TALTHYBIUS Where can I find Hecuba, who once was queen of Ilium, ye Trojan maidens? LEADER OF THE CHORUS There she lies near thee, Talthybius, stretched full length upon the ground, wrapt in her robe. TALTHYBIUS Great Zeus! what can I say? that thine eye is over man? or that we hold this false opinion all to no purpose, thinking there is any race of gods, when it is chance that rules the mortal sphere? Was not this the queen of wealthy Phrygia, the wife of Priam highly blest? And now her city is utterly o'erthrown by the foe, and she, a slave in her old age, her children dead, lies stretched upon the ground, soiling her hair, poor lady in the dust. Well, well; old as I am, may death be my lot before I am caught in any foul mischance. Arise, poor queen! lift up thyself and raise that hoary head. HECUBA (stirring) Ah! who art thou that wilt not let my body rest? why disturb me in my anguish, whosoe'er thou art? TALTHYBIUS 'Tis I, Talthybius, who am here, the minister of the Danai; Agamemnon has sent me for thee, lady. HECUBA (rising) Good friend, art come because the Achaeans are resolved to slay me to at the grave? How welcome would thy tidings be! Let us hasten and lose no time; prithee, lead the way, old sir. TALTHYBIUS I am come to fetch thee to bury thy daughter's corpse, lady; and those that send me are the two sons of Atreus and the Achaean host. HECUBA Ah! what wilt thou say? Art thou not come, as I had thought, to fetch me to my doom, but to announce ill news? Lost, lost, my child! snatched from thy mother's arms! and I am childless now, at least as touches thee; ah, woe is me! How did ye end her life? was any mercy shown? or did ye deal ruthlessly with her as though your victim were a foe, old man? Speak, though thy words must be pain to me. TALTHYBIUS Lady, thou art bent on making mine a double meed of tears in pity for thy child; for now too as I tell the sad tale a tear will wet my eye, as it did at the tomb when she was dying. All Achaea's host was gathered there in full array before the tomb to see thy daughter offered; and the son of Achilles took Polyxena by the hand and set her on the top of the mound, while I stood near; and a chosen band of young Achaeans followed to hold thy child and prevent her struggling. Then did Achilles' son take in his hands a brimming cup of gold and poured an offering to his dead sire, making a sign to me to proclaim silence throughout the Achaean host. So I stood at his side and in their midst proclaimed, "Silence, ye Achaeans! hushed be the people all! peace! be still! "Therewith I hushed the host. Then spake he, "Son of Peleus, father mine, accept the offering I pour thee to appease thy spirit, strong to raise the dead; and come to drink the black blood of a virgin pure, which I and the host are offering thee; oh! be propitious to us; grant that we may loose our prows and the cables of our ships, and, meeting with prosperous voyage from Ilium, all to our country come." So he; and all the army echoed his prayer. Then seizing his golden sword by the hilt he drew it from its scabbard, signing the while to the picked young Argive warriors to hold the maid. But she, when she was ware thereof, uttered her voice and said: "O Argives, who have sacked my city! of my free will I die; let none lay hand on me; for bravely will I yield my neck. Leave me free, I do beseech; so slay me, that death may find me free; for to be called a slave amongst the dead fills my royal heart with shame." Thereat the people shouted their applause, and king Agamemnon bade the young men loose the maid. So they set her free, as soon as they heard this last command from him whose might was over all. And she, hearing her captors' words took her robe and tore it open from the shoulder to the waist, displaying a breast and bosom fair as a statue's; then sinking on her knee, one word she spake more piteous than all the rest, "Young prince, if 'tis my breast thou'dst strike, lo! here it is, strike home! or if at my neck thy sword thou'lt aim, behold! that neck is bared." Then he, half glad, half sorry in his pity for the maid, cleft with the steel the channels of her breath, and streams of blood gushed forth; but she, e'en in death's agony, took good heed to fall with maiden grace, hiding from gaze of man what modest maiden must. Soon as she had breathed her last through the fatal gash, each Argive set his hand to different tasks, some strewing leaves o'er the corpse in handfuls, others bringing pine-logs and heaping up a pyre; and he, who brought nothing, would hear from him who did such taunts as these, "Stand'st thou still, ignoble wretch, with never a robe or ornament to bring for the maiden? Wilt thou give naught to her that showed such peerless bravery and spirit?" Such is the tale I tell about thy daughter's death, and I regard thee as blest beyond all mothers in thy noble child, yet crossed in fortune more than all. LEADER Upon the race of Priam and my city some fearful curse hath burst; 'tis sent by God, and we must bear it. HECUBA O my daughter! 'mid this crowd of sorrows I know not where to turn my gaze; for if I set myself to one, another will not give me pause; while from this again a fresh grief summons me, finding a successor to sorrow's throne. No longer now can I efface from my mind the memory of thy sufferings sufficiently to stay my tears; yet hath the story of thy noble death taken from the keenness of my grief. Is it not then strange that poor land, when blessed by heaven with a lucky year, yields a good crop, while that which is good, if robbed of needful care, bears but little increase; yet 'mongst men the knave is never other than a knave, the good man aught but good, never changing for the worse because of misfortune, but ever the same? Is then the difference due to birth or bringing up? Good training doubtless gives lessons in good conduct, and if a man have mastered this, he knows what is base by the standard of good. Random shafts of my soul's shooting these, I know. (To TALTHYBIUS) Go thou and proclaim to the Argives that they touch not my daughter's body but keep the crowd away. For when countless host is gathered, the mob knows no restraint, and the unruliness of sailors exceeds that of fire, all abstinence from evil being counted evil. (TALTHYBIUS goes out.) (Addressing a servant) My aged handmaid, take a pitcher and dip it in the salt sea and bring hither thereof, that I for the last time may wash my child, a virgin wife, a widowed maid, and lay her out,-as she deserves, ah! whence can I? impossible! but as best I can; and what will that be? I will collect adornment from the captives, my companions in these tents, if haply any of them escaping her master's eye have some secret store from her old home. (The MAID departs.) O towering halls, O home so happy once, O Priam, rich in store of fairest wealth, most blest of sires, and I no less, the grey-haired mother of thy race, how are we brought to naught, stripped of our former pride! And spite of all we vaunt ourselves, one on the riches of his house, another be, cause he has an honoured name amongst his fellow-citizens! But these things are naught; in vain are all our thoughtful schemes, in vain our vaunting words. He is happiest who meets no sorrow in his daily walk. (HECUBA enters the tent.) CHORUS (singing)
Woe and tribulation were made my lot in life, soon as ever Paris felled his beams of pine in Ida's woods, to sail across the heaving main in quest of Helen's hand, fairest bride on whom the sun-god turns his golden eye.
For here beginneth trouble's cycle, and, worse than that, relentless fate; and from one man's folly came a universal curse, bringing death to the land of Simois, with trouble from an alien shore. The strife the shepherd decided on Ida 'twixt three daughters of the blessed gods,
brought as its result war and bloodshed and the ruin of my home; and many a Spartan maiden too is weeping bitter tears in her halls on the banks of fair Eurotas, and many a mother whose sons are slain, is smiting her hoary head and tearing her cheeks, making her nails red in the furrowed gash.
MAID (entering excitedly, attended by bearers bringing in a covered corpse)
Oh! where, ladies, is Hecuba, our queen of sorrow, who far surpasses all in tribulation, men and women both alike? None shall wrest the crown from her. LEADER OF THE CHORUS What now, thou wretched bird of boding note? Thy evil tidings never seem to rest. MAID 'Tis to Hecuba I bring my bitter news; no easy task is it for mortal lips to speak smooth words in sorrow's hour. LEADER Lo! she is coming even now from the shelter of the tent appearing just in time to hear thee speak. (HECUBA comes out of the tent.) MAID Alas for thee! most hapless queen, ruined beyond all words of mine to tell; robbed of the light of life; of children, husband, city reft; hopelessly undone! HECUBA This is no news but insult; I have heard it all before. But why art thou come, bringing hither to me the corpse of Polyxena, on whose burial Achaea's host was reported to be busily engaged? MAID (aside) She little knows what I have to tell, but mourns Polyxena, not grasping her new sorrows. HECUBA Ah! woe is me! thou art not surely bringing hither mad Cassandra, the prophetic maid? MAID She lives, of whom thou speakest; but the dead thou dost not weep is here. (Uncovering the corpse) Mark well the body now laid bare; is not this a sight to fill thee with wonder, and upset thy hopes? HECUBA Ah me! 'tis the corpse of my son Polydorus I behold, whom he of Thrace was keeping safe for me in his halls. Alas! this is the end of all; my life is o'er. (Chanting) O my son, my son, alas for thee! a frantic strain I now begin; thy fate I learnt, a moment gone, from some foul fiend. MAID What! so thou knewest thy son's fate, poor lady. HECUBA (chanting) I cannot, cannot credit this fresh sight I see. Woe succeeds to woe; time will never cease henceforth to bring me groans and tears. LEADER Alas poor lady, our sufferings are cruel indeed. HECUBA (chanting) O my son, child of a luckless mother, what was the manner of thy death? what lays thee dead at my feet? Who did the deed? MAID I know not. On the sea-shore I found him. HECUBA (chanting) Cast up on the smooth sand, or thrown there after the murderous blow? MAID The waves had washed him ashore. HECUBA (chanting) Alas! alas! I read aright the vision I saw in my sleep, nor did the phantom dusky-winged escape my ken, even the vision I saw concerning my son, who is now no more within the bright sunshine. LEADER Who slew him then? Can thy dream-lore tell us that? HECUBA (chanting) 'Twas my own, own friend, the knight of Thrace, with whom his aged sire had placed the boy in hiding. LEADER O horror! what wilt thou say? did he slay him to get the gold? HECUBA (chanting) O awful crime! O deed without a name! beggaring wonder! impious! intolerable! Where are now the laws 'twixt guest and host? Accursed monster! how hast thou mangled his flesh, slashing the poor child's limbs with ruthless sword, lost to all sense of pity! LEADER Alas for thee! how some deity, whose hand is heavy on thee, hath sent thee troubles beyond all other mortals! But yonder I see our lord and master Agamemnon coming; so let us be still henceforth, my friends. (AGAMEMNON enters.) AGAMEMNON Hecuba, why art thou delaying to come and bury thy daughter? for it was for this that Talthybius brought me thy message begging that none of the Argives should touch thy child. And so I granted this, and none is touching her, but this long delay of thine fills me with wonder. Wherefore am I come to send thee hence; for our part there is well performed; if herein there be any place for "well." (He sees the body.)
Ha! what man is this I see near the tents, some Trojan's corpse? 'tis not an Argive's body; that the garments it is clad in tell me. HECUBA (aside) Unhappy one! in naming thee I name myself; O Hecuba, what shall do? throw myself here at Agamemnon's knees, or bear my sorrows in silence? AGAMEMNON Why dost thou turn thy back towards me and weep, refusing to say, what has happened, or who this is? HECUBA (aside) But should he count me as a slave and foe and spurn me from his knees, I should but add to my anguish. AGAMEMNON I am no prophet born; wherefore, if I be not told, I cannot learn the current of thy thoughts. HECUBA (aside) Can it be that in estimating this man's feelings I make him out too ill-disposed, when he is not really so? AGAMEMNON If thy wish really is that I should remain in ignorance, we are of one mind; for I have no wish myself to listen. HECUBA (aside) Without his aid I shall not be able to avenge my children. Why do still ponder the matter? I must do and dare whether I win or lose. (Turning to AGAMEMNON) O Agamemnon! by thy knees, by thy beard and conquering hand I implore thee. AGAMEMNON What is thy desire? to be set free? that is easily done. HECUBA Not that; give me vengeance on the wicked, and evermore am I willing to lead a life of slavery. AGAMEMNON Well, but why dost thou call me to thy aid? HECUBA 'Tis a matter thou little reckest of, O king. Dost see this corpse, for whom my tears now flow? AGAMEMNON I do; but what is to follow, I cannot guess. HECUBA He was my child in days gone by; I bore him in my womb. AGAMEMNON Which of thy sons is he, poor sufferer? HECUBA Not one of Priam's race who fell 'neath Ilium's walls. AGAMEMNON Hadst thou any son besides those, lady? HECUBA Yes, him thou seest here, of whom, methinks, I have small gain. AGAMEMNON Where then was he, when his city was being destroyed? HECUBA His father, fearful of his death, conveyed him out of Troy. AGAMEMNON Where did he place him apart from all the sons he then had? HECUBA Here in this very land, where his corpse was found. AGAMEMNON With Polymestor, the king of this country? HECUBA Hither was he sent in charge of gold, most bitter trust! AGAMEMNON By whom was he slain? what death o'ertook him? HECUBA By whom but by this man? His Thracian host slew him. AGAMEMNON The wretch! could he have been so eager for the treasure? HECUBA Even so; soon as ever he heard of the Phrygians' disaster. AGAMEMNON Where didst find him? or did some one bring his corpse? HECUBA This maid, who chanced upon it on the sea-shore. AGAMEMNON Was she seeking it, or bent on other tasks? HECUBA She had gone to fetch water from the sea to wash Polyxena. AGAMEMNON It seems then his host slew him and cast his body out to sea. HECUBA Aye, for the waves to toss, after mangling him thus. AGAMEMNON Woe is thee for thy measureless troubles! HECUBA I am ruined; no evil now is left, O Agamemnon. AGAMEMNON Look you! what woman was ever born to such misfortune? HECUBA There is none, unless thou wouldst name misfortune herself. But hear my reason for throwing myself at thy knees. If my treatment seems to thee deserved, I will be content; but, if otherwise, help me to punish this most godless host, that hath wrought a deed most damned, fearless alike of gods in heaven or hell; who, though full oft he had shared my board and been counted first of all my guest-friends and after meeting with every kindness he could claim and receiving my consideration, slew my son, and bent though he was on murder, deigned not to bury him but cast his body forth to sea. I may be a slave and weak as well, but the gods are strong, and custom too which prevails o'er them, for by custom it is that we believe in them and set up bounds of right and wrong for our lives. Now if this principle, when referred to thee, is to be set at naught, and they are to escape punishment who murder guests or dare to plunder the temples of gods, then is all fairness in things human at an end. Deem this then a disgrace and show regard for me, have pity on me, and, like an artist standing back from his picture, look on me and closely scan my piteous state. I was once queen, but now I am thy slave; a happy mother once, but now childless and old alike, reft of city, utterly forlorn, the most wretched woman living. Ah! woe is me! whither wouldst thou withdraw thy steps from me? (as AGAMEMNON is turning away) My efforts then will be in vain, ah me! ah me! Why, oh! why do we mortals toil, as needs we must, and seek out all other sciences, but persuasion, the only real mistress of mankind, we take no furthur pains to master completely by offering to pay for the knowledge, so that any man might upon occasion convince his fellows as he pleased and gain his point as well? How shall anyone hereafter hope for prosperity? All those my sons are gone from me, and I, their mother, am led away into captivity to suffer shame, while yonder I see the smoke leaping up o'er my city. Further-though perhaps this were idly urged, to plead thy love, still will I put the case:-at thy side lies my daughter, Cassandra, the maid inspired, as the Phrygians call her. How then, king, wilt thou acknowledge those nights of rapture, or what return shall she my daughter or I her mother have for all the love she has lavished on her lord? For from darkness and the endearments of the night mortals reap by far their keenest joys. Hearken then; dost see this corpse? By doing him a service thou wilt do it to a kinsman of thy bride's. One thing only have I yet to urge. Oh! would I had a voice in arms, in hands, in hair and feet, placed there by the arts of Daedalus or some god, that all together they might with tears embrace thy knees, bringing a thousand pleas to bear on thee! O my lord and master, most glorious light of Hellas, listen, stretch forth a helping hand to this aged woman, for all she is a thing of naught; still do so. For 'tis ever a good man's duty to succour the right, and to punish evil-doers wherever found. LEADER 'Tis strange how each extreme doth meet in human life! Custom determines even our natural ties, making the most bitter foes friends, and regarding as foes those who formerly were friends. AGAMEMNON Hecuba, I feel compassion for thee and thy son and thy ill-fortune, as well as for thy suppliant gesture, and I would gladly see yon impious host pay thee this forfeit for the sake of heaven and justice, could I but find some way to help thee without appearing to the army to have plotted the death of the Thracian king for Cassandra's sake. For on one point I am assailed by perplexity; the army count this man their friend, the dead their foe; that he is dear to thee is a matter apart, wherein the army has no share. Reflect on this; for though thou find'st me ready to share thy toil and quick to lend my aid, yet the risk of being reproached by the Achaeans makes me hesitate. HECUBA Ah! there is not in the world a single man free; for he is either a slave to money or to fortune, or else the people in their thousands or the fear of public prosecution prevents him from following the dictates of his heart. But since thou art afraid, deferring too much to the rabble, I will rid thee of that fear. Thus; be privy to my plot if I devise mischief against this murderer, but refrain from any share in it. And if there break out among the Achaeans any uproar or attempt at rescue, when the Thracian is suffering his doom, check it, though without seeming to do so for my sake. For what remains, take heart; I will arrange everything well. AGAMEMNON How? what wilt thou do? wilt take a sword in thy old hand and slay the barbarian, or hast thou drugs or what to help thee? Who will take thy part? whence wilt thou procure friends? HECUBA Sheltered beneath these tents is a host of Trojan women. AGAMEMNON Dost mean the captives, the booty of the Hellenes? HECUBA With their help will I punish my murderous foe. AGAMEMNON How are women to master men? HECUBA Numbers are a fearful thing, and joined to craft a desperate foe. AGAMEMNON True; still I have a mean opinion of the female race. HECUBA What? did not women slay the sons of Aegyptus, and utterly clear Lemnos of men? But let it be even thus; put an end to our conference, and send this woman for me safely through the host. And do thou (To servant) draw near my Thracian friend and say, "Hecuba, once queen of Ilium, summons thee, on thy own business no less than hers, thy children too, for they also must hear what she has to say." (The servant goes out.) Defer awhile, Agamemnon, the burial of Polyxena lately slain, that brother and sister may be laid on the same pyre and buried side by side, a double cause of sorrow to their mother. AGAMEMNON So shall it be; yet had the host been able to sail, I could not have granted thee this boon; but, as it is, since the god sends forth no favouring breeze, we needs must abide, seeing, as we do, that sailing cannot be. Good luck to thee! for this is the interest alike of citizen and state, that the wrong-doer be punished and the good man prosper.
(AGAMEMNON departs as HECUBA withdraws into the tent.)