The Scene is in front of Jason’s House at Corinth.
Enter NURSE of Medea’s Children.
Nurse. Would God that Argo’s hull had never flown
Through those blue Clashing Rocks to Kolchis-land!
Nor that in Pelion’s glens had fallen ever
The axe-hewn pine, nor filled with oars the hands
Of hero-princes, who at Pelias’ hest
Quested the Golden Fleece! My mistress then,
Medea, to Iolkos’ towers had sailed not
With love for Jason thrilled through all her soul,
Nor had on Pelias’ daughters wrought to slay
Their sire, nor now in this Corinthian land
Dwelt with her lord and children, gladdening
By this her exile them whose land received her;
Yea, and in all things serving Jason’s weal,
Which is the chief salvation of the home,
When wife stands not at variance with her lord.
Now all is hatred: love is sickness-stricken.
For Jason, traitor to his babes and her,
My mistress, weddeth with a child of kings,
Daughter of Kreon ruler of the land.
And, slighted thus, Medea, hapless wife,
Cries on the oaths, invokes that mightiest pledge
Of the right hand, and calls the gods to witness
From Jason what requital she receives.
Foodless she lies, her frame to griefs resigned,
Wasting in tears all those long, weary hours
Since first she knew her outraged by her lord,
Never uplifting eye, nor turning ever
From earth her face; but like a rock or sea-wave
So hearkens she to friends that counsel her;
Saving at whiles, when, turning her white neck,
All to herself she wails her sire beloved,
Her land, her home, forsaking which she came
Hither with him who holds her now dishonoured.
Now knows she, hapless, by affliction’s teaching,
How good is fatherland unforfeited.
She loathes her babes, joys not beholding them.
I fear her, lest some mischief she devise.
Grim is her spirit, one that will not brook
Mishandling: yea, I know her, and I dread
Lest through her heart she thrust the whetted knife,
Through the halls stealing silent to her bed,
Or slay the king and him that weds his child,
And get herself therefrom some worse misfortune;
For dangerous is she: who begins a feud
With her, not soon shall sing the triumph-song.
But lo, her boys, their racing-sport put by,
Draw near, unwitting of their mother’s ills,
For the young heart loves not to brood in grief.
Enter CHILDREN’S GUARDIAN, with boys.
Children’s Guardian. O ancient chattel of my mistress’ home,
Why at the gates thus lonely standest thou,
Thyself unto thyself discoursing ills?
How wills Medea to be left of thee?
Nurse. O grey attendant of the sons of Jason,
The hearts of faithful servants still are touched
By ill-betiding fortunes of their lords.
For I have come to such a pass of grief,
That yearning took me hit her ward to come
And tell to earth and heaven my lady’s fortunes.
Children’s Guardian. Ceaseth not yet the hapless one from moan?
Nurse. Cease! — her pain scarce begun, the midst far off!
Children’s Guardian. Ah, fool! — if one may say it of his lords —
Little she knoweth of the latest blow.
Nurse. What is it, ancient? Grudge not thou to tell me.
Children’s Guardian. Naught: I repent me of the word that ’scaped me.
Nurse. Nay, by thy beard, from fellow-thrall hide not —
Silence, if need be, will I keep thereof.
Children’s Guardian. I heard one saying feigning not to hear,
As I drew near the marble thrones, where sit
The ancients round Peirene’s hallowed fount —
That Kreon, this land’s lord, will shortly drive
These boys from soil Corinthian with their mother?
Howbeit, if the tale I heard be true I know not;
fain were I it were not so.
Nurse. Will Jason brook his children suffering this,
What though he be estranged from their mother?
Children’s Guardian. The old ties in the race lag far behind
The new: no friend is he unto this house.
Nurse. We are undone then, if we add fresh ill
To old, ere lightened be our ship of this.
Children’s Guardian. But thou — for ‘tis not season that thy lady
Should know — keep silence, and speak not the tale.
Nurse. Hear, babes, what father this is unto you!
I curse him — not: he is my master still:
But to his friends he stands convict of baseness.
Children’s Guardian. What man is not? — hast learned this only now,
That each man loves self better than his neighbour,
For just cause some, and some for greed of gain?
So, for a bride’s sake, these their father loves not.
Nurse. Pass in, dear children, for it shall be well.
But thou, keep these apart to the uttermost:
Bring them not nigh their mother angry-souled.
For late I saw her glare, as glares a bull
On these, as ‘twere for mischief; nor her wrath,
I know, shall cease, until its lightning strike.
To foes may she work ill, and not to friends!
Medea (behind the scenes). O hapless I! — O miseries heaped on mine head!
Ah me! ah me! would God I were dead!
Nurse. Lo, darlings, the thing that I told you!
Lo the heart of your mother astir!
And astir is her anger: withhold you
From her sight, come not nigh unto her.
Haste, get you within: O beware ye
Of the thoughts as a wild-beast brood,
Of the nature too ruthless to spare ye
In its desperate mood.
Pass ye within now, departing
With all speed. It is plain to discern
How a cloud of lamenting, upstarting
From its viewless beginnings, shall burn
In lightnings of fury yet fiercer.
What deeds shall be dared of that soul,
So haughty, when wrong’s goads pierce her,
So hard to control?
[Exeunt CHILDREN with GUARDIAN.
Medea (behind the scenes). Woe! I have suffered, have suffered, foul wrongs that may waken, may waken,
Mighty lamentings full well! O ye children accursed from the womb,
Hence to destruction, ye brood of a loathed one forsaken, forsaken!
Hence with your father, and perish our home in the blackness of doom!
Nurse. Ah me, in the father’s offences
What part have the babes, that thine hate
Should blast them? — forlorn innocences,
How sorely I fear for your fate!
Ah, princes — how fearful their moods are! —
Long ruling, unschooled to obey —
Unforgiving, unsleeping their feuds are.
Better life’s level way.
Be it mine, if in greatness I may not,
In quiet and peace to grow old.
Sweeter name than “The Mean” shall ye say not;
But to taste it is sweetness untold.
But to men never weal above measure
Availed: on its perilous height
The gods in their hour of displeasure
The heavier smite.
Enter CHORUS of Corinthian Ladies
Chorus. I have hearkened the voice of the daughter of Kolchis, the sound of the crying
Of the misery-stricken; nor yet is she stilled. Now the tale of her tell,
Gray woman; for moaned through the porch from her chamber the wail of her sighing;
And I can not, I can not be glad while the home in affliction is lying,
The house I have loved so well.
Nurse. Home? — home there is none: it hath vanished away
For my lord to a bride of the princes is thrall;
And my lady is pining the livelong day
In her bower, and for naught that her friends’ lips say
On her heart may the dews of comfort fall.
Medea (behind the scenes). Would God that the flame of the lightning from heaven descending, descending,
Might burn through mine head! — for in living wherein any more is my gain?
Alas and alas! Would God I might bring to an ending, an ending,
The life that I loathe, and behind me might cast all its burden of pain!
O Zeus, Earth, Light, did ye hear her,
How waileth the woe-laden breath
Of the bride in unhappiest plight?
What yearning for vanished delight,
O passion-distraught, should have might
To cause thee to wish death nearer —
The ending of all things, death?
Make thou not for this supplication!
If thine husband hath turned and adored
New love, that estranged he is,
O harrow thy soul not for this.
It is Zeus that shall right thee, I wis.
Ah, pine not in over-vexation
Of spirit, bewailing thy lord!
Medea (behind the scenes). O Lady of Justice, O Artemis’ Majesty, see it, O see it —
Look on the wrongs that I suffer, my oaths everlasting who tied
The soul of mine husband, that ne’er from the curse he might free it, nor free it
From your vengeance! — O may I behold him at last, even him and his bride,
Them, and these halls therewithal, all shattered in ruin, in ruin! —
Wretches, who dare unprovoked to do to Medea despite!
O father, O city, whom erst I forsook, for undoing, undoing,
And for shame, when the blood of my brother I spilt on the path of my flight!
Nurse. Do ye hear what she saith, and uplifteth her cry
Unto Themis and Zeus, to the Suppliant’s King,
Oath-steward of men that be born but to die?
Oh, my lady will lay not her anger by
Soon, making her vengeance a little thing.
If she would but come forth where we wait her,
If she would but give ear to the sound
Of our speech, that her spirit would learn
From its fierceness of anger to turn,
And her lust for revenge not burn!
Oh, ne’er may my love prove traitor,
Never false to my friends be it found!
But go thou, and forth of the dwelling
Thy mistress hitherward lead.
Say to her that friends be we all.
O hasten, ere mischief befall
The lords of the palace-hall!
For her grief, like a tempest upswelling,
Resistless shall ruinward speed.
Nurse. I will do it; but almost my spirit despaireth
To win her; yet labour of love shall it be.
But my queen on her thralls as a mad bull glareth,
Or a lioness couched mid her whelps, whoso dareth
With speech to draw near her, so tameless is she.
He should err not, who named the old singers in singing
Not cunning, but left-handed bards, for their lays
Did they frame for the mirth-tide, the festal in bringing
Of the wine, and the feast, when the harp-strings are ringing
To sweeten with melody life’s sweet days:
But the dread doom of mortals, the anguish heart rending —
Never minstrel by music hath breathed on them peace,
Nor by song with his harp-notes in harmony blending;
Albeit of these cometh death’s dark ending
Unto many a home that is wrecked of these.
And yet were it surely a boon to bring healing
Of sorrow to mortals with song: but in vain
Mid the fulness of feasting ring voices clear-pealing,
And the banquet itself hath a glamour, concealing
From mortals their doom, flinging spells over pain.
Chorus. I have heard it, the sigh-laden cry of the daughter
Of Kolchis, the woe-shrilling anguish of wailing
For the traitor to love who with false vows caught her
Who in strength of her wrongs chideth Heaven, assailing
The Oath-queen of Zeus, who with cords all-prevailing
Forth haled her, and brought her o’er star-litten water,
Where the brine-mists hover o’er Pontus’ Key,
Unto Hellas far over the boundless sea.
Medea. Corinthian dames, I have come forth my doors
Lest ye should blame me. Many folk I know
Accounted haughty, some, for proud staid mien,
Some, stranger-shy: and some, that softly go,
Have gotten ill repute of indolence.
For justice sits not in the eyes of man,
Who, ere he hath discerned his neighbour’s heart,
Hates him at sight, albeit nowise wronged.
The sojourner must learn the city’s wont;
Nor praise I citizens-born, law to themselves,
Mannerless churls, which flout their fellow-folk.
But me — unlooked-for fell this blow on me,
And brake mine heart. Undone I am; have lost
All grace of life, and long to die, my friends.
For he that was mine all — thou know’st it well —
My lord, of all men basest hath become.
Surely, of creatures that have life and wit,
We women are of all things wretchedest,
Who, first, must needs, as buys the highest bidder,
Thus buy a husband, and our body’s master
So win — for deeper depth of ill is this.
Nay, risk is dire herein — or shall we gain
An evil lord or good? For change is shame
To woman, nor may she renounce her spouse.
And, coming to new customs, habits new,
Seer need she be, to know the thing unlearned,
What manner of man her couch’s mate shall be.
But if we learn our lesson, if our lord
Dwell with us, plunging not against the yoke,
Happy our lot: if not — no help but death.
For the man, when at home they fret his soul,
Goes forth, and stays his loathing heart’s disgust,
Unto a friend or age-mate turning him.
We have but one, one heart to seek for comfort.
But we, say they, live an unperilled life
At home, while they do battle with the spear.
Falsely they deem: twice would I under shield
Stand, rather than bear childbirth peril once.
Yet thee and me the selfsame reasons touch not.
Thine is this city, thine a father’s home;
Hast bliss of life and fellowship of friends.
But I, lone, cityless, and outraged thus
Of him who kidnapped me from foreign shores,
Mother nor brother have I, kinsman none,
For port of refuge from calamity.
Wherefore I fain would win of thee this boon:
If any path be found me, or device,
Whereby to avenge these wrongs upon mine husband,
On her who weds, on him who gives the bride,
Keep silence. Woman quails at every peril,
Faint-heart to face the fray and look on steel;
But when in wedlock-rights she suffers wrong,
No spirit more bloodthirsty shall be found.
Chorus. This will I; for ‘tis just that thou, Medea,
Requite thy lord: no marvel thou dost grieve.
But I see Kreon, ruler of this land,
Advancing, herald of some new decree.
Kreon. Thee the black-lowering, wroth against thy lord,
Medea, bid I forth this land to fare
An exile, taking thy two sons with thee,
And make no tarrying: daysman of this cause
Am I, and homeward go I not again
Ere from the land’s bounds I have cast thee forth.
Medea. Ah me! undone am I in utter ruin!
My foes crowd sail pursuing: landing-place
Is none from surges of calamity.
Yet, howso wronged, one question will I ask —
For what cause, Kreon, dost thou banish me?
Kreon. I fear thee — need is none to cloak my words —
Lest on my child thou wreak some ill past cure.
And to this dread do many things conspire.
Wise art thou, cunning in much evil lore;
Chafed art thou, of thine husband’s couch bereft:
I hear thou threatenest, so they bring me word,
To wreak on sire, on bridegroom, and on bride
Mischief. I guard mine head ere falls the blow.
Better be hated, woman, now of thee,
Than once relent, and sorely groan too late.
Medea. Not now first, Kreon — many a time ere now
Rumour hath wronged and wrought me grievous harm.
Ne’er should the man whose heart is sound of wit
Let teach his sons more wisdom than the herd.
They are burdened with unprofitable lore,
And spite and envy of other folk they earn.
For, if thou bring strange wisdom unto dullards,
Useless shalt thou be counted, and not wise:
And, grant thy name o’ertop the self-extolled
Wits, in the city odious shalt thou be.
Myself too in this fortune am partaker.
Of some my wisdom wins me jealousy,
Some count me idle; some, o’erbusy; some
Unsocial: — yet not over-wise am I.
And thou, thou fear’st me, lest I mar thy music.
Not such am I — O Kreon, dread not me —
That against princes I should dare transgress.
How hast thou wronged me? Thou hast given thy child
To whomso pleased thee. But — I hate mine husband:
And, doubtless, this in prudence hast thou done?
Nay, but I grudge not thy prosperity.
Wed ye, and prosper. But in this your land
Still let me dwell: for I, how wronged soe’er,
Will hold my peace, o’ermastered by the strong.