And after these long, long years I have
at last discovered the fraud of the goddess. But these tears, in
gladness shed, are tears of thankfulness rather than of sorrow.
What can I say? What mortal heart could e'er have had such hope?
To my bosom I press thee, little as I ever thought to.
And I to mine press thee, who all men thought hadst gone to
Ida's town and the hapless towers of Ilium.
Ah me! ah me! that is a bitter subject to begin on.
Tell me, I adjure thee, how wert thou from my home conveyed?
Alas! alas! 'tis a bitter tale thou askest to hear.
Speak, for I must hear it; all that comes is Heaven's gift.
I loathe the story I am now to tell.
Tell it for all that. 'Tis sweet to hear of trouble past.
I ne'er set forth to be the young barbarian's bride, with oars and
wings of lawless love to speed me on my way.
What deity or fate tore thee from thy country, then?
Ah, my lord! 'twas Hermes, the son of Zeus, that brought and
placed me by the banks of Nile.
A miracle! Who sent thee thither? O monstrous story!
I wept, and still my eyes are wet with tears. 'Twas the wife of
Zeus that ruined me.
Hera? wherefore should she afflict us twain?
Woe is me for my awful fate! Woe for those founts and baths
where the goddesses made brighter still that beauty, which evoked
the fatal verdict!
Why did Hera visit thee with evil regarding this verdict?
To wrest the promise of Cypris-
How now? Say on.
From Paris, to whom that goddess pledged me.
Woe for thee!
And so she brought me hither to Egypt to my sorrow.
Then she gave him a phantom in thy stead, as thou tellest me?
And then began those woes of thine, ah, mother! woe is me!
What meanest thou?
My mother is no more; my shameful marriage made her fix the
noose about her neck.
Ah me! is our daughter Hermione yet alive?
Still unwed, childless still, she mourns my fatal marriage.
O Paris, who didst utterly o'erthrow my home, here was thy ruin
too and theirs, those countless mail-clad Danai.
From my country, city, and from thee heaven cast me forth
unhappy and accursed, because I left,-and yet not I,-home and
husband for union of foul shame.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
If haply ye find happiness in the future, it will suffice when
to the past ye look.
Menelaus, grant me too a portion of that joy which, though mine
own eyes see, I scarcely comprehend.
Come then, old friend, and share with us our talk.
Was it not then in her power to decide all the trouble in Troy?
It was not; I was tricked by the gods into taking to my arms a
misty phantom-form, to my sorrow.
How so? was it then for this we vainly toiled?
'Twas Hera's handiwork, and the jealousy of three goddesses.
Is this real woman, then, thy wife?
This is she; trust my word for that.
Daughter, how changeful and inscrutable is the nature of God! With
some good end doth he vary men's fortune-now up, now down; one
suffers; another who ne'er knew suffering, is in his turn to awful
ruin brought, having no assurance in his lot from day to day. Thou and
thy husband have had your share of trouble-thou in what the world
has said, he in battle's heat. For all the striving that he strove, he
got him naught; while now, without an effort made, every blessing
fortune boasts is his. And thou, in spite of all, hast brought no
shame upon thy aged sire, or those twin sons of Zeus, nor art thou
guilty of those rumoured crimes. Now again do I recall thy wedding
rites, remembering the blazing torch I bore beside thee in a
four-horsed chariot at full gallop; while thou with this thy lord, a
new-made bride, wert driving forth from thy happy home. A sorry
servant he, whoso regardeth not his master's interest, sympathizing
with his sorrows and his joys. Slave though I was born, yet may I be
numbered amongst honest servants; for in heart, though not in name,
I am free. For this is better far than in my single person to suffer
these two evils, to feel my heart corrupt, and as the slave of
others to be at my neighbour's beck and call.
Come, old friend, oft hast thou stood side by side with me and
taken thy full share of toil; so now be partner in my happiness. Go,
tell my comrades, whom I left behind, the state of matters here, as
thou hast found them, and the issue of my fortunes; and bid them
wait upon the beach and abide the result of the struggle, which I trow
awaits me; and if mayhap we find a way to take this lady from the land
by stealth, tell them to keep good watch that we may share the luck
and escape, if possible, from the barbarian's clutch.
It shall be done, O king. Now I see how worthless are the seers'
tricks, how full of falsehood; nor is there after all aught
trustworthy in the blaze of sacrifice or in the cry of feathered
fowls; 'tis folly, the very notion that birds can help mankind.
Calchas never by word or sign showed the host the truth, when he saw
his friends dying on behalf of a phantom, nor yet did Helenus; but the
city was stormed in vain. Perhaps thou wilt say, 'twas not heaven's
will that they should do so. Then why do we employ these prophets?
Better were it to sacrifice to the gods, and crave a blessing, leaving
prophecy alone; for this was but devised as a bait to catch
livelihood, and no man grows rich by divination if he is idle. No!
sound judgment and discernment are the best of seers.
(The MESSENGER departs.)
My views about seers agree exactly with this old man's: whoso hath
the gods upon his side will have the best seer in his house.
Good! so far all is well. But how camest thou, poor husband,
safe from Troy? though 'tis no gain to know, yet friends feel a
longing to learn all that their friends have suffered.
That one short sentence of thine contains a host of questions. Why
should I tell thee of our losses in the Aegean, or of the beacon
Nauplius lighted on Euboea? or of my visits to Crete and the cities of
Libya, or of the peaks of Perseus? For I should never satisfy thee
with the tale, and by telling thee should add to my own pain, though I
suffered enough at the time; and so would my grief be doubled.
Thy answer shows more wisdom than my question. Omit the rest,
and tell me only this; how long wert thou a weary wanderer o'er the
wide sea's face?
Seven long years did I see come and go, besides those ten in Troy.
Alas, poor sufferer! 'twas a weary while. And thou hast thence
escaped only to bleed here.
How so? what wilt thou tell? Ah wife, thou hast ruined me.
Escape and fly with all thy speed from this land. Thou wilt be
slain by him whose house this is.
What have I done to merit such a fate?
Thou hast arrived unexpectedly to thwart my marriage.
What! is some man bent on wedding my wife?
Aye, and on heaping those insults on me, which I have hitherto
Is he some private prince, or a ruler of this land?
The son of Proteus, king of the country.
This was that dark saying I heard the servant tell.
At which of the barbarian's gates wert thou standing?
Here, whence like a beggar I was like to be driven.
Surely thou wert not begging food? Ah, woe is me!
That was what I was doing, though I had not the name of beggar.
Of course thou knowest, then, all about my marriage.
I do. But whether thou hast escaped thy lover, I know not.
Be well assured I have kept my body chaste.
How wilt thou convince me of this? If true, thy words are sweet.
Dost see the wretched station I have kept at this tomb?
I see, alas! a bed of straw; but what hast thou to do with it?
There I crave escape from this marriage as a suppliant.
For want of an altar, or because it is the barbarians' way?
This was as good a protection to me as the gods' temples.
May I not then even bear thee homeward on my ship?
The sword far sooner than thy wife's embrace is waiting thee.
So should I be of all men the most miserable.
Put shame aside, and fly from this land.
Leaving thee behind? 'twas for thy sake I sacked Troy.
Better so, than that our union should cause thy death.
Oh! these are coward words, unworthy of those days at Troy!
Thou canst not slay the prince, thy possible intent.
Hath he, then, a body which steel cannot wound?
Thou shalt hear. But to attempt impossibilities is no mark of
Am I to let them bind my hands, and say nothing?
Thou art in a dilemma; some scheme must be devised.
I had liefer die in action than sitting still.
There is one hope, and only one, of our safety.
Will gold, or daring deeds, or winning words procure it?
We are safe if the prince learn not of thy coming.
ary one tell him it is I? He certainly will not know who I am.
He hath within his palace an ally equal to the gods.
Some voice divine within the secret chambers of his house?
No; his sister; Theonoe men call her.
Her name hath a prophetic sound; tell me what she doth.
She knoweth everything, and she will tell her brother thou art
Then must we die; for I cannot escape her ken.
Perchance we might by suppliant prayers win her over.
To what end? To what vain hope art thou leading me?
That she should not tell her brother thou art here.
Suppose we persuade her, can we get away?
Easily, if she connive thereat; without her knowledge, no,
Be that thy task; women deal best with women.
I will not fail, be sure, to clasp her knees.
Come, then; only, suppose she reject our proposals?
Thou wilt be slain, and I, alas! wedded by force.
Thou wilt betray me; that "force" of thine is but an excuse.
Nay, by thy life I swear a sacred oath.
What meanest thou? dost swear to die and never to another
Yes, by the self-same sword; I will fall by thy side.
On these conditions touch my right hand.
I do so, swearing I will quit the light of day if thou art slain.
I, too, will end my life if I lose thee.
How shall we die so as to gain fame?
I will slay thee and then myself upon the summit of the tomb.
But first will I in doughty fight contest another's claim to thee; and
let who will draw nigh! for I will not sully the lustre of my Trojan
fame, nor will I, on my return to Hellas, incur a storm of taunts,
as one who robbed Thetis of Achilles; saw Ajax, son of Telamon, fall a
weltering corpse; and the sort of Neleus of his child bereft; shall
I then flinch myself from death for my own wife? No, no! For if the
gods are wise, o'er a brave man by his foes laid low they lightly
sprinkle the earth that is his tomb, while cowards 'they cast forth on
barren rocky soil.
Grant, heaven, that the race of Tantalus may at last be blest, and
pass from sorrow unto joy!
Ah, woe is me! Yea, all my lot is woe; O Menelaus, we are
utterly undone! Behold! from forth the house comes Theonoe, the
prophetess, The palace echoes as the bolts are unfastened; fly! yet
what use to fly? For whether absent or present she knows of thy
arrival here. Ah me! how lost am I! Saved from Troy and from a
barbarian land, thou hast come only to fall a prey to barbarian
(THEONOE enters, attended by hand-maidens carrying torches.)
Lead on, bearing before me blazing brands, and, as sacred rites
ordain, purge with incense every cranny of the air, that I may breathe
heaven's breath free from taint; meanwhile do thou, in case the
tread of unclean feet have soiled the path, wave the cleansing flame
above it, and brandish the torch in front, that I may pass upon my
way. And when to heaven ye have paid the customs I exact, bear back
into the house the brand from off the hearth. What of my prophecy,
Helen? how stands it now? Thou hast seen thy husband Menelaus arrive
without disguise, reft of his ships, and of thy counterfeit. Ah,
hapless man! what troubles hast thou escaped, and art come hither, and
yet knowest not whether thou art to return or to abide here; for there
is strife in heaven, and Zeus this very day will sit in solemn
conclave on thee. Hera, who erst was thy bitter foe, is now grown
kind, and is willing to bring thee and thy wife safe home, that Hellas
may learn that the marriage of Paris was all a sham, assigned to him
by Cypris; but Cypris fain would mar thy homeward course, that she may
not be convicted, or proved to have bought the palm of beauty at the
price of Helen in a futile marriage. Now the decision rests with me,
whether to ruin thee, as Cypris wishes, by telling my brother of thy
presence bere, or to save thy life by taking Hera's side, concealing
thy coming from my brother, for his orders are that I should tell him,
whensoe'er thou shouldst reach these shores. Ho! one of you, go show
my brother this man is here, that I may secure my safety.
Maiden, at thy knees I fall a suppliant, and seat myself in this
sad posture on behalf of myself and him, whom I am in danger of seeing
slain, after I have so hardly found him. Oh! tell not thy brother that
my husband is returned to these loving arms; save us, I beseech
thee; never for thy brother's sake sacrifice thy character for
uprightness, by evil and unjust means bidding for his favour. For
the deity hates violence, and biddeth all men get lawful gains without
plundering others. Wealth unjustly gotten, though it bring some power,
is to be eschewed. The breath of heaven and the earth are man's common
heritage, wherein to store his home, without taking the goods of
others, or wresting them away by force. Me did Hermes at a critical
time, to my sorrow, intrust to thy father's safe keeping for this my
lord, who now is here and wishes to reclaim me. But how can he recover
me if he be slain? How could thy sire restore the living to the
dead? Oh! consider ere that the will of heaven and thy father's too;
would the deity or would thy dead sire restore their neighbour's
goods, or would they forbear? restore them, I feel sure. It is not,
therefore, right that thou shouldst more esteem thy wanton brother
than thy righteous father. Yet if thou, prophetess as thou art and
believer in divine providence, shalt pervert the just intention of thy
father and gratify thy unrighteous brother, 'tis shameful thou
shouldst have full knowledge of the heavenly will, both what is and
what is not, and yet be ignorant of justice. Oh! save my wretched life
from the troubles which beset it, granting this as an accession to our
good fortune; for every living soul loathes Helen, seeing that there
is gone a rumour throughout Hellas that I was false unto my lord,
and took up my abode in Phrygia's sumptuous halls. Now, if I come to
Hellas, and set foot once more in Sparta, they will hear and see how
they were ruined by the wiles of goddesses, while was no traitress
to my friends after all; and so will they restore to me my virtuous
name again, and I shall give my daughter in marriage, whom no man
now will wed; and, leaving this vagrant life in Egypt, shall enjoy the
treasures in my home. Had Menelaus met his doom at some funeral
pyre, with tears should I be cherishing his memory in a far-off
land, but must lose him now when he is alive and safe? Ah! maiden, I
beseech thee, say not so; grant me this boon, I pray, and reflect
thy father's justice; for this is the fairest ornament of children,
when the child of a virtuous sire resembles its parents in character.
Piteous thy pleading, and a piteous object thou! But I fain
would hear what Menelaus will say to save his life.
I will not deign to throw myself at thy knees, or wet mine eyes
with tears; for were I to play the coward, I should most foully blur
my Trojan fame. And yet men say it shows a noble soul to let the
tear-drop fall in misfortune. But that will not be the honourable
course that I will choose in preference to bravery, if what I shall
say is honourable. Art thou disposed to save a stranger seeking in
mere justice to regain his wife, why then restore her and save us
likewise; if not, this will not be the first by many a time that I
have suffered, though thou wilt get an evil name. All that I deem
worthy of me and honest, all that will touch thy heart most nearly,
will I utter at the tomb of thy sire with regret for his loss. Old
king beneath this tomb of stone reposing, pay back thy trust! I ask of
thee my wife whom Zeus sent hither unto thee to keep for me. I know
thou canst never restore her to me thyself, for thou art dead; but
this thy daughter will never allow her father once so glorious, whom I
invoke in his grave, to bear a tarnished name; for the decision
rests with her now. Thee, too, great god of death, I call to my
assistance, who hast received full many a corpse, slain by me for
Helen, and art keeping thy wage; either restore those dead now to life
again, or compel the daughter to show herself a worthy equal of her
virtuous sire, and give me back my wife. But if ye will rob me of her,
I will tell you that which she omitted in her speech. Know then,
maiden, I by an oath am bound, first, to meet thy brother sword to
sword, when he or I must die-there is no alternative. But if he refuse
to meet me fairly front to front, and seek by famine to chase away
us suppliants twain at this tomb, I am resolved to slay Helen, and
then to plunge this two-edged sword through my own heart, upon the top
of the sepulchre, that our streaming blood may trickle down the
tomb; and our two corpses will be lying side by side upon this
polished slab, a source of deathless grief to thee, and to thy sire
reproach. Never shall thy brother wed Helen, nor shall any other; I
will bear her hence myself, if not to my house, at any rate to
death. And why this stern resolve? Were I to resort to women's ways
and weep, I should be a pitiful creature, not a man of action. Slay
me, if it seems thee good; I will not die ingloriously; but better
yield to what I say, that thou mayst act with justice, and I regain my
On thee, maiden, it rests to judge between these arguments. Decide
in such a way as to please one and all.
My nature and my inclination lean towards piety; myself, too, I
respect, and I will never sully my father's fair name, or gratify my
brother at the cost of bringing myself into open dishonour. For
justice hath her temple firmly founded in my nature, and since I
have this heritage from Nereus I will strive to save Menelaus;
wherefore, seeing it is Hera's will to stand thy friend, I will give
my vote with her. May Cypris be favourable to me! though in me she
hath no part, and I will try to remain a maid alway. As for thy
reproaches against my father at this tomb; lo! I have the same words
to utter; I should be wronging thee, did I not restore thy wife; for
my sire, were he living, would have given her back into thy keeping,
and thee to her. Yea, for there is recompense for these things as well
amongst the dead as amongst all those who breathe the breath of
life. The soul indeed of the dead lives no more, yet hath it a
consciousness that lasts for ever, eternal as the ether into which
it takes the final plunge. Briefly then to end the matter, I will
observe strict silence on all that ye prayed I should, and never
with my counsel will I aid my brother's wanton will. For I am doing
him good service, though he little thinks it, if turn him from his
godless life to holiness. Wherefore devise yourselves some way of
escape; my lips are scaled; I will not cross your path. First with the
goddesses begin, and of the one,-and that one Cypris,-Crave permission
to return unto thy country; and of Hera, that her goodwill may abide
in the same quarter, even her scheme to save thee and thy husband. And
thou, my own dead sire, shalt never, in so far as rests with me,
lose thy holy name to rank with evil-doers.
(THEONOE and her attendants enter the palace.)
No man ever prospered by unjust practices, but in a righteous
cause there is hope of safety.
Menelaus, on the maiden's side are we quite safe. Thou must from
that point start, and by contributing thy advice, devise with me a
scheme to save ourselves.
Hearken then; thou hast been a long while in the palace, and art
intimate with the king's attendants.
What dost thou mean thereby? for thou art suggesting hopes, as
if resolved on some plan for our mutual help.
Couldst thou persuade one of those who have charge of cars and
steeds to furnish us with a chariot?
I might; but what escape is there for us who know nothing of the
country and the barbarian's kingdom?
True; 'tis impossible. Well, supposing I conceal myself in the
palace and slay the king with this two-edged sword?
His sister would never refrain from telling her brother that
thou wert meditating his death.
We have not so much as a ship to make our escape in; for the
sea. hath swallowed the one we had.
Hear me, if haply even a woriian can utter words of wisdom. Dost
thou consent to be dead in word, though not really so?
'Tis a bad omen; still, if by saying so I shall gain aught, I am
ready to be dead in word, though not in deed.
I, too, will mourn thee with hair cut short and dirges, as is
women's way, before this impious wretch.
What saving remedy doth this afford us twain? There is deception
in thy scheme.
I will beg the king of this country leave to bury thee in a
cenotaph, as if thou hadst really died at sea.
Suppose he grant it; how, e'en then, are we to escape without a
ship, after having committed me to my empty tomb?
I will bid him give me a vessel, from which to let drop into the
sea's embrace thy funeral offerings.
A clever plan in truth, save in one particular; suppose he bid
thee rear the tomb upon the strand, thy pretext comes to naught.
But I shall say it is not the custom in Hellas to bury those who
die at sea upon the shore.
Thou removest this obstacle too; I then will sail with thee and
help stow the funeral garniture in the same ship.
Above all, it is necessary that thou and all thy sailors who
escaped from the wreck should be at hand.
Be sure if once I find a ship at her moorings, they shall be there
man for man, each with his sword.
Thou must direct everything; only let there be winds to waft our
rails and a good ship to speed before them!
So shall it be; for the deities will cause my troubles to cease.
But from whom wilt thou say thou hadst tidings of my death?
From thee; declare thyself the one and only survivor, telling
how thou wert sailing with the son of Atreus, and didst see him
Of a truth the garments I have thrown about me, will bear out my
tale that they were rags collected from the wreckage.
They come in most opportunely, but they were near being lost
just at the wrong time. Maybe that misfortune will turn to fortune.
Am I to enter the palace with thee, or are we to sit here at the
Abide here; for if the king attempts to do thee any mischief, this
tomb and thy good sword will protect thee. But I will go within and
cut off my hair, and exchange my white robe for sable weeds, and
rend my cheek with this hand's blood-thirsty nail. For 'tis a mighty
struggle, and I see two possible issues; either I must die if detected
in my plot, or else to my country shall I come and save thy soul
alive. O Hera! awful queen, who sharest the couch of Zeus, grant
some respite from their toil to two unhappy wretches; to thee I
pray, tossing my arms upward to heaven, where thou hast thy home in
the star-spangled firmament. Thou, too, that didst win the prize of
beauty at the price of my marriage; O Cypris! daughter of Dione,
destroy me not utterly. Thou hast injured me enough aforetime,
delivering up my name, though not my person, to live amongst
barbarians. Oh! suffer me to die, if death is thy desire, in my native
land. Why art thou so insatiate in mischief, employing every art of
love, of fraud, and guileful schemes, and spells that bring
bloodshed on families? Wert thou but moderate, only that!-in all
else thou art by nature man's most well, come deity; and I have reason
so to say.
(HELEN enters the palace and MENELAUS withdraws into the
Thee let me invoke, tearful Philomel, lurking 'neath the leafy
covert in thy place of song, most tuneful of all feathered
songsters, oh! come to aid me in my dirge, trilling through thy
tawny throat, as I sing the piteous woes of Helen, and the tearful
fate of Trojan dames made subject to Achaea's spear, on the day that
there came to their plains one who sped with foreign oar across the
dashing billows, bringing to Priam's race from Lacedaemon thee his
hapless bride, Helen,-even Paris, luckless bridegroom, by the guidance
And many an Achaean hath breathed his last amid the spearmen's
thrusts and hurtling hail of stones, and gone to his sad end; for
these their wives cut off their hair in sorrow, and their houses are
left without a bride; and one of the Achaeans, that had but a single
ship, did light a blazing beacon on sea-girt Euboea, and destroy
full many of them, wrecking them on the rocks of Caphareus and the
shores that front the Aegean main, by the treacherous gleam he
kindled; when thou, O Menelaus, from the very day of thy start,
didst drift to harbourless hills, far from thy country before the
breath of the storm, bearing on thy ship a prize that was no prize,
but a phantom made by Hera out of cloud for the Danai to struggle
What mortal claims, by searching to the utmost limit, to have
found out the nature of God, or of his opposite, or of that which
comes between, seeing as he doth this world of man tossed to and fro
by waves of contradiction and strange vicissitudes? Thou, Helen, art
the daughter of Zeus; for thy sire was the bird that nestled in Leda's
bosom; and yet for all that art thou become a by-word for
wickedness, through the length and breadth of Hellas, as faithless,
treacherous wife and godless woman; nor can I tell what certainty
is, whatever may pass for it amongst men. That which gods pronounce
have I found true.
O fools! all ye who try to win the meed of valour through war
and serried ranks of chivalry, seeking thus to still this mortal coil,
in senselessness; for if bloody contests are to decide, there will
never be any lack of strife in the towns of men; the maidens of the
land of Priam left their bridal bowers, though arbitration might
have put thy quarrel right, O Helen. And now Troy's sons are in Hades'
keeping in the world below, and fire hath darted on her walls, as
darts the flame of Zeus, and thou art bringing woe on woe to hapless
sufferers in their misery.
(THEOCLYMENUS and his hunting attendants enter.)
All hail, my father's tomb! I buried thee, Proteus, at the place
where men go out, that I might often greet thee; and so, ever as I
go out and in, I, thy son Theoclymenus call on thee, father. Ho!
servants, to the palace take my hounds and hunting nets! How often
have I blamed myself for never punishing those miscreants with
death! I have just heard that son of Hellas has come openly to my
land, escaping the notice of the guard, a spy maybe or a would-be
thief of Helen; death shall be his lot if only I can catch him. Ha!
I find all my plans apparently frustrated, the daughter of Tyndareus
has deserted her seat at the tomb and sailed away from my shores.
Ho! there, undo the bars, loose the horses from their stalls, bring
forth my chariot, servants, that the wife, on whom my heart is set,
may not get away from these shores unseen, for want of any trouble I
can take. Yet stay; for I see the object of my pursuit is still in the
palace, and has not fled. (HELEN enters from the palace, clad in the
garb of mourning.) How now, lady, why hast thou arrayed thee in
sable weeds instead of white raiment, and from thy fair head hast
shorn thy tresses with the steel, bedewing thy cheeks the while with
tears but lately shed? Is it in response to visions of the night
that thou art mourning, or, because thou hast heard some warning voice
within, art thus distraught with grief?
My lord,-for already I have learnt to say that name,--I am undone;
my luck is gone; I cease to be.
In what misfortune art thou plunged? What hath happened?
Menelaus, ah me! how can I say it? is dead, my husband.
How knowest thou? Did Theonoe tell thee this?
Both she, and one who was there when he perished.
What! hath one arrived who actually announces this for certaint?
One hath; oh may he come e'en as I wish him to!
Who and where is he? that I may learn this more surely.
There he is, sitting crouched beneath the shelter of this tomb,
Great Apollo! how clad in unseemly rags!
Ah me! methinks my own husband too is in like plight.
From what country is this fellow? whence landed he here?
From Hellas, one of the Achaeans who sailed with my husband.
What kind of death doth he declare that Menelaus died?
The most piteous of all; amid the watery waves at sea.
On what part of the savage ocean was he sailing?
Cast up on the harbourless rocks of Libya.
How was it this man did not perish if he was with him aboard?
There are times when churls have more luck than their betters.
Where left he the wreck, on coming hither?
There, where perdition catch it, but not Menelaus!
He is lost; but on what vessel came this man?
According to his story sailors fell in with him and picked him up.
Where then is that ill thing that was sent to Troy in thy stead?
Dost mean the phantom-form of cloud? It hath passed into the air.
O Priam, and thou land of Troy, how fruitless thy ruin!
I too have shared with Priam's race their misfortunes.
Did this fellow leave thy husband unburied, or consign him to
Unburied; woe is me for my sad lot!
Wherefore hast thou shorn the tresses of thy golden hair?
His memory lingers fondly in this heart, whate'er his fate.
Are thy tears in genuine sorrow for this calamity?
An easy task no doubt to escape thy sister's detection!
No, surely; impossible. Wilt thou still make this tomb thy abode?
Why jeer at me? canst thou not let the dead man be?
No, thy loyalty to thy husband's memory makes thee fly from me.
I will do so no more; prepare at once for my marriage.
Thou hast been long in bringing thyself to it; still I do
commend the now.
Dost know thy part? Let us forget the past.
On what terms? One good turn deserves another.
Let us make peace; be reconciled to me.
I relinquish my quarrel with thee; let it take wings and fly away.
Then by thy knees, since thou art my friend indeed,-
What art so bent on winning, that to me thou stretchest out a
My dead husband would I fain bury.
What tomb can be bestowed on lost bodies? Wilt thou bury a shade?
In Hellas we have a custom, whene'er one is drowned at sea-
What is your custom? The race of Pelops truly hath some skill in
matters such as this.
To hold a burial with woven robes that wrap no corpse.
Perform the ceremony; rear the tomb where'er thou wilt.
'Tis not thus we give drowned sailors burial.
How then? I know nothing of your customs in Hellas.
We unmoor, and carry out to sea all that is the dead man's due.
What am I to give thee then for thy dead husband?
Myself I cannot say; I had no such experience in my previous happy
Stranger, thou art the bearer of tidings I welcome.
Well, I do not, nor yet doth the dead man.
How do ye bury those who have been drowned at sea?
Each according to his means.
As far as wealth goes, name thy wishes for this lady's sake.
There must be a blood-offering first to the dead.
Blood of what? Do thou show me and I will comply.
Decide that thyself; whate'er thou givest will suffice.
Amongst barbarians 'tis customary to sacrifice a horse or bull,
If thou givest at all, let there be nothing mean in thy gift.
I have no lack of such in my rich herds
Next an empty bier is decked and carried in procession.
It shall be so; what else is it customary to add?
Bronze arms; for war was his delight.
These will be worthy of the race of Pelops, and these will we
And with them all the fair increase of productive earth.
And next, how do ye pour these offerings into the billows?
There must be a ship ready and rowers.
How far from the shore does the ship put out?
So far that the foam in her wake can scarce be seen from the
Why so? wherefore doth Hellas observe this custom?
That the billow may not cast up again our expiatory offerings.
Phoenician rowers will soon cover the distance.
'Twill be well done, and gratifying to Menelaus, too.
Canst thou not perform these rites well enough without Helen?
This task belongs to mother, wife, or children.
'Tis her task then, according to thee, to bury her husband.
To be sure; piety demands that the dead be not robbed of their
Well, let her go; 'tis my interest to foster piety in a wife.
And thou, enter the house and choose adornment for the dead.
Thyself, too, will not send empty-handed away, since thou hast done
her a service. And for the good news thou hast brought me, thou
shalt receive raiment instead of going bare, and food, too, that
thou mayst reach thy country; for as it is, I see thou art in sorry
plight. As for thee, poor lady, waste not thyself in a hopeless
case; Menelaus has met his doom, and thy dead husband cannot come to
This then is thy duty, fair young wife; be content with thy
present husband, and forget him who has no existence; for this is
thy best course in face of what is happening. And if ever I come to
Hellas and secure my safety, I will clear thee of thy former
ill-repute, if thou prove a dutiful wife to thy true husband.
I will; never shall my husband have cause to blame me; thou
shalt thyself attend us and be witness thereto. Now go within, poor
wanderer, and seek the bath, and change thy raiment. I will show my
kindness to thee, and that without delay. For thou wilt perform all
service due with kindlier feeling for my dear lord Menelaus, if at
my hands thou meet with thy deserts.
(THEOCLYMENUS, HELEN, MENELAUS enter the palace.)
Through wooded glen, o'er torrent's flood, and ocean's booming
waves rushed the mountain-goddess, mother of the gods, in frantic
haste, once long ago, yearning for her daughter lost, whose name men
dare not utter; loudly rattled the Bacchic castanets in shrill accord,
what time those maidens, swift as whirlwinds, sped forth with the
goddess on her chariot yoked to wild creatures, in quest of her that
was ravished from the circling choir of virgins; here was Artemis with
her bow, and there the grim-eyed goddess, sheathed in mail, and
spear in hand. But Zeus looked down from his throne in heaven, and
turned the issue otherwhither.
Soon as the mother ceased from her wild wandering toil, in seeking
her daughter stolen so subtly as to baffle all pursuit, she crossed
the snow-capped heights of Ida's nymphs; and in anguish cast her
down amongst the rocks and brushwood deep in snow; and, denying to man
all increase to his tillage from those barren fields, she wasted the
human race; nor would she let the leafy tendrils yield luxuriant
fodder for the cattle, wherefore many a beast lay dying; no
sacrifice was offered to the gods, and on the altars were no cakes
to burn; yea, and she made the dew-fed founts of crystal water to
cease their flow, in her insatiate sorrow for her child.
But when for gods and tribes of men alike she made an end to
festal cheer, Zeus spoke out, seeking to soothe the mother's moody
soul, "Ye stately Graces, go banish from Demeter's angry heart the
grief her wanderings bring upon her for her child, and go, ye Muses
too, with tuneful choir." Thereon did Cypris, fairest of the blessed
gods, first catch up the crashing cymbals, native to that land, and
the drum with tight-stretched skin, and then Demeter smiled, and in
her hand. did take the deep-toned flute, well pleased with its loud
Thou hast wedded as thou never shouldst have done in defiance of
all right, and thou hast incurred, my daughter, the wrath of the great
mother by disregarding her sacrifices. Oh! mighty is the virtue in
dress of dappled fawn-skin, in ivy green that twineth round a sacred
thyrsus, in whirling tambourines struck as they revolve in air in
tresses wildly streaming for the revelry of Bromius, and likewise in
the sleepless vigils of the goddess, when the moon looks down and
sheds her radiance o'er the scene. Thou wert confident in thy charms
(HELEN comes out of the palace alone.)
My friends, within the palace all goes well for us; for the
daughter of Proteus, who is privy to our stealthy scheme, told her
brother nothing when questioned as to my husband's coming, but for
my sake declared him dead and buried. Most fortunate it is my lord
hath had the luck to get these weapons; for he is now himself clad
in the harness he was to plunge into the sea, his stalwart arm
thrust through the buckler's strap, and in his right hand a spear,
on pretence of joining in homage to the dead. He hath girded himself
most serviceably for the fray, as if to triumph o'er a host of
barbarian foes when once we are aboard yon oared ship; instead of
his rags from the wreck hath he donned the robes I gave for his
attire, and I have bathed his limbs in water from the stream, a bath
he long hath wanted. But I must be silent, for from the house comes
forth the man who thinks he has me in his power, prepared to be his
bride; and thy goodwill I also claim and thy strict silence, if haply,
when we save ourselves, we may save thee too some day.
(THEOCLYMENUS and MENELAUS enter, with a train of attendants
bearing the offerings for the funeral rites.)
Advance in order, servants, as the stranger hath directed, bearing
the funeral gifts the sea demands. But thou, Helen, if thou wilt not
misconstrue my words, be persuaded and here abide; for thou wilt do
thy husband equal service whether thou art present or not. For I am
afraid that some sudden shock of fond regret may prompt thee to plunge
into the swollen tide, in an ecstasy of gratitude toward thy former
husband; for thy grief for him, though he is lost, is running to
O my new lord, needs must I honour him with whom I first shared
married joys; for I could even die with my husband, so well I loved
him; yet how could he thank me, were I to share death's doom with him?
Still, let me go and pay his funeral rites unto the dead in person.
The gods grant thee the boon I wish and this stranger too, for the
assistance he is lending here! And thou shalt find in me a wife fit to
share thy house, since thou art rendering kindness to Menelaus and
to me; for surely these events are to some good fortune tending. But
now appoint someone to give us a ship wherein to convey these gifts,
that I may find thy kindness made complete.
THEOCLYMENUS (to an attendant)
Go thou, and furnish them with a Sidonian galley of fifty oars and
Shall not he command the ship who is ordering the funeral?
Most certainly; my sailors are to obey him.
Repeat the order, that they may clearly understand thee.
I repeat it, and will do so yet again if that is thy pleasure.
Good luck to thee and to me in my designs!
Oh! waste not thy fair complexion with excessive weeping.
This day shall show my gratitude to thee.
The state of the dead is nothingness; to toil for them is vain.
In what I say, this world, as well as that, hath share.
Thou shalt not find in me a husband at all inferior to Menelaus.
With thee have I no fault to find; good luck is all I need.
That rests with thyself, if thou show thyself a loving wife to me.
This is not a lesson I shall have to learn now, to love my
Is it thy wish that I should escort thee in person with active
God forbid! become not thy servant's servant, O king!
Up and away! I am not concerned with customs which the race of
Pelops holds. My house is pure, for Menelaus did not die here; go some
one now and bid my vassal chiefs bring marriage-offerings to my
palace; for the whole earth must re-echo in glad accord the hymn of my
wedding with Helen, to make men envious. Go, stranger, and pour into
the sea's embrace these offerings to Helen's former lord, and then
speed back again with my bride, that after sharing with me her
marriage-feast thou mayst set out for home, or here abide in
(THEOCLYMENUS and his retinue enter the palace.)
O Zeus, who art called the father of all and god of wisdom, look
down on us and change our woe to joy! Lend us thy ready help, as we
seek to drag our fortunes up the rugged hill; if with but thy
finger-tip thou touch us, we shall reach our longed-for goal.
Sufficient are the troubles we ere this have undergone. Full oft
have I invoked you gods to near my joys and sorrows; I do not
deserve to be for ever unhappy, but to advance and prosper. Grant me
but this one boon, and so will ye crown my future with blessing.
(MENELAUS, HELEN and their train of attendants depart.)
Hail! thou swift Phoenician ship of Sidon! dear to the rowers,
mother to the foam, leader of fair dolphins' gambols, what time the
deep is hushed and still, and Ocean's azure child, the queen of
calm, takes up her parable and says: "Away! and spread your canvas
to the ocean-breeze. Ho! sailors, ho! come grip your oars of pine,
speeding Helen on her way to the sheltered beach where Perseus dwelt
It may be thou wilt find the daughters of Leucippus beside the
brimming river or before the temple of Pallas, when at last with dance
and revelry thou joinest in the merry midnight festival of Hyacinthus,
him whom Phoebus slew in the lists by a quoit hurled o'er the mark;
wherefore did the son of Zeus ordain that Laconia's land should set
apart that day for sacrifice; there too shalt thou find the tender
maid, whom ye left in your house, for as yet no nuptial torch has shed
its light for her.
Oh! for wings to cleave the air in the track of Libyan cranes,
whose serried ranks leave far behind the wintry storm at the shrill
summons of some veteran leader, who raises his exultant cry as he
wings his way o'er plains that know no rain and yet bear fruitful
increase. Ye feathered birds with necks outstretched, comrades of
the racing clouds, on on! till ye reach the Pleiads in their central
station and Orion, lord of the night; and as ye settle on Eurotas'
banks proclaim the glad tidings that Menelaus hath sacked the city
of Dardanus, and will soon be home.
Ye sons of Tyndareus at length appear, speeding in your chariot
through the sky, denizens of heaven's courts beneath the radiant
whirling stars, guide this lady Helen safely o'er the azure main,
across the foam-flecked billows of the deep-blue sea, sending the
mariners a favouring gale from Zeus; and from your sister snatch the
ill-repute of wedding with a barbarian, even the punishment bequeathed
to her from that strife on Ida's mount, albeit she never went to the
land of Ilium, to the battlements of Phoebus.
(The SECOND MESSENGER enters in haste, as THEOCLYMENUS comes out
of the palace.)
O king, at last have I found thee in the palace; for new tidings
of woe art thou soon to hear from me.
Make haste to woo a new wife; for Helen hath escaped.
Borne aloft on soaring wings, or treading still the earth?
Menelaus has succeeded in bearing her hence; 'twas he that brought
the news of his own death.
O monstrous story! what ship conveyed her from these shores? Thy
tale is past belief.
The very ship thou didst thyself give the stranger; and that
thou mayest briefly know all, he is gone, taking thy sailors with him.
How was it? I long to know, for I never thought that a single
arm could master all those sailors with whom thou wert despatched.
Soon as the daughter of Zeus had left this royal mansion and
come unto the sea, daintily picking her way, most craftily she set
to mourn her husband, though he was not dead but at her side. Now when
we reached thy docks well walled, we began to launch the fastest of
Sidonian ships, with her full complement of fifty rowers, and each
task in due succession followed; some set up the mast, others ranged
the oars with their blades ready, and stored the white sails within
the hold, and the rudder was let down astern and fastened securely.
While we were thus employed, those Hellenes, who had been
fellow-voyagers with Menelaus, were watching us, it seems, and they
drew nigh the beach, clad in the rags of shipwrecked men,-well built
enough, but squalid to look upon. And the son of Atreus, directly he
saw them approach, bespoke them, craftily introducing the reason for
his mourning: "Ye hapless mariners, how have ye come hither? your
Achaean ship where wrecked? Are ye here to help bury dead Atreus' son,
whose missing body this lady, daughter of Tyndareas, is honouring with
a cenotaph?" Then they with feigned tears proceeded to the ship,
bearing aboard the offerings to be thrown into the deep for
Menelaus. Thereat were we suspicious, and communed amongst ourselves
regarding the number of extra voyagers; but still we kept silence
out of respect for thy orders, for by intrusting the command of the
vessel to the stranger thou didst thus spoil all. Now the other
victims gave no trouble, and we easily put them aboard; only the
bull refused to go forward along the gangway, but rolled his eyes
around and kept bellowing, and, arching his back and glaring askance
towards his horns, he would not let us touch him. But Helen's lord
cried out: "O! ye who laid waste the town of Ilium, come pick up yon
bull, the dead man's offering, on your stout shoulders, as is the
way in Hellas, and cast him into the hold;" and as he spoke he drew
his sword in readiness. Then they at his command came and caught up
the bull and carried him bodily on to the deck. And Menelaus stroked
the horse on neck and brow, coaxing it to go aboard. At length, when
the ship was fully freighted, Helen climbed the ladder with graceful
step and took her seat midway betwixt the rowers' benches, and he
sat by her side, even Menelaus who was called dead; and the rest,
equally divided on the right and left side of the ship, sat them down,
each beside his man, with swords concealed beneath their cloaks, and
the billows soon were echoing to the rowers' song, as we heard the
boatswain's note. Now when we were put out a space, not very far nor
very near, the helmsman asked, "Shall we, sir stranger, sail yet
further on our course, or will this serve? For thine it is to
command the ship." And he answered: "'Tis far enough for me,"
his right hand he gripped his sword and stepped on to the prow; then
standing o'er the bull to slay it, never a word said he of any dead
man, but cut its throat and thus made prayer: "Poseidon, lord of the
sea, whose home is in the deep, and ye holy daughters of Nereus, bring
me and my wife safe and sound to Nauplia's strand from hence! Anon a
gush of blood, fair omen for the stranger, spouted into the tide.
One cried, "There is treachery in this voyage; why should we now
sail to Nauplia? Give the order, helmsman, turn thy rudder." But the
son of Atreus, standing where he slew the bull, called to his
comrades, "Why do ye, the pick of Hellas, delay to smite and slay
the barbarians and fling them from the ship into the waves?" While
to thy crew the boatswain cried the opposite command: "Ho! some of
catch up chance spars, break up the benches, or snatch the oar-blade
from the thole, and beat out the brains of these our foreign foes."
Forthwith up sprang each man, the one part armed with poles that
sailors use, the other with swords. And the ship ran down with
blood; while Helen from her seat upon the stern thus cheered them
on: "Where is the fame ye won in Troy? show it against these
barbarians." Then as they hasted to the fray, some would fall and some
rise up again, while others hadst thou seen laid low in death. But
Menelaus in full armour, made his way, sword in hand, to any point
where his watchful eye perceived his comrades in distress; so we leapt
from the ship and swam, and he cleared the benches of thy rowers. Then
did the prince set himself to steer, and bade them make a straight
course to Hellas. So they set up the mast, and favouring breezes blew;
and they are clear away, while I, from death escaped, let myself
down by the anchor chain into the sea; and, just as I was spent, one
threw me a rope and rescued me, and drew me to land to bring to thee
this message. Ah! there is naught more serviceable to mankind than a
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
I would never have believed that Menelaus could have eluded us and
thee, O king, in the way he did on his coming.
Woe is me! cozened by a woman's tricks! My bride hath escaped
me. If the ship could have been pursued and overtaken, I would have
used every means forthwith to catch the strangers; as it is, I will
avenge myself upon my treacherous sister, in that she saw Menelaus
in my palace and did not tell me. Wherefore shall she nevermore
deceive another by her prophetic art.
(A SERVANT comes out of the palace.)
Ho, there! whither away so fast, my lord? on what bloody thought
Whither justice calls me. Out of my path!
I will not loose thy robe, for on grievous mischief art thou bent.
Shalt thou, a slave, control thy master?
Yea, for I am in my senses.
I should not say so, if thou wilt not let me
Nay, but that I never will.
Slay my sister most accursed.
Say rather, most righteous.
"Righteous?" She who betrayed me?
There is an honourable treachery, which 'tis right to commit.
By giving my bride to another?
Only to those who had a better right.
Who hath any rights o'er mine?
He that received her from her father.
Nay, but fortune gave her to me.
And destiny took her away.
"Tis not for thee to decide my affairs.
Only supposing mine be the better counsel.
So I am thy subject, not thy ruler.
Aye, a subject bound to do the right, and eschew the wrong.
It seems thou art eager to be slain.
Slay me; thy sister shalt thou never slay with my consent, but
me perchance; for to die for their masters is the fairest death that
noble slaves can find.
(THE DIOSCURI appear from above.)
Restrain those bursts of rage that hurry thee to undue lengths,
Theoclymenus, king of this country. We are the twin sons of Zeus
that call to thee by name, whom Leda bore one day, with Helen too
who hath fled from thy palace. For thou art wroth for a marriage never
destined for thee; nor is thy sister Theonoe, daughter of a Nereid
goddess, wronging thee because she honours the word of God and her
father's just behests. For it was ordained that Helen should abide
within thy halls up till the present time, but since Troy is razed
to the ground and she hath lent her name to the goddesses, no longer
need she stay, now must she be united in the self-same wedlock as
before, and reach her home and share it with her husband. Withhold
then thy malignant blade from thy sister, and believe that she
herein is acting with discretion. Long, long ago had we our sister
saved, seeing that Zeus has made us gods, but we were too weak for
destiny as well as the deities, who willed these things to be. This is
my bidding to thee; while to my sister I say, "Sail on with thy
husband; and ye shall have a prosperous breeze; for we, thy brethren
twain, will course along the deep and bring you safely to your
fatherland. And when at last thy goal is reached and thy life ended,
thou shalt be famous as a goddess, and with thy twin brethren share
the drink-offering, and like us receive gifts from men, for such is
the will of Zeus. Yea, and that spot where the son o Maia first
appointed thee a home when from Sparta he removed thee, after stealing
an image of thee from Heaven's mansions to prevent thy marriage with
Paris, even the isle that lies like a sentinel along the Attic
coast, shall henceforth be called by thy name amongst men, for that it
welcomed thee when stolen from thy home. Moreover, Heaven ordains that
the wanderer Menelaus shall find a home within an island of the blest;
for to noble souls hath the deity no dislike, albeit these oft
suffer more than those of no account."
Ye sons of Leda and of Zeus, I will forego my former quarrel about
your sister, nor no longer seek to slay mine own. Let Helen to her
home repair, if such is Heaven's pleasure. Ye know that ye are
sprung of the same stock as your sister, best of women, chastest
too; hail then for the true nobility of Helen's soul, a quality too
seldom found amongst her sex!
Many are the forms the heavenly will assumes; and many a thing God
brings to pass contrary to expectation: that which was looked for is
not accomplished, while Heaven finds out a way for what we never
hoped; e'en such has been the issue here.