Euripides, Alcestis, 430 BCE
Translated by Richard
From the women's
quarters in the left wing of the Palace comes a woman in tears. She
is not a slave, but one of the personal attendants on the Queen.)
But now from the house
comes one of her women servants, all in tears. What now shall I
learn? (To the weeping Servant) It is
well to weep when our lords are in sorrow-but tell us, we would
know, is she alive, is she dead?
may say she is both alive and dead.
can the same man be dead and yet behold the light?
gasps, she is on the verge of death.
unhappy man! For such a husband what loss is such a wife!
King will not know his loss until he suffers it.
Then there is no hope that her life may be saved?
The fated day
all things befitting prepared for her?
robes in which her lord will bury her are ready.
Then let her know that she dies gloriously, the best of women
beneath the sun by far!
should she not be the best! Who shall deny it? What should the best
among women be? How better might a woman hold faith to her lord than
gladly to die for him? This the whole city knows, but you will
marvel when you hear what she has done within the house. When she
knew that the last of her days was come she bathed her white body in
river water, she took garments and gems from her rooms of cedar
wood, and clad herself nobly; then, standing before the
hearth-shrine, she uttered this prayer:
Goddess, since now I must descend beneath the earth, for the last
time I make supplication to you: and entreat you to protect my
motherless children. Wed my son to a fair bride, and my daughter to
a noble husband. Let not my children die untimely, as I their mother
am destroyed, but grant that they live out happy lives with good
fortune in their own land!'
every altar in Admetus's house she went, hung them with garlands.
offered prayer, cut myrtle boughs unweeping, unlamenting; nor did
the coming doom change the bright colour of her face.
Then to her marriage-room she went, flung herself down upon her bed,
and wept, and said:
my marriage-bed, wherein I loosed my virgin girdle to him for whom I
die! Farewell! I have no hatred for you. Only me you lose. Because I
held my faith to you and to my lord-I must die. Another woman shall
possess you, not more chaste indeed than I, more fortunate perhaps.'
fell upon her knees and kissed it, and all the bed was damp with
the, tide of tears which flooded to her eyes. And when she was
fulfilled of many tears, drooping she rose from her bed and made as
if to go, and many times she turned to go and many times turned
back, and flung herself once more upon the bed.
children clung to their mother's dress, and wept; and she clasped
them in her arms and kissed them turn by turn, as a dying woman.
the servants in the house wept with compassion for their Queen, But
she held out her hand to each, and there was none so base to whom
she did not speak, and who did not reply again.
Such is the misery in Admetus's house. If he had died, he would be
nothing now; and, having escaped, he suffers an agony he will never
does Admetus lament this woe-since he must be robbed of so noble a
weeps, and clasps in his arms his dear bedfellow, and cries to her
not to abandon him, asking impossible things. For she pines, and is
wasted by sickness. She falls away, a frail burden on his arm; and
yet, though faintly, she still breathes, still strives to look upon
the sunlight, which she shall never see hereafter-since now for the
last time she looks upon the orb and splendour of the sun!
go, and shall announce that you are here; for all men are not so
well-minded to their lords as loyally to stand near them in
misfortunes, but you for long have been a friend to both my lords.
(She goes back into
the women's quarters of the Palace. The CHORUS now begins to sing.)
What end to these woes?
What escape from the Fate
Which oppresses our lords?
Will none come forth?
Must I shear my hair?
Must we wrap ourselves
In black mourning folds?
is certain, O friends, it is certain?
But still let us cry to the Gods;
Very great is the power of the Gods.
King, O Healer,
Seek out appeasement
To Admetus's agony!
Grant this, Oh, grant it!
Once before did you find it;
Now once more
Be the Releaser from death.
The Restrainer of blood-drenched Hades!
O son of Pheres.
What ills shall you suffer
Being robbed of your spouse!
sight of such woes
Shall we cut our throats?
Shall we slip
A dangling noose round our necks?
From the house with her lord!
Cry out, Oh, lament.
O land of Pherae,
the best of women
Fades away in her doom
Under the earth,
To dark Hades!
(From the central door
of the Palace comes a splendid but tragical procession. Preceded by
the royal guards, ADMETUS enters, supporting ALCESTIS. The two
children, a boy and a girl, cling to their mother's dress. There is
a train of attendants and waiting women, who bring a low throne for
the fainting ALCESTIS.)
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Never shall I say that we ought to rejoice in marriage, but rather
weep; this have I seen from of old and now I look upon the fate of
the King, who loses the best of wives, and henceforth until the end
his life shall be intolerable.
Sun, and you, light of day,
Vast whirlings of swift cloud!
sun looks upon you and me, both of us miserable, who have wrought
nothing against the Gods to deserve death.
Earth, O roof-tree of my home,
Bridal-bed of my country, Iolcus!
Rouse up, O unhappy one, and, do not leave me! Call upon the mighty
Gods to pity!
(starting up and gazing wildly in terror,
see the two-oared boat,
I see the boat on the lake!
Ferryman of the Dead,
Calls to me, his hand on the oar:
'Why linger? Hasten! You delay me!'
Angrily he urges me.
Alas! How bitter to me is that ferrying of which you speak! O my
unhappy one, how we suffer!
drags me, he drags me away-
Do you not see?-
To the House of the Dead,
The Winged One
Glaring under dark brows,
What is it you do?
Set me free!-
What a path must I travel,
O most hapless of women!
piteous to those that love you, above all to me and to these
children who sorrow in this common grief!
Loose me, Oh, loose me now;
Lay me down;
All strength is gone from my feet.
(She falls back in the
Hades draws near!
Dark night falls on my eyes,
My children, my children,
Never more, Oh, never more
Shall your mother be yours!
O children, farewell,
Live happy in the light of day!
Alas! I hear this unhappy speech, and for me it is worse than all
death. Ah! By the Gods, do not abandon me! Ah! By our children, whom
you leave motherless, take heart! If you die, I become as nothing;
in you we have our life and death; we revere your love.
Admetus, you see the things I suffer; and now before I die I mean to
tell you what I wish.
show you honour and-at the cost of my life-that you may still
behold the light, I die; and yet I might have lived and wedded any
in Thessaly I chose, and dwelt with happiness in a royal home. But,
torn from you, I would not live with fatherless children, nor have I
hoarded up those gifts of youth in which I found delight. Yet he
who begot you, she who brought you forth, abandoned you when it had
been beautiful in them to die, beautiful to die with dignity to save
They had no child but you, no hope if you were dead that other
children might be born to them. Thus I should have lived my life
out, and you too, and you would not lament as now, made solitary
from your wife, that you must rear our children motherless!
these things are a God's doing and are thus.
Well! Do not forget this gift, for I shall ask-not a recompense,
since nothing is more precious than life, but-only what is just, as
you yourself will say, since if you have not lost your senses you
must love these children no less than I.
them be masters in my house; marry not again, and set a stepmother
over them, a woman harsher than I, who in her jealousy will lift her
hand against my children and yours. Ah! not this, let not this be, I
entreat you! The new stepmother hates the first wife's children, the
viper itself is not more cruel. The son indeed finds a strong
rampart in his father-but you, my daughter, how shall you live your
virgin life out in happiness? How will you fare with your father's
Let her not cast evil report upon you and thus wreck your marriage
in the height of your youth! You will have no mother, O my child, to
give you in marriage, to comfort you in childbed when none is
tenderer than a mother!
I must die. Not to-morrow. nor to-morrow's morrow comes this
misfortune on me, but even now I shall be named with those that are
no more. Farewell! Live happy! You, my husband, may boast you had
the best of wives; and you, my children, that you lost the best of
(She falls back.)
Take heart! I do not hesitate to speak for him. This he will do,
unless he has lost his senses.
shall be so, it shall be! Have no fear! And since I held you living
as my wife, so, when dead, you only shall be called my wife, and in
your place no bride of Thessaly shall salute me hers; no other woman
is noble enough for that, no other indeed so beautiful of face. My
children shall suffice me; I pray the Gods I may enjoy them, since
you we have not enjoyed.
shall wear mourning for you, O my wife, not for one year but all my
days, abhorring the woman who bore me, hating my father-for they
loved me in words, not deeds. But you-to save my life you give the
dearest thing you have! Should I not weep then, losing such a wife
shall make an end of merry drinking parties, and of flower-crowned
feasts and of the music which possessed my house. Never again shall
I touch the lyre, never again shall I raise my spirits to sing to
the Libyan flute-for you have taken from me all my joy.
Your image, carven by the skilled hands of artists, shall be laid in
our marriage-bed; I shall clasp it, and my hands shall cling to it
and I shall speak your name and so, not having you, shall think I
have my dear wife in my arms-a cold delight, I know, but it will
lighten the burden of my days. Often you will gladden me, appearing
in my dreams; for sweet it is to look on those we love in dreams,
however brief the night.
If I had the tongue and song of Orpheus so that I might charm
Demeter's Daughter or her Lord, and snatch you back from Hades,
would go down to hell; and neither Pluto's dog nor Charon, Leader of
the Dead, should hinder me until I had brought your life back to the
least await me there whenever I shall die, and prepare the house
where you will dwell with me. I shall lay a solemn charge upon these
children to stretch me in the same cedar shroud with you, and lay my
side against your side; for even in death let me not be separate
from you, you who alone were faithful to me!
I also will keep this sad mourning with you, as a friend with a
friend; for she is worthy of it.
O my children, you
have heard your father say that never will he set another wife over
you and never thus insult me.
Again I say it, and will perform it too!
(placing the children's hands in his)
Then take these children from my hand.
take them-dear gifts from a dear hand.
you must be the mother for me to my children.
must be so, since they are robbed of you.
children, I should have lived my life out-and I go to the
Alas! What shall I do, left alone by you?
Time will console you. The dead are nothing.
Take me with you, by the Gods! Take me to the Underworld!
is enough that I should die-for you.
Fate, what a wife you steal from me!
dimmed eyes are heavily oppressed.
woman, I am lost if you leave me!
may say of me that I am nothing.
Lift up your head! Do not abandon your children!
Indeed it is unwillingly-but, farewell, my children!
Look at them, look....
What are you doing? Are you leaving me?
(falling back dead) Farewell. She is gone! The
wife of Admetus is no more.
Euripides, Medea, 428 BCE
Translation: Gilbert Murray
of Medea’s Children:
Women, my mind
is clear. I go to slay
with all speed, and then, away
From hence; not
wait yet longer till they stand
and an angrier hand
To die. Yea,
howsoe’er I shield them. Die
They must. And.
Seeing that they must, ‘tis I
them, I their mother, touched of none
Beside. Oh, up
and get thine armour on,
My heart! Why
longer tarry we to win
Our crown of
dire inevitable sin?
Take up thy
sword, O poor right hand of mine,
Thy sword: then
onward to the thin-drawn line
turns agony. Let there be naught
now keep thee from that thought,
‘Born of thy
flesh,’ ‘thine own beloved.’ Now,
For one brief
day, forget thy children: thou
hereafter. Though thou slay them, yet
they…. I am sore unfortunate.
goes into the house]
O Earth, our mother; and thou
All-seer, arrowy crown
Of Sunlight, manward now
Look down, Oh, look down!
Look upon one accurst,
Ere yet in blood she twine
Red hands — blood that is thine!
O Sun, save her first!
She is thy daughter still,
Of thine own golden line;
Save her! Or shall man spill
The life divine?
Give peace, O fire that diest not! Send thy
To stay her yet, to lift her afar, afar —
A torture-changed spirit, a voice of
Wrought of old wrong and war!
Alas for the mother’s pain
Wasted! Alas the dear
Life that was born in vain!
Woman, what mak’st thou here,
Thou beyond the Gate
Where dim Symplegades
Clash in the dark blue seas,
The shores where death doth wait?
Why hast thou taken on thee,
To make us desolate
This anger of misery
And guilt of hate?
For fierce are the smitings back of blood once shed
hath been: God’s wrath upon them that kill,
anguishing earth, and the wonder of the dead
as music still….
[A cry is heard within]
Hark! Did ye hear? Heard ye the children’s
O miserable woman! O abhorred!
A Child within
What shall I do? What is it? Keep me fast
The Other Child
I know nothing, Brother! Oh,
I think she means to kill us.
Let me go!
I will — help! Help! — and save them at the last.
Yes, in God’s name! Help quickly ere we die!
The Other Child
She has almost caught me now. She has a sword.
[Many of the Women are now beating at the
barred door to get in, Others are standing
Women at the door
Thou stone, thou thing of iron! Wilt
Spill with thine hand that life, the vintage
Of thine own agony?
The Other Women
A mother slew her babes in day of
One, only one, from dawn to eventide,
Ino, god-maddened, whom the Queen of Heaven
Set frenzied, flying to the dark: and she
Cast her for sorrow to the wide salt sea,
Forth from those rooms of murder unforgiven,
Wild-footed from a white crag of the
And clasping still her children twain she died.
O Love of Women, charged with sorrow
What hast thou wrought upon us? What beside
Resteth to tremble for?
The Trojan Women, 417 BCE
Translation: Gilbert Murray
Death of Astyanax
Talthybius with a band of soldiers. He comes forward slowly and
with evident disquiet]
Spouse of the noblest heart that
beat in Troy,
Andromache, hate me not! ‘Tis not in joy
tell thee. But the people and the Kings
with one voice . . .
What is it? Evil
on thy lips!
‘Tis ordered, this child . . .
can I tell her of it?
Doth he not go With
me, to the same master?
There is none
Greece, shall e’re be master of thy son.
Will they leave him here to build again The
wreck? . .
know not how to tell thee plain!
Thou hast a gentle heart . . . if it
not good, news thou hidest!
son shall die. . . . The whole vile thing is said Now!
Oh, I could have borne mine enemy’s bed!
speaking in the council of the host
Odysseus hath prevailed —
Lost! Lost! . . .
Forgive me! It is not easy . . .
… That the son of
one so perilous be not fostered on to
God; may his own counsel fall
his own sons!
…But from this crested wall
Troy be dashed, and die…. Nay, let the thing
done. Thou shalt be wiser so. Not cling
fiercely to him. Suffer as a brave
in bitter pain; nor think to have
Strength which thou hast not. Look about thee here!
thou see help, or refuge anywhere?
land is fallen and thy lord, and thou
prisoner and alone, one woman; how
battle against us? For thine own good
would not have thee strive, nor make ill blood
shame about thee…. Ah nor move thy lips
silence there, to cast upon the ships
curse! One word of evil to the host,
babe shall have no burial, but be tossed
Naked….Ah, peace! And bear as best thou may,
War’s fortune. So thou shalt not go thy way
Leaving this child unburied; nor the Greek
Be stern against thee, if thy heart
Andromache (to the child)
die, my best beloved, my cherished one,
fierce men’s hands, leaving me here alone.
father was too valiant; that is why
slay thee! Other children, like to die,
have been spared for that. But on thy head
good is turned to evil
O thou bed
bridal; O the joining of the hand,
led me long ago to Hector’s land
To bear, O not a lamb for Grecian
slaughter, but a Prince o’er all the hordes
Enthroned of wide-flung Asia ….Weepest thou?
why, my little one? Thou canst not know.
Father will not come; he will not come;
once, the great spear flashing, and the tomb
to set thee free! Not one of all
brethren, nor the might of Ilion’s wall.
How shall it be? One horrible spring … deep,
And thy neck … Ah God, so cometh Sleep! …
none to pity thee! … Thou little thing
That curlest in my arms, what sweet scents cling
round thy neck! Beloved; can it be
All nothing, that this bosom cradled
fostered; all the weary nights, wherethrough
watched upon thy sickness, till I grew
Wasted with watching? Kiss me. This one time;
ever again. Put up thine arms, and climb
my neck: now, kiss me, lips to lips….
O, ye have found an anguish that outstrips
tortures of the East, ye Gentle Greeks!
will ye slay this innocent, that seeks
wrong? … O Helen, Helen, thou ill tree
That Tyndareus planted, who shall deem of thee
child of Zeus? O, thou hast drawn thy breath
many fathers, Madness, Hate, red Death,
every rotting poison of the sky!
Zeus knows thee not, thou vampire,
Greece and the world! God hate thee and destroy,
with those beautiful eyes hast blasted Troy,
made the far-famed plains a waste withal.
Quick! Take him; drag him: cast him
from the wall,
cast ye will! Tear him, ye beasts, be swift!
hath undone me, and I cannot lift
hand, one hand, to save my child from death …
hide my head for shame: fling me beneath
[She swoons: then
Quick: I must begone
the bridal … I have lost my child, my own!
[The Soldiers close
Troy ill-starred; for one strange women, one
Abhorred kiss, how are thine hosts undone!
Talthybius (Bending over Andromache and gradually
Taking the Child from her)
Come, Child: let be that clasp of love
Outwearied! Walk thy way with me,
Up to the crested tower, above
Thy father’s wall … where they decree
Thy soul shall perish. — Hold him: hold! —
Would God some other man might ply
These charges, one of duller mould,
And nearer to the iron than I!
O Child, they rob us of our own.
Child of my Mighty One outworn:
Ours, ours thou art! — Can aught be done
Of deeds, can aught of pain be borne,
To aid thee? — Lo, this beaten head,
This bleeding bosom! These I spread
As gifts to thee. I can thus much.
Woe, woe for Troy, and woe for thee!
What fall yet lacketh, ere we touch
The last dead deep of misery?
[The Child, who has started back
from Talthybius is
taken up by one of the Soldiers and borne back
towards the city, while
Andromache is set again
on the Chariot and driven off towards the ships.
Talthybius goes with the Child.