Hyllos, son of Heracles.
Lichas, a herald.
Deianeira, wife of Heracles.
Iole, a captive maiden.
Chorus of Trachinian Maidens.
SCENE — Trachis, in the courtyard of Deianeira’s house.
Enter Deianeira, Attendant, and Chorus of Trachinian Maidens.
Deian. ’Tis an old saying, told of many men,
"Thou canst not judge man's life before he die,
Nor whether it be good or bad for him;"
But I, before I tread the paths of death,
Know that my life is dark and full of woe,
Who, dwelling in my father Œneus' house,
At Pleuron, had, of all Ætolian maids,
Most cause to shrink from marriage; for my hand
The river Acheloös came to seek,
In triple form my father suing for me;
At one time as a bull in bodily form,
Then as a dragon wound his speckled length,
And then with human trunk and head of ox,
And from his shaggy beard there flowed the streams
Of his clear fountains. Such a suitor I,
Receiving sadly, wished that I might die
Ere I approached his bed. And then there came,
Later, indeed, yet much beloved by me,
Zeus' noble son, whom fair Alcmena bore,
Who, wrestling with him in the strife of war,
Wrought out my rescue. What the mode of fight
I tell not, for I know not. He might tell
Whoe'er could gaze unshrinking at the sight;
For I was there, struck down with panic-fear
[Lest all my beauty should but bring me woe;]
But Zeus, the God of battles, gave to us
Good issue, if in truth it be but good;
For, sharing now the bed of Heracles
By special grace, I cherish fear on fear,
Still pining for him. Night brings woe with it,
*And if it bids it go, night but receives
Fresh trouble still. Yea! sons were born to us;
And like a husbandman who tills the soil
Of distant field, and sees the crop but once,
Sowing and reaping, so is he to them;
Such course of life still sends my husband home,
And far from home, in servile labour bound
To one we know. And now when he has reached
The goal of all these labours, most of all
I sit and shudder. Since he smote the might
Of Iphitos, we here in Trachis dwell
Far from our land, and with a stranger host;
And where he is, none knows. But he has left
In this his flight full bitter pangs for me,
And half I know he bears some weight of woe,
For no short time is passed, but ten long months
Added to five, and still no message comes.
And some sore woe comes on; for so it tells,
The tablet which he left us, and I pray
The Gods that gift may not bring woe to me.
Attend. My mistress, Deianeira, I have seen thee
Bewailing oft, with loud and bitter wails,
The absence of thy Heracles; but now,
(If it be right with bond-slave's thoughts to school
Those that are free, and I must speak for thee), —
How comes it thou art rich in many sons,
Yet sendest none to track thy husband's steps?
Not even Hyllos, whom 'twere fit to send,
If he care aught about his father's fate,
To find it prospering. And lo! he comes,
Just at the moment, speeding by the house.
So, if I seem to give thee counsel good,
Thou may'st at once make use of him and it.
Deian. My son, dear boy, good words of counsel fall
E’en from the meanest. Lo! this woman speaks,
Slave though she be, a free and noble speech.
Hyllos. What was it, mother? Tell me, if thou may’st.
Deian. That not to seek where now thy father dwells,
After such length of absence, brings thee shame.
Hyllos. Yet if one trust to rumours, I know well.
Deian. And where dost hear, my son, that he abides?
Deian. Could he do that, one might hear anything.
Hyllos. But, so I hear, from this he has escaped.
Deian. Where now, or dead or living, tell they of him?
Hyllos. ’Tis said that he makes war, or plans to make,
On some Eubœan town of Eurytos’.
Deian. And dost thou know, my son, that he has left
With me true oracles of that same land?
Hyllos. What were they, mother? I know nought of them.
Deian. This, or that he shall find the end of life,
Or having this his task accomplished,
Shall, through the coming years of all his life,
Rejoice and prosper. When the scales thus hang,
Wilt thou not go, my child, to give thy help,
*When either we a great deliverance gain,
*Or, if he perish, perish too with him?
Hyllos. Yes, I will go, my mother. Had I known
The utterance of these oracles, long since
I had been there. And, now that I have heard,
I will not fail in aught to learn the truth,
The whole truth, of these matters.Yet the fate
Which waits upon my father gives no cause
For hasty dread and over-anxious care.
Deian. Go then, my son. To hear he prospers well,
Though one hear late, brings balance large of gain.
Chor. Thee, whom the Night, star-spangled, bringeth forth,
Smitten and spoiled by thee,
Whom, in thy strength of fire,
She lulls to calmest couch,
On thee I call, our sun-god, Helios,
Tell this, where now he dwells,
Alcmena's noble son, (Thou ever bright,
In sheen of glory clad;)
Or in the sea's deep glades,
Or taking rest in either continent?
Tell this, Ο Lord, whose eye
Sees with surpassing might.
For, lo! I hear that Deianeira still,
Once wooed in many a strife,
Now like a wailing bird,
With sad and sore-vexed heart,
Can never lull to rest the strong desire
Of eyes undimmed with tears,
But ever nurses unforgetting dread
As to her husband's paths,
And wastes her life in anxious, widowed couch,
Still looking, in her woe,
For doom of coming ill;
For as one sees, when North or South wind blows
In strength invincible,
Full many a wave upon the ocean wide,
Sweeping and rushing on,
So like a Cretan sea,
The stormy grief of life
Now bringeth low the son of Cadmos old,
Now lifts him up again;
Yet some one of the Gods
Still keeps him from the house of Hades dark,
As one who may not fail.
Wherefore, half blaming thee, I speak my words,
Kindly, yet thwarting thee,
And say thou should'st not fret away good hope;
Not even He, who reigns in glory crowned,
The son of Cronos high,
Hath given to men a painless heritage,
*But still the whirling courses of the Bear
Bring grief and joy in turn.
For neither does the spangled night remain,
Nor the dark Fates, nor wealth, abide with men;
Quickly they leave this man, and pass to that,
Both joy, and loss of joy;
And this, I say that thou, our queen, should'st have
For ever in thy hopes.
For who hath known in Zeus forgetfulness
Of those He children calls?
Deian. Thou comest, one may guess, as having learnt
My many woes: yet may'st thou never know,
(As now thou knowest not,) by suffering taught,
How I consume my soul. The tender plant
Grows in such climes where neither God's hot sun,
Nor storm, nor any blast may trouble it,
But in pure joy it lives its painless life,
Until that hour when maiden gains the name
Of wife, and gains her share of nightly grief,
Or caring for her husband, or her babes.
Then might one see, by that experience taught,
How I am crushed with sorrows. Many a woe
Have I wept bitter tears for. Now of one
I'll tell thee, which I never knew before;
For when our king, our Heracles, went forth
From home for his last journey, then with me
He leaves a tablet, old, and written o'er
With special rules, which never until then
Had he the heart to tell me, though he went
On many a labour, but still started forth,
As one about to prosper, not to die.
But now, like one as good as dead he told
What chattels I should take as marriage dower,
What shares of all their father's land he gave
In portions to his sons, and fixed a time
That when for one whole year and three months more
He from this land was absent, then 'twas his,
Or in that self-same hour to die, or else,
Escaping that one crisis, thenceforth live
With life unvexed. Such things, he said, stood firm
By doom of Gods, and thus the end would come
Of all the labours wrought by Heracles;
For so, he said, Dodona's ancient oak
Had spoken by the voice of twin-born doves.
And of these things the unerring truth is come,
This very hour, as fate decreed it should;
And so, my friends, while sleeping sweetest sleep,
I start in fear and terror, lest I live
Bereaved of him, the noblest man of all.
Chor. Hush such ill-omened words; for, lo! I see
One coming crowned, as if for joyful news.
Enter Messenger, his head crowned with laurel.
Mess. My mistress, Deianeira, first of all
That come as couriers, I will free thy soul
From every fear. Know then, Alcmena’s son
Is living, and, victorious in the fight,
Brings his first-fruits unto his country’s Gods.
Deian. What news is this, old man, thou bring’st to me?
Mess. That he, thy husband, praised of many men,
Will soon appear in strength of victory.
Deian. What townsman, or what stranger, told thee this?
Mess. In the wide meadow where the oxen graze,
Lichas the herald tells it to the crowd,
And I, thus hearing him, rushed forth at once,
That I might be the first to tell it thee,
Gain some fair guerdon, and thy favour win.
Deian. If all goes well, why comes he not himself?
Mess. But little ease is there for him, Ο lady;
For all the Melian people stand around,
With eager quest, nor has he power to move,
For each one seeks to learn the uttermost,
And will not slack his craving till he hear
His heart's desire. Thus he, against his will,
With them, to meet their will, abides a while;
But thou shalt see him stand before thee soon.
Chor. Let all within exult,
That wait their wedded joy,
With shouts on altar-hearth;
And with them let the stronger voice of men
Proclaim thy name, Apollo, guardian God,
Lord of the quiver bright,
And ye, Ο maidens. Pæan, Pæan raise;
Shout out his Sister's name,
Who smites the fawn, torch-armed in either hand,
With all the neighbouring Nymphs.
I spring aloft, I can no more withstand
The flute's clear voice, Ο sovereign of my soul.
Behold, it stirs and works,
Evoi! Oh, Evoi!
The ivy-wreath that leads me back again
To hottest strife of Bacchic revelry.
Io! Oh, Io!
Pæan! Oh, Pæan!
Look thou, dear lady, look;
Before thy face they come,
And thou may'st see them clear.
Enter Lichias, followed by Iole and a company of Captive Women.
Deian. I see it, Ο my friends, nor does it ’scape
Mine eye’s keen watch that I should fail to note
This proud array. I welcome thee, Ο herald,
Though thou com’st late, if thou bring’st welcome news.
Lichas. Well are we come, and we are greeted well,
For what we gain in act. It needs must be
That one who prospers should receive good words.
Deian. Ah! dearest friend, first tell me what I first
Desire to know. Comes Heracles alive?
Lichas. I, for my part, left him in strength of health,
Living and well, unsmitten of disease.
Deian. And where? At home, or on a foreign soil?
Deian. Fulfilling vows, or led by oracles?
Lichas. The vows he made when with his spear he sacked
The city of these women whom thou see’st.
Deian. And these, in Heaven’s name, who and whence are they?
Full sad, unless they cheat me with their grief.