The Tragedies of Euripides Part 41

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PHae. Women of Trzene, who inhabit this extreme frontier of the land of Pelops. Often at other times in the long season of night have I thought in what manner the life of mortals is depraved.[15] And to me they seem to do ill, not from the nature of their minds, for many have good thoughts, but thus must we view these things. What things are good we understand and know, but practice not; some from idleness, and others preferring some other pleasures to what is right: for there are many pleasures in life-long prates, and indolence, a pleasing ill, and shame; but there are two, the one indeed not base, but the other the weight that overthrows houses, but if the occasion on which each is used, were clear, the two things would not have the same letters. Knowing them as I did these things beforehand, by no drug did I think I should so far destroy these _sentiments_, as to fall into an opposite way of thinking. But I will also tell you the course of my determinations. After that love had wounded me, I considered how best I might endure it. I began therefore from this time to be silent, and to conceal this disease. For no confidence can be placed in the tongue, which knows to advise the thoughts of other men, but itself from itself has very many evils. But in the second place, I meditated to bear well my madness conquering it by my chastity. But in the third place, since by these means I was not able to subdue Venus, it appeared to me best to die: no one will gainsay this resolution. For may it be my lot, neither to be concealed where I do noble deeds, nor to have many witnesses, where I act basely.

Besides this I knew I was a woman--a thing hated by all. O may she most miserably perish who first began to pollute the marriage-bed with other men! From noble families first arose this evil among women: for when base things appear right to those who are accounted good, surely they will appear so to the bad. I hate moreover those women who are chaste in their language indeed, but secretly have in them no good deeds of boldness: who, how, I pray, O Venus my revered mistress, look they on the faces of their husbands, nor dread the darkness that aided their deeds, and the ceilings of the house, lest they should some time or other utter a voice? For this bare idea kills me, friends, lest I should ever be discovered to have disgraced my husband, or my children, whom I brought forth; but free, happy in liberty of speech may they inhabit the city of illustrious Athens, in their mother glorious! For it enslaves a man, though he be valiant-hearted, when he is conscious of his mother's or his father's misdeeds. But this alone they say in endurance compeers with life, an honest and good mind, to whomsoever it belong. But Time, when it so chance, holding up the mirror as to a young virgin, shows forth the bad, among whom may I be never seen!

CHOR. Alas! alas! In every way how fair is chastity, and how goodly a report has it among men!

NUR. My mistress, just now indeed thy calamity coming upon me unawares, gave me a dreadful alarm. But now I perceive I was weak; and somehow or other among mortals second thoughts are the wisest. For thou hast not suffered any thing excessive nor extraordinary, but the anger of the Goddess hath fallen upon thee. Thou lovest--what wonder this? with many mortals.--And then will you lose your life for love? There is then no advantage for those who love others, nor to those who may hereafter, if they must needs die. For Venus is a thing not to be borne, if she rush on vehement. Who comes quietly indeed on the person who yields; but whom she finds haughty and of lofty notions, him taking (how thinkest thou?) she chastises. But Venus goes through air, and is on the ocean wave; and all things from her have their birth. She it is that sows and gives forth love, from whence all we on earth are engendered. As many indeed as ken the writings of the ancients, or are themselves ever among the muses, they know indeed, how that Jove was formerly inflamed with the love of Semele; they know too, how that formerly the lovely bright Aurora bore away Cephalus up to the Gods, for love, but still they live in heaven, and fly not from the presence of the Gods: but they acquiesce yielding, I ween, to what has befallen them. And wilt thou not bear it? Thy father then ought to have begotten thee on stipulated terms, or else under the dominion of other Gods, unless thou wilt be content with these laws. How many, thinkest thou, are in full and complete possession of their senses, who, when they see their bridal bed diseased, seem not to see it! And how many fathers, thinkest thou, have aided their erring sons in matters of love, for this is a maxim among the wise part of mankind, "that things that show not fair should be concealed." Nor should men labor too exactly their conduct in life, for neither would they do well to employ much accuracy in the roof wherewith their houses are covered; but having fallen into fortune so deep as thou hast, how dost thou imagine thou canst swim out? But if thou hast more things good than bad, mortal as thou art, thou surely must be well off. But cease, my dear child, from these evil thoughts, cease too from being haughty, for nothing else save haughtiness is this, to wish to be superior to the Gods. But, as thou art in love, endure it; a God hath willed it so: and, being ill, by some good means or other try to get rid of thy illness. But there are charms and soothing spells: there will appear some medicine for this sickness. Else surely men would be slow indeed in discoveries, if we women should not find contrivances.

CHOR. Phaedra, she speaks indeed most useful advice in thy present state: but thee I praise. Yet is this praise less welcome than her words, and to thee more painful to hear.

PHae. This is it that destroys cities of men and families well governed--words too fair. For it is not at all requisite to speak words pleasant to the ear, but that whereby one may become of fair report.

NUR. Why dost thou talk in this grand strain? thou needest not gay decorated words, but a man: as soon as possible must those be found, who will speak out the plain straightforward word concerning thee. For if thy life were not in calamities of such a cast, I never would have brought thee thus far for the sake of lust, and for thy pleasure: but now the great point is to save thy life; and this is not a thing deserving of blame.

PHae. O thou that hast spoken dreadful things, wilt thou not shut thy mouth?

and wilt not cease from uttering again those words most vile?

NUR. Vile they are, but better these for thee than fair; but better will the deed be (if at least it will save thee), than the name, in the which while thou boastest, thou wilt die.

PHae. Nay do not, I entreat thee by the Gods (for thou speakest well, but base are [the things thou speakest]) go beyond this, since rightly have I surrendered my life to love; but if thou speak base things in fair phrase, I shall be consumed, [being cast] into that [evil] which I am now avoiding.

NUR. If in truth this be thy opinion, thou oughtest not to err, but if thou hast erred, be persuaded by me, for this is the next best thing thou canst do.[16] I have in the house soothing philters of love (and they but lately came into my thought); which, by no base deed, nor to the harm of thy senses, will rid you of this disease, unless you are obstinate. But it is requisite to receive from him that is the object of your love, some token, either some word, or some relic of his vest, and to join from two one love.

PHae. But is the charm an unguent or a potion?

NUR. I know not: wish to be relieved, not informed, my child.

PHae. I fear thee, lest thou should appear too wise to me.

NUR. Know that you would fear every thing, _if you fear this_, but what is it you are afraid of?

PHae. Lest you should tell any of these things to the son of Theseus.

NUR. Let be, my child, I will arrange these matters honorably, only be thou my coadjutor, O Venus, my revered mistress; but the other things which I purpose, it will suffice to tell to my friends within.


CHOR. Love, love, O thou that instillest desire through the eyes, inspiring sweet affection in the souls of those against whom thou makest war, mayst thou never appear to me to my injury, nor come unmodulated: for neither is the blast of fire nor the bolt of heaven more vehement, than that of Venus, which Love, the boy of Jove, sends from his hands. In vain, in vain, both by the Alpheus, and at the Pythian temples of Phbus does Greece then solemnize the slaughter of bulls: but Love, the tyrant of men, porter of the dearest chambers of Venus, we worship not, the destroyer and visitant of men in all shapes of calamity, when he comes. That virgin in chalia, yoked to no bridal bed, till then unwedded, and who knew no husband, having taken from her home a wanderer impelled by the oar, her, like some Bacchanal of Pluto, with blood, with smoke, and murderous hymeneals did Venus give to the son of Alcmena. O unhappy woman, because of her nuptials!

O sacred wall of Thebes, O mouth of Dirce, you can assist me in telling, in what manner Venus comes: for by the forked lightning, by a cruel fate, did she put to eternal sleep the parent of the Jove-begotten Bacchus, when she was visited as a bride. For dreadful doth she breathe on all things, and like some bee hovers about.

PHae. Women, be silent: I am undone.

CHOR. What is there that affrights thee, Phaedra, in thine house?

PHae. Be silent, that I may make out the voice of those within.

CHOR. I am silent: this however is an evil bodement.

PHae. Alas me! O! O! O! oh unhappy me, because of my sufferings!

CHOR. What sound dost thou utter? what word speakest thou? tell me what report frightens thee, lady, rushing upon thy senses!

PHae. We are undone. Do you, standing at these gates, hear what the noise is that strikes on the house?

CHOR. Thou art by the gate, the noise that is sent forth from the house is thy care. But tell me, tell me, what evil, I pray thee, came _to thine ears_?

PHae. The son of the warlike Amazon, Hippolytus, cries out, abusing in dreadful forms my attendant.

CHOR. I hear indeed a noise, but can not plainly tell how it is. The voice came, it came through to the door.

PHae. But hark! he calls her plainly the pander of wickedness, the betrayer of her master's bed.

CHOR. Alas me for thy miseries! Thou art betrayed, dear mistress. What shall I counsel thee? for hidden things are come to light, and thou art utterly destroyed----

PHae. O! O!

CHOR. Betrayed by thy friends.

PHae. She hath destroyed me by speaking of my unhappy state, kindly but not honorably endeavoring to heal this disease.

CHOR. How then? what wilt thou do, O thou that hast suffered things incurable?

PHae. I know not, save one thing; to die as soon as possible is the only cure of my present sufferings.


HIPP. O mother earth, and ye disclosing rays of the sun, of what words have I heard the dreadful sound!

NUR. Be silent, my son, before any one hears thy voice.

HIPP. It is not possible for me to be silent, when I have heard such dreadful things.

NUR. Nay, I implore thee by thy beauteous hand.

HIPP. Wilt not desist from bringing thy hand near me, and from touching my garments?

NUR. O! by thy knees, I implore thee, do not utterly destroy me.

HIPP. But wherefore this? since, thou sayest, thou hast spoken nothing evil.

NUR. This word, my son, is by no means to be divulged.

HIPP. It is more fair to speak fair things to many.

NUR. O my child, by no means dishonor your oath.

HIPP. My tongue hath sworn--my mind is still unsworn.[17]

NUR. O my son, what wilt thou do? wilt thou destroy thy friends?

HIPP. _Friends!_ I reject the word: no unjust person is my friend.

The Tragedies of Euripides Part 41

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The Tragedies of Euripides Part 41 summary

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