THE PALACE OF MENELAUS IN SPARTA
HELENA. PANTHALIS, LEADER OF THE CHORUS.
HELENA enters with a CHORUS of captive Trojan women.
Helena. I, much admired and upbraided Helena
Come from the strand where we but now have disembarked,
Still giddy from the restless rocking of the waves
Which with Poseidon's favour and the strength of Eurus bore
Us on their high reluctant backs from Phrygia's plain
Returning to our native bays and fatherland.
There on the shore with all his bravest warriors
King Menelaus knows the joy of safe return.
But thou, O lofty dwelling, bid me welcome now,
Thou whom, when he came home again from Pallas' hill,
My father Tyndareus built near the slope and then
Adorned supremely, more than all of Sparta's homes,
The while, as sisters do, with Clytemnestra I-
With Castor, Pollux too- grew up in happy play.
And ye, wings of the brazen portal, you I hail!
Yet wider once ye opened to greet a welcome guest
When Menelaus, one from many singled out,
Shone as a radiant bridegroom there before my gaze.
Open thy wings again that I the king's behest
May faithfully fulfil as doth become the wife.
Let me go in and everything remain behind
That hitherto hath stormed about me, threatening doom.
For since, by care untroubled, I departed hence
For Cytherea's fane, as sacred duty bade,
And there a robber seized me, he, the Phrygian,
Since then has happened much that mankind far and wide
So fain relate but not so fain is heard by him
Of whom the waxing legend hath a fable spun.
O lady glorious, do not disdain
Honoured possession of highest estate!
For to thee alone is the greatest boon given:
The fame of beauty transcending all else.
The hero's name resounds ere he comes,
Hence proudly he strides,
Yet bows at once the stubbornest man
At the throne of Beauty, the all-conquering.
Helena. Enough! I've sailed together with my consort here
And now before him to his city am I sent;
But what intent he harbours, that I can not guess.
Do I come here as wife? do I come here as queen?
Come I as victim for the prince's bitter pain
And for the adverse fate the Greeks endured so long?
Conquered I am but whether captive I know not!
For truly the immortal gods ambiguously
Ordained my fame and fate, attendants dubious
For Beauty's person; and on this very threshold now
They stand in gloomy threatening presence at my side.
For rarely did my husband cast a glance at me
There in the hollow ship, nor spake he heartening word.
As if he brooded mischief, facing me he sat.
But now when drawing near Eurotas' deep-bayed shore
The foremost ships scarce touched their beaks against the land
In greeting, he spake as if by Zeus himself inspired:
"Here will my warriors in due order disembark;
I'll muster them drawn up along the ocean-strand,
But thou, proceed, go up Eurotas' holy stream
Along its fruit-abounding shore, and ever on,
Guiding the coursers on the moist, bejewelled mead,
Until what time thou comest to the beauteous plain
Where Lacedeamon once a wide and fruitful field,
By solemn mountains close-engirdled, has been built.
Then enter in the lofty-towered, princely house
And muster me the maids whom there I left behind,
And with them summon too the wise old stewardess.
Let her display before thee all the treasure-hoard,
Just as my father left it and what I myself
Since then have added to the pile in war and peace.
All wilt thou find there in due order standing, for
It is the prince's privilege on coming home
That he find all in faithful keeping in his house
And each thing in its place just as he left it there.
For of himself the slave has power to alter naught."
Now quicken with the glorious wealth,
The ever-increased, thine eyes and thy breast;
For the grace of chain, the glory of crown,
Rest in their pride and hold themselves rare;
But enter in and challenge them all.
They quickly will arm.
I joy in the conflict when beauty vies
With gold and with pearls and with jewels of price.
Helena. Thereafter followed further mandate from my lord:
"Now when thou hast reviewed in order everything,
Then take as many tripods as thou thinkst to need
And vessels manifold which for the sacrifice
The priest desires when he performs the sacred rite,
The cauldrons and the bowls, the round and shallow plate;
The purest water from the holy fountain be
At hand in ewers high, and ready keep dry wood
As well, that rapidly accepts and feeds the flame;
And be not wanting finally a sharpened knife.
But to thy care alone I now resign the rest."
So spake he, urging me be gone, but not a thing
That breathes with life did he, the orderer, appoint
Which he, to honour the Olympians, wishes slain.
Dubious it is, but further worry I dismiss,
And let all be committed to the lofty gods
Who evermore fulfil as seemeth good to them;
Men may esteem it evil or esteem it good,
But we who are but mortals must accept and bear.
Ere now full oft the sacrificing priest has raised
The heavy axe to consecrate the earth-bowed beast
And yet he could not finish it, for he was checked
By nearing foes or by an intervening god.
Thou canst not imagine what will come next;
Queen, we beg, enter and be
Of good cheer.
Evil and good still come
Unexpected to mortals;
Though foretold, we credit it not.
Truly, did Troy burn; truly, we saw
Death before us, shamefullest death;
And are we not here
Joined with thee, serving gladly,
Seeing the dazzling sun in the heavens,
Also thee, the earth's fairest,
Gracious to us happy ones?
Helena. Be it as it may! What may impend, me it beseems
That I at once ascend into the royal house,
The long-renounced, much yearned-for, well-nigh forfeited,
Which stands again before mine eyes, I know not how.
My feet do not with so much spirit bear me up
The high steps I sped over lightly as a child.
Cast now, O sisters, ye
Captives who mourn your fate,
All your sorrows far from you;
Share in our mistress' joy,
Share ye in Helena's joy,
Who to her father's hearth and house
-True, with tardily homeward-turned
But with so much the firmer foot-
Draweth joyfully nearer.
Praise ye the ever holy,
And home-bringing Immortals!
How the unfettered one
Soars as on eagle-wings
Over the roughest! while in vain
Doth the sad captive yearningly
Over the prison's high parapets
Spread his arms abroad and pine.
But a god laid hold on her,
Her the exile,
And from Ilion's ruins
Hither he bore her again
To the ancient, the newly adorned
Raptures and torments,
Days of early youth
New-refreshed to remember.
Panthalis [as leader of the CHORUS].
But now forsake ye the joy-encompassed path of song
And turn your gaze toward the portal's open wings.
Sisters, what do I see? Does not the Queen return
Again to us here with swift and agitated step?
What is it, O great Queen, that here within the halls
Of this thy house, instead of greeting from thine own,
Could meet and shake thee thus? Conceal it thou canst not;
For on that brow of thine I see aversion writ,
A noble anger that is battling with surprise.
Helena [who has left the wings of the door open, agitated].
A vulgar fear beseemeth not the child of Zeus,
No lightly fleeting hand of terror touches her;
But that grim Fright, that from the womb of ancient Night
Rose at the first beginning and still multiform,
Like glowing clouds out of the mountain's fiery throat,
Rolls upward, might make even heroes' breasts to quake.
In such appalling wise today the Stygians
Have marked my entrance to the house that I am fain
To leave this threshold often trod and wished-for long,
Turning my steps away as of a guest dismissed.
But no! I have retreated hither to the light
And ye'll not drive me further, Powers, be who ye may!
I'll plan some consecration and then, purified,
May glowing hearth bid lord and mistress welcome home.
Leader of the CHORUS. Disclose, O noble lady, to thy serving-maids,
To us who aid and honour thee, what has occurred.
Helena. What I have seen, ye too with your own eyes shall see
Unless old Night indeed has forthwith swallowed up
Her creature in the fearful depths of her dark womb.
But yet that ye may know, I'll tell it you in words.
When through the sombre courtyard of the royal house
I stepped with reverence, my nearest task in mind,
I marvelled at the drear and silent corridors.
No sound of busy going to and fro fell on
Mine ear, no diligent swift hasting met my gaze.
Before me there appeared no maid, no stewardess,
They who are wont to greet each stranger as a friend,
But when I now drew near to the bosom of the hearth,
Beside the tepid glimmering embers there I saw
What huge, veiled form! a woman seated on the ground,
Not like to one asleep but one far lost in thought.
With sharp, commanding words I summon her to work,
Supposing her the stewardess whom there perhaps
My husband prudently had stationed ere he left;
But in her mantle's folds she still sits motionless;
And only at my threat her right arm doth she move,
As if from hearth and hall she'd motion me away.
Angry I turn from her and forthwith hasten on
Toward the steps on which aloft the thalamos
Rises adorned, the treasure-chamber near thereto;
But swiftly now the monster starts up from the floor,
Imperiously it bars the way to me and shows
Its haggard height, its hollow eyes bedimmed with blood,
A form so strange, such as confuses eye and mind.
Yet to the winds I speak, for all in vain do words
Essay to build up forms as if they could create.
There see herself! She even ventures forth to light!
Here we are master till the lord and monarch comes.
The grisly births of night doth Phoebus, Beauty's friend,
Drive far away to caverns or he binds them fast.
PHORKYAS appears on the sill between the door-posts.
Much have I lived through, although my tresses
In youthful fashion flow round my temples!
Many the horrors that I have witnessed,
Woe of dire warfare, Ilion's night
When it fell.
Through the beclouded, dust-raising tumult,
Warriors crowding, I heard th' Immortals
Terribly shouting, I heard the brazen
Accents of Strife that clanged through the field
Ah, still standing were Ilion's
Ramparts then, but the glowing flames
Soon from neighbour to neighbour ran,
Hence and thence spreading out
With the gust itself had made
Over the city in darkness.
Fleeing I saw through smoke and glow
And the fluttering tongues of flame
Ghastly presences, wrathful gods,
Wondrous forms, great as giants,
Striding on through sinister
Vapours illumined by fire.
Saw I this or was it my
Mind that, anguish-torn, bodied forth
Such made confusion? I'll never say
That it was, but yet that I
See with mine eyes this horrid thing,
Certainly this I do know;
I could indeed lay hold on it,
But that fear is restraining me,
From the perilous keeps me.
Which one of Phorkys'
Daughters, then, art thou?
For to that family
Thee would I liken.
Art thou perchance of those born hoary,
With but one eye and but one tooth,
Sharing them alternately,
Art thou one of the Graiae?
Darest thou, monster,
Here beside beauty
Under the eye of great
Phoebus to show thee?
Come, only step forth, notwithstanding,
For the hideous sees he not,
As his holy eye has not
Yet alighted on shadow.
But a sorrowful adverse fate
Us poor mortals doth force, alas!
To the unspeakable pain of eyes
Which the detestable, ever accursed, on
Beauty's lovers doth still inflict.
Yea, then hearken, if thou darest
Meet and defy us, hear the curse,
Hear the menace of each rebuke,
Out of the cursing mouths of the happy ones
Formed and fashioned by very gods.
Phorkyas. Old is the word, yet high and true remains the sense,
That Modesty and Beauty never, hand in hand,
Pursue their way along the verdant paths of earth.
Deep-rooted dwells in both of them an ancient hate,
That wheresoever on the way they chance to meet,
Each on the other turns her back in enmity.
Then each one hastens on with greater vehemence,
Modesty sad but Beauty insolent of mood,
Till Orcus' hollow night at last envelops them,
Unless old age has fettered them before that time.
You find I now, ye wantons, here from foreign lands,
Your insolence outpouring, like a flight of cranes
Proceeding high overhead with hoarse and shrilling screams,
A drawn-out cloud that earthward sends its croaking tones,
Which lure the quiet wanderer to lift his gaze
And look at them; but they fly onward on their way,
He goes on his, and so with us too will it be.
Who are ye then, that round the high house of the king
Like Maenads wild or like Bacchantes dare to rave?
Who are ye then to meet the house's stewardess
With howling as a pack of dogs howls at the moon?
Dream ye 'tis hidden from me of what race ye are,
Thou callow, war-begotten, slaughter-nurtured brood?
Man-crazy, thou, seducing as thou art seduced,
Wasting the strength of warrior and of burgher too.
To see you in your crowd, a swarm of locusts seems
To have swooped down, hiding the verdant harvest-field.
Devourers, ye, of others' toil! Ye parasites,
Destroyers, in the bud, of all prosperity,
Thou ravished merchandise, bartered and marketed!
Helena. Who in the presence of the mistress chides the maids,
Doth boldly overstep the mistress' household right;
For her alone 'tis to praise the laudable
As it is hers to punish what there is to blame.
And I am well contented with the service that
They rendered when the lofty power of Ilion
Beleaguered stood and fell and lay, and not the less
When on our erring course the grievous, changeful woe
We bore, where commonly each thinks but of himself.
Here also I expect the like from this blithe throng;
Not what the slave is, asks the lord, but how he serves.
Therefore be silent, grin and jeer at them no more.
Hast thou the palace of the king kept well till now,
In place of mistress, to thy credit shall it stand;
But now that she has come in person, step thou back
Lest punishment be thine, not merited reward.
Phorkyas. To threaten her domestics doth remain the right
The which the heaven-blest ruler's lofty consort earned
Indeed through many a year of prudent governance.
Since thou, now recognized, dost tread thine ancient place
Anew and once again as mistress and as Queen,
Lay hold upon the reins long-slackened, govern now,
Take in thy keep the treasure, all of us thereto.
But first of all protect me now, the older one,
Against this crowd that by thy swan-like beauty are
Only a meanly-winged lot of cackling geese.
Leader of the CHORUS. How ugly, near to beauty, ugliness appears!
Phorkyas. How senseless, near to wisdom, seems the want of sense!
From here on, members of the CHORUS respond in turn, stepping
forth singly from the CHORUS.
The First Chorister. Of Father Erebus tell us, tell us of Mother
Phorkyas. Then speak of Scylla, thine own flesh's kith and kin!
The Second Chorister.
There's many a monstrous shoot on thine ancestral tree.
Phorkyas. Away to Orcus! There seek out thy kindred tribe!
The Third Chorister.
They who dwell there, in sooth, are far too young for thee.
Phorkyas. Go to Tiresias the Old, make love to him!
The Fourth Chorister.
Great-great-granddaughter to thee was Orion's nurse.
Phorkyas. Harpies, I fancy, fed thee up on filthiness.
The Fifth Chorister.
With what dost nourish thou such cherished meagreness?
NOTE Text in public Domain ends here....