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Ancient Classics for English Readers 




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The Volumes published of this Series contain 

HOMER : THE ILIAD, by the Editor. 

HOMER: THE ODYSSEY, by the Same. 

HERODOTUS, by George C. Swayne, M.A. 

CiESAR, BY Anthony Trollope. 

VIRGIL, BY the Editor. 

HORACE, BY Theodore Martin. 

iESCHYLUS, BY Reginald S. Copleston, M.A. 

XENOPHON, BY Sir Alexander Grant, Bart., 

CICERO, BY the Editor. 

The following Authors, by various Contributors, are 
in preparation : — 








Others will follow. 

A Volume will be published Quarterly^ price 2s. 6d. 

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The Writer desires to express his acknowledgments 
to Professor Plumptre for permission to make use of 
his translation of these tragedies ; and to Mr D'Arcj 
Thompson for a similar courtesy in the case of his 
* Sales Attici/ 

Use has also been made of M. Patin's * Studies on 
Sophocles/ Mr Jebb's edition of the ' Ajax and Electra/ 
and the last chapter of Lord Lytton's * Athens.' 

Of the translations, those marked (A.) are by the 
late Professor Anstice; those marked (D.) are by 
Dale ; and those distinguished by (P.) are from Pro- 
fessor Plumptre's translation, to which reference has 
been made above. 

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III. (BDIPUS AT OOLONUS, . .^ . . . 45 





Vin. ELECTRA, 162 

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The. materials for oitt poet's life are fgw and untrust- 
worthy. The real biographies have perished ; and all that 
we have in their place is a brief anonymous memoir, 
some notices in Suidas, and a few anecdotes retailed to 
us from different sources by Athenseus, the great col- 
lector of the scandal and gossip of his day — and these 
last probably belong to the mock pearls of history. 
The mere attempt, then, to compile a detailed life of 
Sophocles out of this " rubbish heap of tradition/* is 
(to use Professor Plumptre's illustration) like " making 
bricks without straw." As in the case of Shakspeare, 
we know little of the man except what we can glean 
from his writings. Some few facts, however, rest on 
higher 'testimony; and these may be shortly noticed, 

Colonus, a small village about a mile to the north of 
Athens, was the birthplace of Sophocles; and every 
feature of its scenery has been vividly described by 
him in a famous choral ode, to be hereafter noticed. 

A. c. vol. X. A 

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The landscape must liave been strikingly picturesque, 
with its white limestone cliffs, its dark grove sacred to 
** the gentle goddesses," and echoing with " all throats 
that gurgle sweet," with the pure clear stream of the 
Cephisus, never failing in the hottest summer, and 
watering this garden of Attica. 

Whatever may have been his father's calling, Sopho- 
cles was himself a gentleman. "His natural gifts," 
says Lord Lytton, "were the rarest that nature be- 
stows on man, genius and beauty." Body and mind 
were carefully trained under the best masters ; and he 
received the complete liberal education of his age. 
We can imagine how the boy grew up to manhood, 
feeding his poetic fancy with those, ancient founts of 
inspiration, — ^the adventures of the Argonauts or the 
^ " tale of Troy divine ;" just as the genius of Spenser and 
Milton was nourished on the old romances of our 
country. We can imagine, too, how he must have 
been inspired with the eternal ideas of truth and 
beauty — ^wafted, as in Plato's State, "like gales of 
health blowing fresh from salubrious lands," * — ^by the 
constant sight and presence of that noble city, robed 
in her " imperial mantle of architecture," adorned by 
the paintings of Pansenus and by the sculpture of 
Phidias, — ^her streets crowded with strangers from all 
lands, and her harbours filled with the masts of a 
thousand triremes. 

Sophocles made an early entrance on public life. At 
the age of sixteen his grace and beauty were such that 
he was selected from the youth of Attica to lead the 
♦ Kepubl. iii 401. 

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choral dance around the altar which had been raised 
in honour of the victory of Salamis. Ten years later, 
we find him coming forward as the rival of -^schylus 
at the great festival of Bacchus, at which the prizes for 
tragedy were awarded. Cimon and his nine colleagues 
had just returned from Samos, bringing with them the 
bones of Theseus, which were to serve as a talisman 
against plague and pestilence. The generals entered 
the theatre just before the commencement of the per- 
formances, and the Archon, estimating rightly the 
greatness of the occasion, swore them in to judge the 
case between the rival dramatists. They unanimously 
awarded the first prize to Sophocles ; and jEschylus, 
it is said, in deep resentment of their verdict, left 
Athens, and retired to the court of Hiero at Syracuse. 

A first success is everything in literature ; and So- 
phocles, like others, found himself famous in a day. 
For more than forty years he continued to exhibit 
plays — sometimes winning the first prize, sometimes 
defeated in his turn by some younger candidate for 
fame, but never once degraded to the third place. So 
prolific was his genius, that he is said to have composed 
upwards of a hundred tragedies. Of these but seven 
are extant. 

He had inherited a moderate income, and it is said 
this independence was necessary to the poet, for custom 
and etiquette prevented him from making money by 
his plays. " Thia crown of wild olive " was the only 
stimulus to genius ; for the " two obols " paid by each 
citizen for admission went to the lessees of the theatre, 
and served to defray the necessary expense of scenery 

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and decorations, as well as to pay the actors. The 
Greek would have regarded with the same disfavour 
the tragedian who made a profit on his plays, as the 
Sophist who might (as many of them in fact did) take 
money for his lectures, or the statesman who should 
accept salary or pension for what should have heen a 
labour of love.* All such sordid gains, they held, 
should be left to the base-bom mechanic ; no gentle- 
man should degrade his profession to the level of a 
trade. In the case of the poet, who was supposed 
to receive his inspiration direct from heaven, it would 
have been simple profanation to sell, as it were, the 
very bread of life. It was sufl&cient glory and recom- 
pense for him if the State — or some rich citizen repre- 
senting the State — should defray the expenses of a 
Chorus, that he might " see his poetry put into action. 
— ^assisted with all the pomp of spectacle and music, 
hallowed by the solemnity of a religious festival, and 
breathed, by artists elaborately trained to heighten, 
the eloquence of words, into the ear of assembled 
Greece." t 

Like every other Athenian, Sophocles was a poli- 
tician, and he took his part in the stirring scenes of 

* We may judge how mercenary, in a Greek point of view, 
would have seemed such an exhibition as that of the Royal 
Academy, from the analogous case of Zeuxis, the Millais of his 
day, who exhibited his picture of Helen, and took money at the 
doors. Crowds flocked to see the painting, and the painter 
cleared a large sum — but the name of * Helen ' was changed by 
a satirical public to *The Courtesan.* (See St John, Manners 
and Customs of Ancient Greece, i. 303.) 

+ Lord Lytton's Athens, iL 516. 

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piil)]ic life, pexsonally serving in moro than one cam- 
paign. But public life palled upon him, as it palls 
an every ardent and enthnsiastie character. His 
teniper was too gentle and his principles too chiTalioiis 
far him to grapple -with the xmscrapnloiis party spirit 
of the tk&es. ^ot even the charm of a friendship 
with Pericles, or the honour of a statesman's position, 
could console him for the loss of literary ease ; and 
we can understand how gladly he mnst have left the 
restless and bnsy Athens for the peacefol and lovely 
Boenery of Colonns. There, like -Pope on his lawn 
at Twickenham, like Wordsworth in the soHtude of 
Grasmere, — or, to nse a more clasdcal illnstradon, like 
Horace at his Sabine &rm, — ^he was free to follow the 
bent of his genins, and to draw from nature his purest 
and moi^ perfect picture of a Greek landscape. 

Tet the scenes whidi he had left might well have 
attracted a more ambitioiis spirit 

^To Bcom delights, and live labcaions days.^ 

Ath fm« was then teeming with all the exuberant life 
which marked the renaissance in modem times. 
Thon^t found its utterance in action, in the passion 
for war and in the restl^s spirit of enterprise, in all 
that manyrsided energy which madded the Athenians 
— a people of whom their own historian speaks as 
''never qniet themselves, and never allowing others 
to be so," * AssnTedly Sophocles was bom xmder a 
lucky star ; for his life was coeval with the greatness 
of his country, and he did not live to see the Long 
* HmcydideB, L 70. 

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Walls — ^the symlDol of that greatness — ^levelled in the 
dust to the sound of Spartan music. He lived in an 
age of heroes. All round him were the very men who 
had made his country what it was, and with most of 
these men he was on terms of the most familiar inter- 
course. Doors were not then, as now, " harred with 
gold;" and Athenian society opened its arms to the 
graceful and engaging poet, so genial in his temper, so 
lively in conversation, so true a friend, so pleasant a 
guest. We can imagine Sophocles in his old age recal- 
ling the memories of his youth ; recounting to his chil- 
dren, with pardonahle pride, the historic names and 
scenes with which he had been so familiar : he would 
tell them how he had listened to the thunder of 
" Olympian Pericles ; " how he had been startled by 
the chorus of Furies in the play of iEschylus ; how 
he had talked with the garrulous and open-hearted 
Herodotus; how he had followed Anaxagoras, the 
great Sceptic, in the cool of the day among a throng 
of his disciples ; how he had walked with Phidias, 
and supped with Aspasia. 

Sophocles enjoyed a rare popularity in Athens. 
Even that prince of satirists, Aristophanes, can find 
neither flaw nor blemish in his moral armour against 
which to launch an arrow. He directs unsparing 
raillery against the bombast of -^chylus and the 
sophistry of Euripides; but he has nothing to say 
against this " good easy man " — " as gentle below the 
earth as he was gentle in his lifetime." * The scan- 
dalous anecdotes of AthensBUS may be taken for what 
* Aristoph. Ranae, 82. 

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they are worth ; and it is difficult for any one who has 
read his plays, with all their purity of passion, their 
delicacy of feeling, their chivalrous principles of hon- 
our, to helieve them, with Lord Lytton, to have been 
written by a " profligate " or a " renegada" * 

He died full of years and honour, loved (as his 
biographer teUs us) in every way by all men; and 
his fellow-citizens paid due reverence to the tomb of 
him who was truly " the prince of poets in his time." 
The god Bacchus, himself, the divine patron of the 
tragic drama, was said to have appeared to Lysander, 
whose armies were then beleaguering Athens, and to 
have demanded that a safe-conduct should be given 
to the poet's Mends to bear his body beyond the 
city walls to Decelea, and there bury it in the sepul- 
chre of his fathers. 

Sacrifices were offered to his Manes, and a statue of 
bronze was erected to his memory; but "more endur- 
ing than brass or marble " has been the epitaph com- 
posed in his honour by Simmias of Thebes, thus 
gracefully translated by Professor Plumptre: — 

" Creep gently, ivy, ever gently creep. 

Where Sophocles sleeps on in calm repose ; 
Thy pale green tresses o*er the marble sweep, 

While all around shall bloom the purpling rose. 
There let the vine with rich full clusters hang. 

Its fair young tendrils fling around the stone ; 
Due meed for that sweet wisdom which he sang, 

By Muses and by Graces called their own." 

We now pass to the inner life of Sophocles — ^to his 
* Athens, IL 520, note. 

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character and work. It is but a step from .^Eschylus 
to him, yet the step involves an immensity of change, 
not only in the man, but in the age. Instead of the 
rough son of Mars — the hero of Marathon — ^who (as 
Sophocles himself said) " did what was right with- 
out knowing it," we have the graceful and artistic 
poet, skilled in weaving plots and in delineating char- 
acters. The change is like passing from storm to sun- 
shine. The wild imagery, the unearthly conceptions, 
the heroes and the heroines, human indeed, but with 
the human image dilated to colossal proportions, like 
the spectre of the Brocken, and with the passions of 
the Titans who scaled Olympus — ^the " ox-homed lo," 
the blood-stained Furies, and the " wild Cassandra," — 
all these have disappeared. In their stead the scene 
is occupied by creations of flesh and blood, with 
human sympathies and affections, true and real in 
character, because their types were taken from the 
gallery of life. The serenity which marked the poet 
seems to influence his readers and spectators. So true 
is he to nature, so gradual is his development of each 
legend, however wonderful or monstrous it may be, 
that we have no alternative but to believe and sympa- 
thise. It is with Sophocles as with Spenser. " Au plus 
fort de rinvention il reste serein. Sa bonne foi nous 
gagne ; sa s^r^nit^ devient la n6tre. JN'ous devenons 
cr^dules et heureux par contagion. . . . 'C'est une 
fantasmagorie,' dira-t-on? Qu'importe? si nous la 
voyons, et nous la voyons, car ' Sophocle * la voit." * 

^ * Taine (Hist, de la Lltt^rature Anglaise, i. 834), who thus 
speaks of S|)enser. _ . 

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The poet fell in with the change that had come over 
the spirit of his time. The generation of ^schylus — 
stout warriors who had fought at Marathon, and sturdy 
seamen who " knew nothing " (as Aristophanes said) 
" except to call for barley-cake, and shout * yo-heave- 
ho*" — had been content to believe implicitly all 
that Homer and their poets had taught them; and 
seeing around them traces of some mysterious force 
whose agency and purpose they were powerless to 
explain, they made a god of this Necessity or Des- 
tiny, and called it Nemesis. She was, in truth, a 
jealous deity, causing the rich and prosperous to foun- 
der like a vessel on a sunken reef,* and in one short 
day changing their joy to sorrow, — striking them piti- 
lessly down in the plenitude of their grandeur, as a 
child in mere wantonness strikes down the tallest 
poppies in the corn-field. It was in vain to attempt 
to coax or cajole this capricious power by tears or 
offerings. History had taught men the futility of 
such bribes. Polycrates had thrown his precious ring 
into the sea ; Croesus had filled the treasury of Delphi 
with his gold; but "no sacrifice or libation could 
save a man's soul from Death," and " on Death alone, 
of all divinities. Persuasion had no power." t And 
Herodotus, the most pious of historians, draws the 
obvious moral from the downfall of kings and the 
collapse of empires. "Envy," he says, "clings to 
all that mortal is. . . . Even a god cannot escape 
from Destiny." } 

* ^ch., Eumen. 565. t -^sch., Fragm. of Niobe. 
t Hist i. 35, 91 ; vii. 46. 

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Such was the " tremendous creed " of which ^Eschy- 
lus was a fitting exponent ; with him the Furies are 
the satellites of Fate, and it is their eternal duty 
to pursue the murderer till death and after death. 
The complaint which Comeille puts into the mouth of 
Theseus, in his * CEdipe,* might have been more truly 
uttered hy Eteocles in the ' Seven against Thebes,' as 
he feels the blast of his father^s curse which is wafting 
him to Hades : — 

^ Quoi ! la n^cessit^ des vertus et des vices 
D'un astre imperieux doit suivre lee caprices, 
Et Delphes malgr^ nous conduit nos actions 
Au plus bizarre effet de ses predictions ? 
L*&ine est done toute esclave ; une loi souveraine 
Vers le bien ou le mal incessament Tentraine ; 
£t nous ne recevons ni crainte, ni d^sir, 
De cette liberte qui n'a rien ^ choisir ; 
Attaches sans rel&che ^ cet ordre sublime, 
Vertueux sans mdrite, et vicieux sans crime." * 

— * (Edipe,* Act iii sc. 5. 

It is true that in the * Prometheus' we have the 
spectacle of an indomitable will, proof against all 
suffering; yet it is in this very play that -^chylus 
most insists on the " invincible might of ^Necessity," 

* Readers of Shakspeare may remember Edmund's descrip- 
tion of the "excellent foppery of the world, that when we are 
sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behaviour), we 
make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars ; 
as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compul- 
sion, knaves and thieves by spherical predominance, . . . and 
all that we are evil in_by a divine thrusting on."— King Lear, 
Act i. sc. 2. 

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to which wise men pay homage, and which is "a 
higher power than Jove." Prometheus defies the 
lightning, but he bows to Destiny, as the gladiators 
bowed to the autocrat in the imperial box, with their 
chant of morituri te salutant, knowing themselves to 
be doomed men, but dying with a good grace, and 
scorning to ask for quarter. 

Gradually the Greek mind expanded. The seas 
were opened, commerce increased, men travelled far 
and saw much ; and thus the same stimulus was given 
to national thought and feeling by maritime enterprise 
as to the Jews under Solomon, and to the English, 
under Elizabeth.* And as the Athenians grew adven- 
turous, so they grew self-reliant. They doubted and 
questioned where they had before been content to 
shudder and believe. They attributed more to them- 
selves and less to the blind agency of Destiny ; and 
thus, in this progress of rationalism, there ensued that 
momentous change in thought represented by the 
transition in history from Herodotus to Thucydides, 
and in poetry from iEschylus to Sophocles. 

With this new generation, man is no longer bound 
hand and foot, powerless to move against his inevitable 
doom. He has liberty of choice in action, and by his 
knowledge or his ignorance, by his virtues or his vices, 
has made himself what he is. It is not so much a 
malignant power tormenting men in sheer envy at 
their wealth or happiness ; but it is men themselves, 
who " play the fool with the times, while the spirits of 

* See Stanley's Lectures on the Jewish Church, ii. 1 85 ; 
Froude's History of England, yiii 426. 

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the wise sit in the clouds and mock them." A long 
train of disastrous consequences often follows from a 
single impious speech or guilty deed — ^nay, even from 
a hot word or a hasty blow. Thus the idea of Destiny- 
passes into that of retribution. Punishment surely 
follows sin, if not in a man's own day, yet descending, 
like an heirloom of misery, upon his children. 

*• In life there is a seesaw ; if we shape 
Our actions to our humours, other hands 
May shape their consequences to our pain." * 

In fact, Sophocles seems to have asked himself the 
question put by Nisus to Euryalus in the JEneid, 
and to have answered it in his treatment of men in 
their relations to God : — 

" Dtne hunc ardorem nientibus addunt, 
Euryale ? an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido ?"t 

In each of his plays he shows how passion works out 
its own end — whether it be the pride of (Edipus, the 
stubbornness of Creon, the insane fury of Ajax, or the 

* So says Sophocles, Ajax, 1085 (translated in Mr D'Arcy 
Thompson's * Sales Attici *), anticipating the well-known words 
of Shakspeare : — 

*' The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices 
Make instruments to scourge us." 

? —King Lear, Act v. sc. 3. 

t Virgil, Mn. ix. 184. Professor Conington translates the 
passage thus : — 

' Can it be Heaven,* said Nisus then, 

' That lends such warmth to hearts of men T 

' Or passion surging past control 

' That plays the god to each man's soul ? ' 

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jealousy of Dejanira. All these passions are simple 
and natural ; there are no eccentricities of genius, no 
abnormal mental states, such as furnish the material of 
the modem drama. The Greek would not have under- 
stood the melancholy of Hamlet or the madness of 
Lear ; still less would he have entered into the spirit 
of Timon's declaration, — 

** I am misanthropes, and hate mankind." 

The Athenian audience, with the joyous instincts of 
children — ever ready to " make believe " — gave them- 
selves up to all the illusions of the scene and story, 
delighting, and freely expressing their delight, in the 
picturesque and ever-shifting series of graceful tableaux, 
so diflferent from the still life of a statue or a painting. 
They were " as gods," knowing aU the good and evil 
in the future of the play — such knowledge only increas- 
ing the expectancy with which they looked forward to 
(Edipus blinding himself, or Ajax falling on his sword. 
The manner in which the poet treated each old familiar 
tale was the test of his art, just as a modern preacher 
might discuss and illustrate, after his own proper taste 
and fashion, some well-known text. If we want a 
modern example of the keen interest and sympathy 
which may be excited in a large and intelligent audi- 
ence by the lifelike representation of a history familiar 
to them from their childhood, we have not to go far to 
seek. The Passion-Play now acted at Ober-Ammer- 
gau has many points of resemblance to the Greek 
drama. In both there is the same reality and majestic 
slowness in the acting, the same rhythmical dialogue, 

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the same melodious choral songs, the same large stage, 
with architectural scenery half-open to the sky, and, 
above all, the same intensity of religious feeling, which, 
thrills the actor, and passes from him, like an electric 
current, to an enthusiastic audience. And if this 
resemblance is apparent now, how much stronger must 
it have been in the middle ages, when the Bible was 
a sealed book to the poorer classes, while the Passion- 
Play embodied for them to the life the personages and 
scenes of Scripture — ^when, as a German critic describes 
it, " cloister and church were the first theatres, priests 
the first actors, the first dramatic matter was the Pas- 
sion, and the first dramas the Mysteries."* 

Sophocles developed this religious aspect of the 
drama ; and no Athenian citizen could have seen his 
*Ajax' or 'Antigone' without feeling their hearts 
bum within them, or without being touched and ele- 
vated by the mingled sweetness and purity and pathos 
which earned for the poet the title of the "Attic Bee.'* 
From his pages can be gleaned sentences which read 
like fragments from the inspired writings, and which 
might have furnished texts for a hundred sermons. 
With hiTn the Deity is a personal and omnipresent 
being, far removed from that sombre and vindictive 
Nemesis which haunted -^chylus, — " neither sleeping 
nor waxing faint in the lapse of years, but reigning 
for ever in the splendour of Olympus," — "speaking 
in riddles to the wise, but leaving the foolish in their 
own conceits." "Nothing is impossible with HimJ" 
"His works may perish, but He lives for all eter- 
* Gervinus, Comment, on Shakspeare, i 66. 

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nity." "Happiness is a fruit tliat grows in His 
garden only." "To honour Him is the first and 
greatest of commandments.'* * Here are lines which 
might have been written by a Christian divine : — 

" Speak thou no word of pride, nor raise 
A swelling thought against the gods on high ; 
For Time uplifteth and Time layeth low 
All human things ; and the great gods above 
Abhor the wicked as the good they love. 

Be blameless in all duties towards the gods ; 
For God the Father in compare with this 
Lightly esteemeth all things else ; and so 
Thy righteousness shall with thee to the end 
Endure, and follow thee beyond the graVe." f 

These sentiments pervade every play. It is only 
when unmanned by despair that his heroes are tempted, 
like Job, in the anguish of their hearts, to " curse God 
and die." Even then such impiety meets with its own 
reward. Well, therefore, might his unknown bio- 
grapher declare Sophocles to have been " dear to the 
gods as no other man was;" and with equal truth 
may Professor Plumptre hail him as one of those 
who wete, in their degree, "schoolmasters unto 

Mingled with this strong religious feeling in Sopho- 
cles was that melancholy supposed to be engendered 
only in the poets of the north. He is oppressed by 

• Fragments of lost plays of Sophocles, 
t Philoctetes, 1441. This and the preceding translations 
are mainly taken from ' Sales Attici.' 

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his sense of the feebleness of human intellect and 
the impotence of human foresight, as compared with 
the omnipotent wisdom of an eternal being. Like 
some master-spirit, he views the actions and passions 
of the characters which he has created with a half- 
contemptuous pity. He heaps upon mankind every 
epithet of scorn — " phantoms," " shadows," " creatures 
of a day," " bom to misery as the sparks fly upwards." 
Hence springs what has been called his " Irony," so 
admirably illustrated in Bishop ThirlwaU's well-known 
essay. " Men promise much and perform Kttle. They 
think they are marching onward to fame and greatness, 
when the ground is opening beneath their feet, and 
they are sinking to destruction. They boast of their 
strength when they are really displaying their weak- 
ness. Like CEdipus, they solve the riddle of the 
Sphinx, and are blind to the riddle of their own 
lives." * And there had been sufficient historical ex- 
amples, even within his own experience, to point the 
moral of this Irony. Scarcely one of those great 
statesmen whom he had personally known, command- 
ing the armies or guiding the councils of his country ,- 
had either lived long or had seen good days. Defeat, 
disaster, or dishonour, had been the lot of alL Them- 
istocles had died in a strange land, a pensioner on the 
Great King's bounty ; Pericles had fallen a victim to 
the plague which was decimating his besieged country- 
men ; his nephew, the gay and gallant Alcibiades, was a 
traitor in the Spartan camp ; while Nicias had perished 
* Plumptre's Introd. to Sophocles, Ixxxviii. 

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miserably, witli the flower of his anny, after the fatal 
night-march from Syracuse. 

Many improvements are said to have been intro- 
duced by Sophocles on the Athenian stage. We are 
told that he raised the number of actors present at 
once upon the scene from two to three ; that he attired 
them in splendid dresses — robes of saffron and purple, 
falling in long and graceful folds, — ^jewelled chaplets, 
and broad embroidered girdles. But above all, he 
increased the number of the Chorus, and gave a new 
form and spirit to the music which accompanied their 
odes. We, in our cold climate, can hardly appreciate 
the effect which music produced on the enthusiastic 
Greek temperament. The French are more susceptible 
to such influence ; and few who have ever heard it can 
forget the sublime effect of the Marseillaise thundered 
out by a vast revolutionary throng. To the Greek, 
music was a passion and a necessity. Even now, a 
modem traveller compares their life to an opera, where 
men sing from bui;h to death ; and perhaps the case 
was even stronger in the days of Sophocles, when 
" song rose from an Hellenic village as naturally as 
from a brake in spring." Whether the peasant might 
be watching by the cradle, working in the vineyard, 
or toUing at the oar, the labour, was in each case 
lightened by some appropriate song. Their bards 
told how Arion charmed the dolphin, how the walls 
of Troy rose to the sound of Apollo's flute, as those of 
Jericho fell before the trumpets of the priests, and 

A. c. voL X. B 

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how trees and rocks followed Orpheus as he sang. 
Even philosophers recognised this all-pervading influ- 
ence. Aristotle has devoted a long and learned 
chapter of his Politics to the " moral influence of 
music ; " and it was in music also (as most likely to 
be corrupted by innovation) that Plato, in his ideal 
State, places the watch-tower of his "guardians." The 
marriage hymn, the funeral dirge, the incantation of 
the witch, the chant of the physician, the solemn 
and melodious invocation of the priest, merely illus- 
trate this universal passion. Ion, the rhapsodist, 
describes the strong emotion produced in himself and 
in his hearers by the recitation of Homer. " When 
that which I recite is pathetic," he says, " my eyes 
are fiUed with tears ; when it is awful or terrible, my 
hair stands on end and my heart leaps. Moreover, I 
see the spectators also weeping in sympathy with my 
emotion, and looking aghast with terror." * If the mere 
recitation of hexameter verse could produce this effect, 
far more powerfully must the simple but passionate 
music of the Tragic Chorus, sung in unison by well- 
trained singers, have impressed the audience in the 
theatre, where the masks of perfect beauty, the grace- 
ful robes, and the majestic stature of the actors gave a 
solemn and almost unearthly character to the scene. 
Though Sophocles had a weak voice, he was himself 
a skilled musician; and in his choral, odes (purposely 
shortened by him that they might not interrupt the 
current of the story) we can faintly trace the echo of 
that sweet and majestic melody which must once have 
♦ Grote's Plato (Ion). 

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entranced all hearers — we can, almost hear the hannony 
of voices, now rising loud and clear as they hail a 
prince or victor, and then dying away with a solemn 
Memnonian cadence as 

" They mourn the hridegroom early torn 

From his young bride, and set on high — 
Strength, courage, virtue's golden mom, 
Too good to die." * 

* Horace, Od. iv. 2 (Conington's Transl.) 

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"No tragedy in history or in fiction can equal the 
horror of the tale of CEdipus. The plot is so simple 
as to be told in a sentence. An oracle foretells that 
(Edipus shall slay his father and be married to his 
mother ; and, against his own will and knowledge, he 
fulfils his destiny. By a sudden revolution of fortune 
we see a man, to all appearance as wise as Solomon and 
as blameless as Job, hurled into an abyss of misery 
and despair ; and this by a chain of circumstances of 
whose real import he is himself unconscious until the 
final catastrophe. It is a case where the punishment 
seems out of all proportion to the crime. Even when 
we take into account the passion, the pride, and the 
curiosity of CEdipus, we stiU feel that the criminal has 
been in a measure " the victim of a mistake " — ^that he 
is a mere puppet in the hands of some superior and 
relentless power. And yet this Fatality, to which 
(Edipus is subject, is not so great or capricious as at 
first sight it seems to be. It is true that chance and 
misfortune are the means which it makes use of for 

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the accomplishment of its purpose, hut it uses them 
for the ends of Justice. " The real instruments," says 
M. Girardin, " by which Fate works, are men's un- 
bridled passions ; it strikes down the murderer by the 
murderer, and punishes the crime by the crime. But 
Justice appears beyond and above these furious im- 
pulses, and directs them, in spite of themselves, to that 
mysterious goal towards which it tends." * To the 
audience, who knew the story well, no suspense could 
have been so agonising as to watch the misguided 
king rushing headlong to his doom — ^to see him weav- 
ing himself the fatal chain of evidence which was to 
convict him of murder and incest, — ^and this without 
their being able to raise a voice to warn, or to stretch 
out a hand to save. And mingled with this feeling 
was that indefinable sympathetic fear — always strongly 
excited by the sight of sufferings to which we may be 
ourselves exposed — the dread which haunted each 
man among the audience lest he might himself some 
day prove an (Edipus. No one woidd have disclaimed 
the idea of his committing such monstrous sins with a 
more fervent sincerity than the criminal in this tragedy. 
" Is thy servant a dog, that he should do these things ?" 
he would have asked; and yet, influenced by some 
mysterious impulse, he had done them all. And, 
lastly, the spectators must have felt that natural but. 
selfish pleasure of looking dpwn, like the gods of Epi- 
curus, from the vantage-grouh4 of their tiers of seats, 
on the storm of conflicting pa(ssions, the love and the 
lage, the hatred and the despair, which convulsed the 
* Cours de Lit, Dramat., i 189. 

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actors on the stage. Lucretius describes this common- 
est of all feelings in well-known Knes : " Sweet it is," 
says he, " when on the great sea winds are trouhKng 
the waters, to behold from land another's deep distress. 
. . . 'Tis sweet again to look upon armies battling on 
the plains without sharing in the danger." * 

It was the skilful manner in which all these emo- 
tions are worked up by Sophocles in this play that 
caused Aristotle, the great critic, to select ^ (Edipus the 
King ' as the model and masterpiece of Tragedy. 

We are carried back by the poet to the same 
mythic period, with no pretence to historical date, 
to which Shakspeare carries us back in his kindred 
play of * King Lear' t — an age of giants, when men's 
passions were at blood-heat, when atrocious crimes 
were followed by atrocious vengeance, and when the 
general violence and brutality of manners is only re- 
lieved by brighter touches in such characters as Theseus 
and Kent, Cordelia and Antigone. CEdipus himseli 
might well say with Lear, that " the best and soundest 
of his time had been but rashness." f 

Laius, king of Thebes, took for his wife Jocasta, 
" daughter of the wise Menoeceus," but she bore biTn 
no children. Then in his distress he asked help of 
the god of Delphi ; and the god declared that a son 
should be bom to him, but by the hands of this son 
he should surely die. As soon as the child, the hero 
of this tragedy, is bom, his mother intrasts him to a 
servant, with strict charge that he should be left to 

* Lucretius, ii. 1 (Munro's TransL) 

t Gervinus, Comment, on Shakspeare, ii. 204. 

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die in the wilderness. This cruel command is obeyed. 
The child's feet are pierced, cords are passed through 
them, and it is left hanging from a tree in the wildest 
pass of Mount Cithseron. - There a shepherd finds it, 
and, moved with pity, carries it to his master Polyhus, 
king of Corinth. The wife of Polybus, being child- 
less, resolves to adopt the foundling as her own son, 
and thus the stranger is received into the palace, and 
is given the name of CEdipus — " Swell-foot." He grows 
up to manhood, never doubting that he is the son and 
heir of Polybus. 

In the mean time King Laius had grown old, and 
thirty years after his child had been thus exposed, 
he made a second pilgrimage to consult the god of 
Delphi. From this pilgrimage he never returned, for 
on his way home he was attacked and slain by some 
unknown hand, at the spot where the road from 
Delphi branches off to Phocis and Boeotia. Creon 
succeeds him; but his reign is brief, for a monster, 
with the face of a woman, the wings of a bird, and 
the tail and claws of a lion, was bringing desolation 
on the city of Thebes. The Sphinx (as this monster 
was called) proposed a riddle which no Theban could 
solve ; and the life of a citizen was the penalty for 
every failure. So terrible was the visitation, that 
Creon, in despair, offered the crown of Thebes and the 
hand of his sister Jocasta to any who could unravel 
the enigma and save the state. 

At this crisis CEdipus, like the " fated fairy prince," 
comes to the rescue. He had left the court of 
Polybus, indignant at an insult offered him on the 

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score of his unknown birth, and chance or destiny had 
brought him to Thebes. Comeille makes him tell his 
own story — how on his arrival at the foot of the fatal 
rock he sees the ground covered with the mangled 
limbs of former unlucky interpreters — ^how, in their 
despair, the perishing citizens make large proffers to 
the man who shall deliver them : — 

" Le peuple ofiire le sceptre, et la reine son lit ; 
De cent cruelles morts cette offire est t6t suivie ; 
J'arrive, je Tapprens, j'y hazarde ma vie. 
Au pied du roc afiEreux sem^ d'os blanchissants, 
Je demande T^nigme, et j'en cherche la sens ; 
Et ce qu'aucun mortel n*avait encore pu faire, 
tTen devoile Timage, et perce le mystfere. 
Le monstre, fuiieux de se voir entendu, 
Venge aussitdt sor lui tout de sang r^pandu, 
Du roc se lance en has, et s'dcrase lui-m^me, 
La reine tint parole, et j'eus le diadSme/* 

— (Edipe, Act L sc. 4. 

Both the riddle and the answer given have become 
matter of popular and well-known story; and it is 
difficult to understand the perplexity of the Thebans, 
for the enigma was of the simplest kind : " A being 
with four feet has two feet and three feet and only 
one voice ; but its feet vary, and, when it has most, 
it is weakest." Professor Plumptre has thus trans- 
lated the answer of CEdipus : — 

'' Hear thou against thy will, thou dark-winged Muse of 

the slaughtered ; 
Hear from my lips the end bringing a close to thy crime : 
Man is it thou hast described, who, when on earth he 


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First as a babe from the womb, four-footed creeps on his 

Then when old age cometh on, and the burden of years 

weighs full heavy, 
Bending his shoulders and neck, as a third foot useth his 

staflf."*— (P.) 

And so the successfiil adventurer is made king, and 
takes for his wife Jocasta, who had been the wife of 
LaIus, and by her he has both sons and daughters. 
For some years aU went well with CEdipus. He had 
children, and lands, and wealth, and honour, and 
all that helps to make life precious. He was happy in 
the affections of his family and in the loyalty of his 
subjects. ** Heaven and earth are silent for a gener- 
ation; one might fancy that they are treacherously 
silent, in order that CEdipus may have time for build- 
ing up to the clouds the pyramid of his mysterious 
offences. His four children incestuously bom — sons 
that are his brothers, daughters that are his sisters — 
have grown up to be men and women before the first 
mutterings are becoming audible of that great tide 
slowly coming up from the sea, which is to sweep 
away himself and the foundations of his house. Hea- 

* De Qaincey ingeniously suggests that, after all, the truer 
answer to the riddle lay in the word CEdipus, since he more 
than any other fulfilled the conditions of these three ages of 
man, — first crawling helplessly on his swollen feet; then 
" walking upright at noonday " in the vigour of manhood, van- 
quishing the Sphinx, and winning crown and bride by his own 
unaided natural i)owers ; then, in the closing scene, thrust forth 
from home and country, guided by his devoted daughter, ** the 
third foot that should support his steps when the deep shadows 
of his sunset were gathering and settling about his grave." 

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yen and earth must now bear joint witness against 
him. Heaven spoke first." * For some cause un- 
known to the inhabitants, the wrath of the gods fell 
upon the state, and every source of life was blasted 
with that curse which was believed to follow upon 
crime. Thebes groaned under the worst plagues which 
smote the land of. Egypt. Pestilence came upon the 
cattle ; mildew blighted the fruits of the earth ; the 
first-bom of women were swept away by some fatal 
and mysterious malady. The whole city — and those 
among the poet's audience who had been in Athens 
during the Great Plague could realise the description 
— ^was "fuU of the dead and dying." It was to no 
purpose that unceasing prayers were offered, and that 
incense steamed upon the altars. The gods remained 
deaf and dumb to aU entreaties. The citizens in the 
fii*st chorus tell tiie tale of their sufferings thus : — 

" The nurslings of the genial earth 

Wane fast away ; 
The children, blighted ere the birth, 
See not the day, 
And the sad mother bows her head, 
And, with her treasure lost, sleeps 'mid the crowded dead. 

One upon another driven. 
Fleeter than the birds of heaven, 
Fleeter than the fire-flood*8 might, 
Rush they to the realms of night. 
Where, beyond the western sea, 
Broods the infernal Deity, 
While our city makes her moan 
O'er her coimtless children gone." — (A) 

♦ De Quincey, The Theban Sphinx (Works, ix. 249). 

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Then at last the people, in their sorrow and despair, 
turn — as the plague - stricken Athenians turned to 
Pericles — to him who seemed to be the favourite of 
fortime, to the prince whose sagacity had once rescued 
them from the talons of the Sphinx; and in the opening 
scene of the play, a throng of citizens — young men and 
elders, priests and hoys — are seated before the palace- 
doors of (Edipus, with boughs of laurel and olive, the 
eihblems of supplication, in their hands. When the 
prince asks them the reason of their coming, they tell 
him of the plague and pestilence which " desolate the 
hpuse of Cadmus," and implore him to lend his aid 
in this hour of their dire distress. Whether he be 
inspired by heaven, or trust to the " might of unas- 
sisted genius," let him repeat his former good work, 
and earn a second time the title of " Saviour of the 

The answer of (Edipus is generous and dignified, 
and has all the complacency of gratified patriotism. 
Upon none (he says) have these evil days weighed 
more heavily than on himself : they have caused him 
many tearful and restless hours. He has long pon- 
dered over all possible modes of deliverance ; and he 
has done what piety suggested — has laid his case before 
the gods, and is hourly expecting an answer from 
Delphi, whither Creon had been sent. Even as he 
speaks, Creon is seen approaching, with joy beaming 
from his eyes, and with his brows bound with a wreath 
of " Apollo's bays " — ^a badge which then bore the 
same sacred import as the palm-branch in the middle 
ages, for it marked the happy return of the pilgrim 

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from the shrine of Delphi, believed by the Greek to 
be the centre of the earth, just as Jerusalem was by- 
medieval Christendom. 

For once (Creon avers) Apollo has spoken plainly. 
It is the guilt of innocent blood which troubles the 
land. Laius had been foully murdered by unknown 
hands ; and until the murderer was banished, or blood 
was repaid by blood, there should be neither peace nor 
rest for the people of Cadmus. CEdipus then asks a 
train of questions, which (as critics remark) show a 
strange ignorance of circumstances which must have 
been well known to every Theban. Creon tells him 
how, when, and where the murder had taken place, as 
far as rumour went. One eyewitness had escaped, 
who talked of a "band of robbers" falling on the 
king; but these, like Falstaflfs "men in buckram," 
were afterwards shown to have been invented to screen 
his own cowardice. QEdipus then reproaches the 
Thebans for their previous neglect, and announces 
that he will take upon himseK the office of discover- 
ing and punishing the unknown criminal : — 

" Right well hath Thebes, and right well hast thou 
Shown for the dead your care, and ye shall find, 
As is most meet, in me a helper true, 
Aiding at once my country and my God." — (P.) 

Then the deputation of citizens, having secured a 
champion, withdraws in procession from the stage, and 
CEdipus is left alone. " During this pause," says one 
of the most acute of modem critics, "the spectator 
has leisure to reflect how different all is from what it 

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seems. The wrath of heaven has been pointed against 
the devoted city only that it might fall with concen- 
trated force on the head of a single man ; and he, who 
is its object, stands alone calm and serene. Uncon- 
scious of his own misery, he can afford pity for the 
unfortunate; and, as if in the plenitude of wisdom 
and power, he undertakes to trace the evil, of which 
he is himself the sole author, to its secret source." * 

The Chorus of Theban citizens now enters, and, as in 
every chorus in Sophocles, their first ode is a solemn 
prayer. They draw a piteous picture of the miseries 
of Thebes, and they invoke its guardian gods to stay 
the plague which is wasting the inhabitants. Let 
them rise in defence of the city which has honoured 
them so well, and drive far away to the gloomy shores 
of Thrace the destroying angel who rides on the 
wings of pestilence. 

^ Lord of the starry heaven, 
Grasping the terrors of the burning levin ! 
Let thy fierce bolt descend, 

Scathe the Destroyer^s might, and suffering Thebes be- 

Speed thou here, Lycsean king, — 
Archer, from whose golden string 

Light the unerring arrows spring 

Apollo, lend thine aid ! 
And come, ye beams of wreathed light, 
Glancing on the silent night. 
In mazy dance, on Lycia*s height. 
When roves the huntress maid- 

•Bishop Thirlwall, "On the Irony of Sophocles," Philol. 
Museum, ii. 496. 

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Thou, the golden chaplet fair 
Braiding 'mid thy clustering hair, 
To thy native haunts repair, 

Thy name that gave ; 
Thou, whose brow the vine-lees stain, 
Thou, to whom on star-lit plain 
* Evoe ! ' sing the frenzied train, — 

Bacchus the brave ! 
With thy torch of pine defy 
(Hated by the powers on high) 
War's unhallowed deity : 

Haste thee to save ! " — (A.) 

Then (Edipus addresses the Chorus, as representing 
the people of Thebes ; and to the audience, who knew 
the story well, every word in his speech must have 
sounded like the bitterest irony, as they listened to the 
speaker unconsciously invoking upon his own head a 
curse as solemn and emphatic as that of Kehama. 

He speaks as one of themselves — a citizen to citizens 
— " a stranger to the tale, a stranger to the deed." 
Shoidd the murderer confess at once, banishment shall 
be his only punishment. Should any give a clue to 
his discovery, the informant shall have a reward and 
thanks. But if, after this gracious offer, the criminal 
or accomplice hold their peace — 

" That man I banish, whosoe'er he be, 
From out the land whose power and throne are mine ; 
And none may give him shelter, none speak to him, 
Nor join with him in prayers and sacrifice, 
Nor give him share in holy lustra! stream j 
But all shall thrust him from their homes, declared 
Our curse and our pollution." — (P.) 

All things conspire, continues CEdipus, to make 

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him stand forth as the champion of the state, and '^ a 
helper to the god and to the dead." An illustrious 
prince has fallen, the land is smitten by the wrath of 
heaven; "and therefore," says the king — and his 
words carry with them a terrible significance — 

" And therefore will I strive my best for him, 
As for my father, and will go all lengths 
To seek and find the murderer ; and for me, 
If in my house, I knowing it, he dwells. 
May every curse 1 spake on my head fall ! " 

The Chorus at once protest their innocence and ignor- 
ance. They " neither slew, nor knew who slew." 

Besides sending Creon to Delphi, CEdipus had ^o 
summoned Teiresias, the great Theban seer, who, like 
Calchas in the * Iliad,* 

" Knew all that is, and was, and is to be." 

He had been deprived of his eyesight by Minerva for 
some offence, but the goddess, by way of atonement, 
had gifted him with such acute powers of hearing that 
he understood the language of all the birds of heaven, 
Even after death he retained his prophetic powers, and 
Ulysses himself sought the lower world to learn from 
his lips the secrets of the future, being, as the Chorus 
describe him here, 

" The seer inspired of God, 
With whom alone of all men truth abides." 

Teiresias is led in by a boy, bearing the golden 
staff which was the badge of his augurial office. 
(Edipus addresses him with dignified courtesy, speak- 

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ing " as a king to a king." The Theban seer (he 
declares) is the only saviour to whom they can look 
in their hour of need. Let him therefore use all his 
powers of prophecy, and rescue the city from the curse 
which troubles it, by pointing out the murderer of 
Laius. But Teiresias, who knows but too well the 
horror of the actual truth, refuses to answer. (Edipus 
vainly protests and implores ; and at last, imputing his 
silence to conscious guilt, angrily charges him with 
having himself instigated or actually committed the 
crime. Then the prophet is in his turn roused to 
anger; the fire kindles, and he speaks with his tongue. 
It is Nathan's denunciation of David : " Tfwu art the 
man." CEdipus is not only incredulous, but furious, 
to think that an augur can be at once so old and so 
vile a slanderer, since he can neither see the brightness 
of earthly sunshine nor the pure light of inward truth, 
and is blind at once in mind and body. And then 
he moralises on the envy that haunts greatness. It 
must be Creon, his own familiar friend, who has con- 
spired with this "juggling mountebank," and has 
hired him thus to prophesy deceit.* His very art of 

* Seneca, in his tragedy of 'CEdipus,' introduces a wild 
scene of incantation, in which both Creon and Teiresias take 
part. They repair at midnight to a valley outside the walls of 
Thebes, where a grove of oak and cypress overhangs a stagnant 
pool of water. There the prince and the prophet dig a trench, 
light a fire, and offer a libation of wine and blood, accompanied 
by a solemn prayer, to Hecate and the Queen of Night. Then, 
amid the howling of dogs and the rolling of thunder, the earth 
heaves and is rent asunder, and the spirits of the legendary 
heroes of the house of Labdacus (father of Laius) rise from the 

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anguiy is a lie ; for it was CEdipus, and not Teiresias, 
who had expounded the fatal riddle of the Sphinx. 
If it were not for his hoary hairs (such is the 
king^s last threat), he should have had such a bitter 
lesson as would have taught him the peril of false- 

Then Teiresias, " strong in the might of truth," de- 
nounces that infatuation and blindness of heart which 
is fax worse than the loss of eyesight. His own mind 
and reason are clairvoyant, while (Edipus is ignorant 
of his own birth, ignorant of the sin in which he is 
living. Fatal — continues the prophet, using a bold 
metaphor — ^is the harbour in which the king has moored 
his barque, lulled by a vain security, and terrible is 
the storm which shall soon break upon himself and 
on his children. A light shall be thrown on this 
mysterious murder ; but 

" No delight to him 
Shall that discovery'bring. Blind, having seen — 
Poor, having rolled in wealth, — ^he, with a staff 
Feeling his way, to a strange land shall go." — (P.) 

And with this terrible prediction of the truth echoing 
in the ears of his audience, the prophet is led from the 
stage. Even CEdipus, scoffer and sceptic though he 
be, is struck by the reality of the augur's manner, and 
remains silent and perplexed, pondering over the last 

lower world. Among this shadowy throng is the ghost of Laius, 
his grey hair still dabbled with blood ; and, being conjured by 
Teiresias to declare the truth, he denounces (Edipus as his 

A. 0. vol X. 

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mysterious words relating to his birth, which Voltaire 
has well rendered 

** Ce jour va vons donner la naissance et la mort " — 

while the Chorus cannot restrain their terrible an- 

" Who," they ask, " can this unknown criminal be, 
that has dared deeds of such unutterable horror 1 It 
is high time for him to fly, swifter than the swiftest 
steed; for the god of prophecy is already on his 
trade with the tardy but resistless power of doom, 
^ough he lurks in some lonely cave or mountain glen, 
the living curse will haunt him." 

It is hard (they conclude) to disbelieve the prophet 
of truth — ^harder still to believe that their king, the 
wise and good, is a guilty and polluted wretch ; and 
so, until he be convicted by the clearest proofs, they 
will remember only the good deeds of (Edipus. 

Creon now enters, and protests his innocence of 
the charge of conspiracy which (Edipus had brought 
against him ; but hardly has he made his px)test to 
the Chorus, when CEdipus appears, and angrily upbraids 
him with treasonable sehemel9. Creon rests his defence 
on grounds of common-sense — much in the style of 
Henry IV.'s famous speech to his son. Who could be 
so foolish (Creon asks) as to prefer 

'' To reign with fears than sleep untroubled sleep " ? 

As things are, he shares with Jocasta the counsels of 

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the king. All men court and flatter him ; why should 
he barter his ease and pleasure for 

" The poHshed perturbation, golden care, 
That keeps the ports of slumber open wide 
To many a sleepless night " ? * 

He has no motive for acting a traitor's part, or for 
conspiring with Teiresias — 

" Then charge me not with crime on shadowy proof ; 
For to thrust out a friend of noble heart 
Is like the parting with the life we love." — (P.) 

But, as Yoltaire t observes with regard to this pas- 
sage, if a courtier accused of conspiracy should defend 
himself by such a commonplace, he would stand in 
great need of the clemency of his master. Certainly 
CEdipus is neither convinced nor reassured. Croon's 
skilful pleading only seems to him to prove that he 
can show equal skill in weaving plots; and he is 
proceeding to further accusations, when Jocasta her- 
self enters, and strives to act the peacemaker between 
her husband and her brother. The Chorus join with 
^her in urging (Edipus to for^o his unjust suspicions. 
This is not the first time, says the queen, wishing to 
reassure her husband, that oracles have played men 
false. Laius had been warned that he should perish 
by the hands of his son — 

" And yet, as ramour tells, where three ways meet, 
By foreign ruffians was the monarch slain ; " — (D.) 

• King Heniy IV., P. I. Act iv. so. 4. 
t Lettres sor (Edipe, quoted by M. Patin, Etades snr 

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while the son who was to have killed his father was 
left to die in the wilderness. 

Up to this moment we may suppose (Edipns to have 
been fully assured of his own innocence, and to have 
regarded the denunciation of Teiresias as the words of 
a TnqfJTTiftTi or a traitor ; but suddenly a chance expres- 
sion of Jocasta causes a gleam of the real truth to 
flash across his mind. Where (he asks hurriedly cuid 
ahxiously) was this spot " where three ways meet " 1 
And the fatal answer comes — 

" They call the country Phocis, and the roads 
From Delphi and from DauHa there converge." 

Then (Edipus, his suspicions being thus confirmed, 
in an agony of doubt asks question after question of 
the queen. Time, place, circumstances, all agree. 
Link after link in the fatal chain of evidence is closed 
about him, and each answer only makes it clearer that 
the words of Teiresias have been all too true. The king 
in his turn recounts his flight from Corinth, in dismay 
at the hideous destiny foretold to him by the Delphic 
god. He tells how on his journey he came to a place 
where three roads met; how he had been pushed 
from the road by an old grey-haired man, riding in a 
chariot, attended by a herald and servants; how blows 
had followed the insult; and how he had "slain 
them alL" And, oh ! the mockery of fate — ^the fearful 
" irony " of his threatened vengeance ! It is on his 
own head that he has invoked that binding and irre- 
vocable curse, which would be executed to the full by 

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the relentless powers of destiny. Wliat man upon 
earth can be more utterly miserable ? 

" Am I not bom to evil, all unclean ? 
If I most flee, yet still in flight my doom 
Is never more to see the friends I love. 
Nor tread my country's soil ; or else to bear 
The guilt of incest, and my father slay ; 
Yea, Polybus, who brought me up. 

May I ne'er look 
On such a day as that, but far away 
Depart unseen from all the haunts of men." — (P.) 

There is still a fisiint chance that, after all, (Edipus 
may be innocent ; but it rests upon the chance expres- 
sion of the slave, who had talked of ^' a band of rob- 
bers." Jocasta, indeed, is still incredulous, and is 
confident that this oracle will be proved as idle as 
the others ; but, at any rate, the slave shall be sum- 
moned and examined. 

In the pause of the action of the drama, the Chorus, 
left alone in possession of the stage, draw the same 
moral from the tale of (Edipus which the Chorus in 
^ Samson Agonistes ' draws from him who had been 

^ The glory late of Israel, now the grief.** 

Woe to the man who walks proudly, fearing neither 
justice nor the eternal laws of a God who grows not 
old — ^who neither keeps his life from impious speech, 
nor his hands from profaning holy things. His down- 
fall must be speedy and inevitable — 

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<< Climbmg oft, Pride seeks to dwell 
Throned on Fortune's pinnacle ; 
Hurried from the summit straight 
Down the vast abrupt of Fate ; 
Hurled from realms of highest bliss. 
Sinks she in the dark abyss. 

God, in whom for aye Til trust, 

Holds His shield before the just ! 

But for the man whose heart is known 

By haughty deed and lofty tone, 

Spuming Heaven, and wrapt in self. 

Led by sordid lust of pelf, — 

Unto them may Fate dispense 

Pride's unfailing recompense. 

Conscience ! thou to such canst deal 

Heavier stroke than blade of steel ; 

Else, if man may Heaven defy. 

If sleeps the vengeance of the sky — 

Why this idle chant prolong ? 

Still be the dance, and hushed the song ! " — (A.) 

At this point begins the dSnottement or disentangle- 
ment of the plot, in wliicli Sophocles was thought espe- 
cially to exceL 

A messenger arrives firom Corinth, bringing what 
he conceives to be good news. Polybus is dead, and 
(Edipus has been elected by acclamation king of " the 
city on two seas." Jocasta — who, with a woman's 
fickleness, is on her way bearing flowers and incense 
to the altars of the god whom she had just insulted — 
meets the messenger, and is wild with joy when she 
hears her own opinion of the falsity of oracles, as she 
believes, thus undoubtedly confirmed ; and she sum- 

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mons her husband, who, like her, exults at the tidings. 
Who need now believe that there is any truth in the 
Delphic godi Chance rules all; human foresight 
avails nothing ; and oracles do but oppress the mind 
like a hideous dream. 

But it is a fialse joy and a short-lived triumph. 
CEdipus himself is still haunted by a misgiving that 
the latter part of the prophecy may yet prove true ; for 
Meropa, his reputed mother, is yet aUve. Then the 
messenger, wishing to relieve him from this remaining 
dread, tells him the whole story of his birth — ^how he 
was in reality no son of Polybus, but a foundling ex- 
posed on Mount Citheeron \ how he had been delivered 
"by a shepherd of Laius to the very witness who now 
tells the tale ; and how he in his turn had carried the 
child to Polybus. 

There is one question still to be answered — one link 
still requisite to complete the chain of circumstantial 
evidence: ''Who was the mother, and from whom 
had the shepherd received the child 1 " 
^ Jocasta, who had at once realised the truth from the 
story of the Corinthian messenger, and who knows but 
too well what the answer of the shepherd must be, 
vainly tries to dissuade her husband from inquiring 
fieather; and then, finding him obstinately bent on 
discovering the fatal secret of his birth, she can endure 
her grief no longer, but rushes from the stage in a 
silent agony of despair. 

After a short interval of what must have been tor- 
turing suspense to CEdipus — «n interval occupied by 
the Chorus in idle guesses as to what nymph or god- 

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dess could have nursed this " child of fortune " — ^the 
last fetal witness, the aged shepherd who, half a cen- 
tury before, had received the child of Laius fix)ni its 
mother, is led before the king. Forced to give his 
evidence on pain of death and torture, slowly and re- 
luctantly — for he realises the horrible import of his 
words — he reveals all that he knows. And then 
GEdipus utters a wail of agony (and even across the 
lapse of years that loud and bitter cry pierces us with 
terrible reality) — 

** Woe ! woe ! woe ! woe ! all cometh clear at last." — (P.) 

Then he too flies in horror fcom the stage. 

Again the Chorus mourn over the vanity of life, and 
again their lament is like that of the sons of Dan in 
* Samson Agonistes ' — 

** mirror of our fickle state. 
Since, man on earth unparalleled I 
The rarer thy example stands, 
By how much from the top of wondrous glory. 
To lowest pitch of abject fortune thou art fallen." 

Their king, who had once proved a tower of defence 
to his country in her hour of need, is now beset him- 
self by countless sorrows. Would that the sin and 
death could be forgotten, and those guilty nuptials I 

True to the principle of the Greek tragic drama, 
that horrors should not be acted in the presence of the 
audience, the rest of this miserable story is narrated 
by messengers. Jocasta, as we have seen, had left 
the scene suddenly and in ominous silence : she had 

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dashed open the doors of the fatal bridal chamher ; and 
when (Edipus had followed her, raging for a sword to 
slay her who had been the innocent cause of his misfor- 
tunes, he finds her, his wife and mother, hanging by a 
noose from the ceiling, already dead. Then he tears 
the body down with a wild cry, and wrenching the 
gqlden buckle from her dress, he dashes the point into 
the pupils of his eyes — thus condemning himseK to 
that perpetual darkness with which he had taunted 
Teiresias. " His feeling," says Bishop Thirlwall, " is 
not horror of the light and of all the objects it can 
present to him, but indignation at his own previous 
blindness. The eyes which have served him so ill, 
which have seen without discerning what it was most 
important for him to know, shall be extinguished for 

Well might the messenger say, at the close of his 
speech, that in the tragedy which he had just re- 

" Wailing and woe, and death and shame, all forms 
Thftt man can name of evil, none have failed." — (P.) 

All Jjhe rivers of the earth could not wash away the 
pollution which clings to the house and family. 

The palace-doors are now rolled back, and (Edipus 
comes forward with wild gestures, the gore still stream- 
ing from eyes that are " irrecoverably dark amid the 
blaze of noon." The Chorus, horror-stricken, cannot 
endure the sight, and hide their faces in their robes. 
Pity and consolation are out of place in the pre- 
sence of such misery as his. They can only utter 

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broken exdamations of sorrow and dismay. " What/' 
they ask, "has prompted such an outrage? Why 
has he thus doomed himself to blindness " — 

"As in the land of darkness, yet in light, 
To live a life half-dead, a living death ** ?* 

1^0 man's hand has smitten him, replies (Edipus, save 
his own ; but he has been feist bound to the wheels of 
a cruel necessity, and it is Apollo who has prompted 
such grim handiwork. Comeille gives the spirit of 
his justification ; — 

" Aux crimes malgr^ moi I'ordre da ciel m'attache, 
Pour m'y faire tomber a moi-mSme il me cache ; 
II offre, en m'aveuglant sur ce qu'il a pr^t, 
Mon p^re & mon ^p^ et ma m^re h, mon lit. 
H^as ! qu*il est bien vrai qu*en vain on s'imagine 
Derober notre vie k ce qu'il nous destine ! " 

— CEdipe, Act v. sc. 7. 

Then he breaks out into passionate self-reproach, as he 
recalls with remorseful tenderness those old familiar 
scenes of his youth — 

" All fair outside, all rotten at the core ; " 

the woodlands of CithaBron, the court of Polybos, and 
that "narrow pass where three ways met" No 
guilt or misery, he declares, can be like his. Let 
them then drive him forth from the city of his &thers, 
and let them hide him for ever from the sight of men, 
and from the light of day. 

Creon now enters, and, with a nobility alien to his 
* Samson Agon., L 99. 

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character in the succeeding play, retrains £rom castiag 
either scorn or reproach on the fallen greatness of the 
king ; and CEdipus, grateful for this kindness, makes 
his last request. Let them bury her who lies dead 
within the palace as becomes a king's daughter; for 
himself — ^he prays he may be allowed a " lodge in some 
vast wilderness," far removed from the scenes of his 
misery : his sons can take good care of themselves ; 
but let pity be shown to his two daughters, who are 
"left desolate, and to whom he wishes to bid farewell. 

Creon had anticipated this wish, and Antigone and 
Ismene now enter. (Edipus is touched by this fresh 
kindness, and shows it : — 

^' A blessing on thee ! May the Powers on high 
Guard thy path better than they guarded mine ! " — (P.) 

Then, embracing his children, he mournfully dwells 
upon the dreary life that must await them, uncheered 
either by a parent's love or by a husband's affection; for 
the shame of their birth must mar all possible happi- 
ness. It lies in Croon's power to act a noble part, and 
prove himself a Mher to these fatherless children. 

Then the Chorus, turning to the spectators, bid them 
learn a lesson from the tale of (Edipus, who more than 
any other prince had 

" Trod the paths of greatness, 
And sounded all the depths and shoals of honour." 

Let^ them mark how the favourite of fortune, the 
spoiled child of destiny, had fSsdlen miserably from his 
high estate : — 

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''Mark him now dismayed, degraded, tossed on seas of 
wildest woes ; 

Think on this, short-sighted mortal, and, till life's decid- 
ing close, 

Dare not to pronounce thy fellow truly happy, truly blest, 

Till, the bounds of life passed over, still unharmed he 
sinks to rest." — (D.) 

Here ends * (Edipus the King,' as Sophocles has pre- 
sented it to us. Its '^ sensational " character caused it 
to be frequently imitated. Julius CsBsar, Lucullus, 
and Seneca all wrote plays bearing the same name. 
Comeille adapted it to suit a French audience, intro- 
ducing a host of minor characters, and improving the 
plot, according to his own ideas, by ^^ the pleasing epi- 
sode of the loves of Thei^eus and of Dirce " — the latter 
of whom he supposes to be the daughter and heiress of 
Laius. Dryden and Lee again adapted it for the Eng- 
lish stage, with the inevitable ghost and '^ confidant ; '' 
and it was so performed at Drury Lane, when Mr 
Kemble took the part of (Edipus. But of all these 
translations and adaptations, none comes near the majes- 
tic simplicity of the story as told by Sophocles. 

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Years are supposed to have passed away since the 
curtaiii fell on the horrors of the precedmg tragedy. 
In the first burst of his despair, the one wish of QCdi- 
pus had been to leave Thebes with all its associations 
of guilt and misery, and to bury himself far from the 
haunts of men in the solitude of the desert. But an 
oracle forced him to remain on the scene of his crimes. 
Time gradually cooled his passion, and taught him 
resignation. Life once more gave him a taste of plea- 
sure in the (bender affection of his daughters ; and it 
seemed as if the gods themselves had relented, and 
would allow him to die in peace. But Creon (his 
successor on the throne), with the consent, if not at 
the suggestion, of his own sons, Eteocles and Polynices, 
drove the aged king forth from Thebes, to be a wan- 
derer on the face of the earth. Their excuse for this 
unnatural cruelty was, that they feared lest he should 
bring pollution on the land ; but why (as (Edipus him- 
self asks) had they waited these many years before 
they discovered the danger? 

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And so it came to pass that (Edipus left Thebes, 
bitterly denouncing the ingratitude of his sons, and 
praying that sooner or later they might feel the weight 
of a father's curse. (In the " Seven against Thebes " 
of -^chylus, it has already been told how terribly this 
curse was fulfilled.*) The daughters proved kinder 
than the sons. Ismene indeed stayed at Thebes, but 
her heart was with her father in his exile; while 
Antigone, with unflinching affection, had guided his 
steps in his wanderings &om city to city. (Edipus 
himself, in this play, describes how her tender affection 
for him knew no rest, and how she, 

" Still wandering sadly with me evermore, 
Leads the old man through many a wild wood's paths. 
Hungry and footsore, threading on her way. 
And many a storm, and many a scorching sun, 
Bravely she bears, and little recks of home. 
So that her father find his daily bread."— (P.) 

The reader of Dickens — and the modem novelist is not 
unworthy, perhaps, of comparison with the Athenian 
poet — ^will remember the picture of " little KelL" 

But, in spite of all these hardships, we can well 
imagine the delight it must have been to escape from 
the polluted city to the fresh pure breezes of CithsBron 
or Hymettus, and how 

** The pair 
"Wholly forgot their first sad life, and home, 
And all that Theban woe, and ever stray 
Through sunny glens, or on the warm sea-shore, 

♦ See vol. vii. of this Series, * -ffil^chylus,* p. 104. 

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In breathless quiet after all their ills ; 

Nor do they see their country, nor the place 

Where the Sphinx lived among the frowning hills, 

Nor the unhappy palace of their race, 

Nor Thebes, nor the Ismenus, any more." * 

For many months the father, led by the child, had 
roamed, dependent on the chance liberality of stran- 
gers, until they reach the spot where the play opens, 
the village of Colonus, a mile to the north of Athens, 
the birthplace of the poet. 

And here let us notice the contrast, shown even in 
the first few lines of the play, between CEdipus the 
king and CEdipus the exile. It is as great as that 
"between Lear in his palace and Lear in the hovel on 
the heath. The hot and furious temper has been 
chastened ; the proud heart has been humbled in the 
dust ; the spirit which had been so impatient of the 
advice of Creon and of the warnings of Teiresias — ^which 
had thrown impious doubt on the truth of heaven — 
has been taught a lesson of patience and contentment, 
as CEdipus says himself, **by his afflictions, by the 
hand of time, by the force of a noble nature." " CEdi- 
pus the Great," as he had proudly termed himself to 
the admiring Thebans, is no more ; and we see instead 
an aged and sightless exUe, clothed in rags, leaning on 
the arm of his helpless daughter. But he has gained 
more than he has lost. Those powers of destiny which 
had tried him, as he thought, with such wanton and 
lelentless cruelty in former days, are changed to benefi- 

* Matthew Arnold's 'Empedocles on Etna.' The liberty 
has been taken of slightly altering the first few lines. 

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cent spirits who guide him by the hand to the bourne 
of his earthly pilgrimage. Though stripped of his 
kingdom, he has acquired peace and serenity of mind. 
" The storm of passion has subsided, and left him calm 
and firm. He is conscious of a charmed life, safe 
from the malice of men and the accidents of nature, 
and reserved by the gods for the accomplishnjent of 
high purposes." * Ducis, in his play of * CEdipe,' makes 
the king himself describe the change which had come 
over his troubled spirit in some eloquent lines : — 

" Sur men front, cependant, dis-moi, reconnais-tu 
L'inaltdrable paix qui reste a la vertu ? 
Je marche sans remords vers men dernier asile : 
CEdipe est malheureux, mais (Edipe est tranquille." 

— ^Acte iii, so. 5. 

The scenery of Colonus has scarcely changed since 
the days when Sophocles described his birthplace. 
The landscape has 1;hat enduring beauty which Byron 
noticed as characteristic of Greece in a well-known 
passage — 

" Yet are thy skies as blue, thy crags as wild. 
Sweet are thy groves, and verdant are thy fields, 
Thine olive ripe, as when Minerva smiled. 
And still his honied wealth Hymettus yields." f 

A modem traveller J has in the same way described 
the rich contrast of colours which pervades this spot — 
the sombre green of the bay and myrtle relieved by 
the golden orange-bloom, the red pomegranate, and 

♦ Bishop Thirlwall. f Childe Harold, ii. 87. 

t Hughes's Travels in Greece. 

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the purple clusters of the vine. Colonus was, besides, 
rich in sacred associations; all around it lay **holy 
ground." !N'ot only, had Poseidon, the god of horses, 
and the Titan Prometheus, made the place their own, 
but there was here also a grove dedicated to the 
" Gentle Goddesses" (as those whom we otherwise 
know as the Furies were called, by one of those pious 
euphemisms common in Greek speech), within whose 
precincts no profane foot might tread, whose awful 
name no mortal might presume to utter, and by whose 
shrine their very worshippers pass "in silence and 
with averted eyes." 

But (Edipus and his daughter know nothing of the 
sacred character of the spot to which they have wan- 
dered ; and Antigone cannot even tell her father the 
name of the stately city, whose " diadem of towers " is 
seen in the distance. The aged king, wearied by his 
journey, sits down to rest his limbs on a rough im- 
hewn stone within the sacred precinct of the god- 
desses. Then there enters a wayfarer from Athens, 
who, horror-struck at the apparent profanation, bids 
him leave a spot where "man neither comes nor 
dwells." But CEdipus, who has caught the name of 
the dread goddesses, recognises the " sign of his fate," 
and will not move; and at length the Athenian, 
impressed by the dignified earnestness of his tone and 
manner, leaves the stage to summon his townsmen of 

Then (Edipus, left alone with his daughter, ad- 
dresses a solemn prayer to the dread powers at whose 
shrine he is a suppliant : — 

A. 0. voL X, D 

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*' O dread and awful beings, since to halt 
On your ground first I bent my wearied limbs, 
Be je not harsh to Phoebus and to me ! 
For he, when he proclaimed my many woes, 
Told of this respite after many years. 
That I should claim a stranger's place, and sit 
A suppliant at the shrine of dreaded gods. 
And then should near the goal of woe-worn life, — 
To those who should receive me bringing gain ; 
To those who sent me — yea, who drove me^evil ; 
And that sure signs should give me pledge of this, 
Earthquake, or thunder, or the flash of Zeus. 

Come, ye sweet daughters of the Darkness old ! 
Come, thou city bearing Pallas' name, 
Athens, of all cities most renowned ! 
Have pity on this wasted spectral form 
That once was CEdipus."— (P.) 

The aged citizens of Colonus, who form the Chorus, 
now enter, in a fever of indignation that any stranger 
should have ventured to set foot within the holy grove 
of the "Virgin Goddesses;" and at last CEdipus, 
taught by his adversity not to " war with fate " or to 
offend pious scruples, allows Antigone to lead him from 
the precinct. The Chorus, v^th an undignified curi- 
osity which contrasts with the simple yet refined 
courtesy of the Homeric times, ask a string of questions 
as to the stranger's name and birth. When CEdipus. 
reluctantly confesses that he is ^Hhe son of Laius," 
they bid him instantly depart from their coasts, lest 
he bring the same pollution upon Attica which he had 
brought on Thebes; and not even the piteous entreaties 
of Antigone can prevail on them to change this decision. 

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(Edipus indignantly protests against such churlish 
denial of hospitality. What will become, he says, of 
the " fame and fair report " which Athens has earned 
as the chivabous protector of the helpless and op- 
pressed, if they refuse shelter to a poor outcast like 
himself, who, after all, has been " more sinned against 
than sinning") Let them not bring shame upon a 
city which boasts itself to be especially favoured by 
the gods, by dishonouring a suppHant whom these very 
gods protect, and who brings with him blessing and 
profit to the land. And then CEdipus wisely " appeals 
to Csesar." Theseus, their king, shall hear his story, 
and his subjects must bow to his decision. 

At this point a fresh channel is given to the current 
of the action by the sudden advent of a woman, who is 
seen riding towards Colonus mounted on a horse of Sicil- 
ian breed ; and almost before Antigone has recognised 
her for certain, she is in the arms of her " own dear sister 
Ismene." She brings news from Thebes. The curse 
of the father kralready being ftdfilled to the destruc- 
tion of his sons. An "evil spirit from the gods," 
working upon their own vile passions, has driven them 
into open war for the crown of Thebes. Polynices, 
exiled by his younger brother, has 

" Fled to the vales of Argos, and contiacts 
A new alliance, arms his martial friends. 
And vaimts that Argos shall requite his wrongs 
On guilty Thebes, and raise his name to heaven." — (D.) 

Moreover, continues Ismene, an oracle has declared 
that the issue of the struggle depends on (Edipus. 

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" Dead or living," his body will decide the fortunes of 
the war ; and Creon is even now on his way to take 
possession of his peison, and to bring him near the 
borders of the Theban land, intending to keep him a 
prisoner there until his death, when his tomb would 
serve as a fortress against the enemies of Thebes. 

(Edipus is more bitterly incensed than ever at the 
heartless and selfish conduct of his sons. They had 
acquiesced in the sentence which had doomed him to 
poverty and exile ; they had suffered him to be cast 
forth from his home and country, when '^one small 
word," spoken by them in his defence, would have 
saved him from such dishonour; they had rioted in 
luxury while he wandered a miserable outcast, de- 
pendent on his daughter's aid ; — and now, to suit their 
own ambitious purposes, they would force him to re- 
turn to Thebes. Never will he so return, he emphati- 
cally declares — so help him those dread powers who 
are now his guardians. He will remain on the spot to 
which his destinies have brought him, and prove him- 
self in very truth the " great deliverer " of Athens, the 
city which has given him refuge. 

The Chorus now instruct him that, if he really 
wishes to befriend their city, he must first make his 
peace with the Avengers of the dead, and offer liba- 
tions in their honour according to a solemn and mys- 
terious ritual. From a vase crowned with " a wreath 
of snow-white lamb's-wool " he must pour streams of 
pure water mingled with honey, turning to the east, 
and strew on either side of him " thrice nine olive- 
branches." Then he may utter a whispered prayer 

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to the goddesses, and so obtain at their hands rest and 

But CEdipus has not the strength for this ceremonial, 
and he deputes his daughters to pour the libations in 
his stead — giving as his reason what seems an uncon- 
scious prophecy of One whose life was offered as "a 
ransom for many" — 

" For one soul working in the strength of love 
Is mightier than ten thousand to atone." * 

Perhaps, too, there was mingled with this reluctance the 
same feeling which made David shrink from consecrat- 
ing the Temple. The offering to the Virgin Goddesses 
would surely be more acceptable from the pure hands of 
Ms daughters than &om his, who had been ^' a man of war 
from his youth." So Horace afterwards declared that 
the flowers and meal-cakes of his village maiden had a 
sweeter savour than all the burnt-offerings of the rich. 

" The costliest sacrifice that wealth can make, 
From the incensed Peoates less commands 
A soft response, than doth the poorest cake. 
If on the altar laid with spotless hands." f 

Scarcely have Antigone and Ismene left the scene to 
make the offering in their father's stead, when Theseus, 
the king of Athens, enters, and his chivabous demean- 
our strikingly contrasts with the garrulous importu- 
nities of the Chorus. 

He will not cause fresh pain to (Edipus, he says, by 
recalling his sorrows. This " abject garb and aspect of 

* Plumptre's Introd., Ixxxv. 
t Ode iii. 28 (Martin's TransL) 

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despair " tell their own tale. An exile's misfortunes 
toucli him keenly, for he has himself been schooled in 
adversity — 

<^ I know that I am man, and I can count 
No more than thou on what to-morrow brings." — (P.) 

CEdipus, grateful for this generous forbearance, tells 
the king that, though outwardly it is but "a sorry 
gift " that he brings — ^namely, his own feeble body, in 
bitter truth a " heritage of woe " to its master — yet its 
possession should bring no small gain to the land of 
his refuge ; and not small either (he adds, with a touch 
of his ancient pride) will be the conflict waged for it 
between his own sons and the citizens of Athens. 
Truly, as Ismene says, 

" The gods now raise the head they once laid low." 

It was with his body as with the bones of Orestes — 
another so-called victim of Fate — ^which an oracle had 
declared would bring success to the arms of Sparta.* 
" Such is the force attached to expiation and the expia- 
tory victim. In his lifetime men pitilessly strike him 
in the name of God, as the scapegoat of the evil which 
his death is destined to abolish ; and in his death all 
men revere him as the symbol of re-established justice." t 
Theseus doubts if any strife can spring up between 
himself and his trusty allies of Thebes ; but CEdipus 
knows better, from sad experience, the uncertainty of 
earthly friendship, and how soon there arise *^un- 

* Herod., L 67. 

t Girardin, Cours de Litt^rature Dramat., i. 189. 

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naturalness between the child and the parent ; death, . 
dearth, dissolutions of ancient amities."* 

" O son of ^geua, unto Gods alone 
Nor age can come, nor destined hour of death ; 
All else the almighty ruler Time sweeps on. 
Earth's strength shall wither, wither strength of limb, 
And trust decays, and mistrust grows apace ; 
And the same spirit lasts not among them 
That once were friends, nor joineth state with state. 
To these at once, to those in after-years 
Sweet things grow bitter, then turn sweet again. 
And what, if now at Thebes all things run smooth. 
And well towards thee. Time, in myriad change, 
A myriad nights and days brings forth ; and thus 
In these, for some slight cause, they yet may spurn 
In battle all their pledge of faithfulness. 
And then this body, sleeping in the grave, 
All cold and stiff shall drink warm blood of men, 
If Zeus be Zeus, and his son Phoebus true." — (P.) 

Theseus is convinced by the sincerity of (Edipus, and 
declares that he will never give up a suppliant guest, 
bound to him by ancient friendship — so rich in the 
present feivour of the gods, and in the future blessings 
which will flow from his presence in the land. He 
will not give him up, despite of the threats of Creon 
and all his host ; " for," he adds, with all the pride of a 
Bayard, " my heart knows no fear " — 

" My very name will guard thee from all harm." 

The famous chorus which follows is associated with 
a personal anecdote of the old age of Sophocles. It is 

* King Lear, Act i. so. 2. 

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said that Ariston, his eldest son, had in a fit of jealous 
suspicion brought an action against his father, as being 
imbecile and incapable of managing his own affairs. 
The poet, then, as tradition tells us, in his hundredth, 
year, entered the court, leaning on his favourite grand- 
child (who probably suggested the filial devotion of 
Antigone's character), and, scorning to otherwise defend 
himself against the insult offered to his mental powers, 
recited the passage from his then unfinished play 
which describes the glories of Colonus. And the story 
goes on to say that, before Sophocles had finished reciting 
these noble lines, the Athenian jury, always susceptible 
to an " appeal to their feelings," broke into irrepres- 
sible applause. " A dotard cannot have written this," 
was their verdict j and the case was dismissed — we will 
hope "with costs." 

Anstice gives — as far as can be given in English — 
the -spirit of the original ; and we make no excuse for 
borrowing largely from his version (too little known) 
of this ode : — 

" Stranger, thou art standing now 
On Colonus' sparry brow ; 
All the haunts of Attic ground. 
Where the matchless coursers bound, 
Bo&st not, through their realms of bliss. 
Other spot as fair as this. 

Frequent down this greenwood dale 
Mourns the warbling nightingale. 
Nestling *mid the thickest screen 
Of the ivy's darksome green. 

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Here Narcissus, day by day, 
Buds in clustering beauty gay : 

Here the golden Crocus gleams, 
Murmur here unfailing streams. 
Sleep the bubbling fountains never. 
Feeding pure Cephiseus' river, 
Whose prolific waters daily 
Bid the pastures blossom gaily. 
With the showers of spring-tide blending. 
On the lap of earth descending." 

Then, after paying a tribute to the olive, a tree peculi- 
arly sacred in Attica, and the especial care of " Morian 
Jove ** and " blue-eyed Pallas," the chorus concludes : — 

" Swell the song of praise again ; 
Other boons demand my strain, 
Other blessings we inherit, 
Granted by the mighty Spirit ; 
On the sea and on the shore. 
Ours the bridle and the oar. 

Son of Saturn old, whose sway 
Stormy winds and waves obey, 
Thine be honour's well-eam^ meed. 
Tamer of the champing steed ; 
First he wore on Attic plain 
Bit of steel and curbing rein. 
Oft too, o'er the waters blue, 
Athens, strain thy labouring crew ; 
Practised hands the bark are plying, 
Oars are bending, spray is flying. 
Sunny waves beneath them glancing, 
Sportive Nereids round them dancing. 
With their hundred feet in motion, 
Twinkling 'mid the foam of ocean." 

The praises lavished on Athenian chivalry are now 

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put to the proof; for Creon, whom Ismene had de- 
scribed as already on his way to seize and cany off 
(Edipus to Thebes, enters in person at the head of an 
armed force. As the Chorus shrink back irom hJTn in 
alarmed surprise, he deprecates their fears in a speech — 
masterly, whether we regard the purpose of the orator 
or the policy of the statesman. He compliments the 
citizens on their noble city; he condoles with the 
sightless king on his many sorrows ; he commiserates 
the forlorn condition of the maidens. All may yet be 
well, he argues, if (Edipus will take heart of grace, 
and accept the proffered invitation of the Thebans to 
return. But (Edipus is not to be easily convinced. 
He sees through the polished insincerity of Creon's 
speech, and denoimces those specious promises made 
with "feigned lips" — 

^* Goodly in show, but mischievous in act" 

As to his returning to Thebes, merely that he may 
bring profit to his ungrateful country and his unnat- 
ural kindred — 

" That shall not be ; but this shall be thy lot, 
My stem Avenger dwelling with thee stUl ; 
And these my sons shall gain of that my land 
Enough to die in ; that — and — ^nothing more." — (P.) 

Then Creon throws off the mask : since fair words 
have failed him, he will use force; and in spite 
of the indignation of the Chorus, the outcry of the 
maidens, and the feeble resistance of (Edipus, the 
Theban guards drag off Antigone and Ismene as host- 
ages for their father ; and Creon even threatens that 

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he will lay hands on (Edipus himself. The aged king's 
wiath hoils over at this last outrage, and he teiteiates 
his cuise upon the robber of his children : — 

" May these Goddess Powers 
Not smite me speechless till I speak my curse 
On thee, thou vile one, robbing me by force 
Of that last light when other lights were quenched. 
For this may yon bright Sun-god, scanning all, 
Grant thee tiiyself, and all thy race with thee, 
To wear thy life in dreary age like mine." 

Just as Creon is actually about to force G£dipus 
along with him, Theseus enters. On hearing what 
has passed, he at once gives orders to summon horse 
and foot, who may rescue the maidens from the Theban 
guards before they cross the borders. He then addres- 
ses Creon with a dignified rebuke for his violence and 
lawless conduct, outraging the sacred character of sup- 
pliants, and wronging a state which "without laws 
does nothing : " — 

" Thou must have deemed my city void of men, 
Slave-like, submissive, and myself as nought. 

Thou tramplest on my rights, defiest Gods, 
And rudely seizest these poor suppliants." 

Creon, by way of justification, insults Theseus and 
(Edipus in the same sentence. He had never supposed 
that the holy city, with its supreme tribunal on the 
Hill of Mars, would give shelter to a parricide, '' whose 
marriage had been incest." The curse of CEdipus had 
provoked his anger — 

'^ For headstrong wrath knows no old age but death." 

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(Edipus in his turn recriminates the foul reproaches 
which the brother had uttered against the sister. 
The shame in such a case rested more on the re- 
viler than on the unwilling victim of an evil destiny. 
Even his father's spirit, if it could return from 
Hades, would hardly upbraid him for crimes which 
had been wrought so unwittingly. 

But Theseus breaks off this angry dialogue. They 
are standing idle, he says, while the captive maidens 
are being hurried across the Athenian borders; and 
then, with a parting promise to CEdipus that he will 
restore his children or die in the attempt, the chiv- 
alrous king starts in pursuit, taking with him his 
Athenian attendants, and Creon to serve as an unwill- 
ing guide. 

The Chorus fill up the interval by a bold flight of 
song, in which they picture to themselves the pursuit, 
the battle, and the recovery of the maidens. The 
following again is Anstice's spirited translation of the 
ode: — 

" Waft me hence, and set me down 
Where the lines of battle frown ; 
Waft me, where the brazen shout 
Of the Lord of War rings out 
On the Pythian coast, or where 
Flickering torches wildly glare. 
Where on mystic rites have smiled 
Ceres and her honoured child. 
Many a priest attends their shrine. 
Sprang of old Eumolpus* line, 
While discretion's golden key 
Locks their Hps in secrecy. 

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Bound the virgin sisters twain 
Soon shall fall the crowded slain, 
Theseus soon in mailM might 
Wake the terrors of the fight 

Now I ween in haste they glide 
(Ea's snowy rocks beside ; 
There beneath the western sky, 
Swift their straining coursers fly ; 
Eapid roll their whirling cars ; 
Fleeter speeds pursuing Mars ; 
Theseus' train is on its way, 
Keen to grasp the destined prey ; 
Every bit like lightning glancing, 
Every niaildd knight advancing, 
Every charger's arching neck 
Princely spoils and trappings deck, 
Yours the vow for victory won, 
Hippian Pallas ! Ehea's son ! . 
Thou who, throned in coral caves, 
Claspest earth, and rulest waves ! 

Is the awful stillness past ? 
Have they closed in fight at last ? 
Answer, my prophetic soul ! 
Thou canst secret fate unrolL 
Soon I ween shall warrior sword, 
"Wielded by Athena's lord, 
Free the maid by sorrow bowed. 
Mocked and scorned by brethren proud : 

So across my spirit's dreams 
Joy anticipated gleams. 
Might I, like the soaring dove, 
Boam the aerial fields above, 
Her who borne on tempest wings 
Forth with nestling pinion springs. 

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Sweet it were from clouds on high 
Battle's changeful tide to spy. 
Jove ! whose everlasting sway- 
Heaven's unchanging gods obey, 
Grant to Athens' champions brave 
Might to vanquish, strength to save. 
Pallas ! Jove's majestic child ; 
Phoebus ! hunter of the wild ; 
Dian ! still the woodland wooing, 
Still the dappled stag pursuing, — 
Archer lord, and mountain maid, 
Haste ye, haste ye to our aid ! " 

These triumphal strains are not premature, for 
Theseus is now seen returning, having, like a true 
knight - errant, rescued the maidens by his feats of 
arms. Great is the father's joy at the restoration of 
his daughters, and fervent are his expressions of grati- 
tude to their deliverer. But Theseus modestly cuts 
short his thanks, being, as he says, "given more to 
deeds than words; "and then he tells (Edipus that 
there is a suppliant sitting at the altar of Poseidon 
craving an audience with him. (Edipus knows too 
well that this nameless suppliant must be .Polynices, 
the elder of his sons, and is unwilling even to listen 
to his voice. But Antigone joins her gentle pleading 
to the request of Theseus, and CEdipus can gainsay 
nothing to his daughter's arguments — 

"He is thy child; 
And therefore, O my father, 'tis not right. 
Although his deeds to thee be basest, vilest, 
To render ill for ilL But let him come."— (P.) 

While Polynices is being summoned, the Chorus 

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agaiu moralise on the vanity of life; and, like the 
preacher, they "praise the dead, which are already 
dead, more than the living, which are yet alive." 
Who would pray for length of days, which can bring 
nothing but sorrow] Death, after all, is man's last 
and best friend : — 

'' Of all the dreams of bliss that are, 
Not to be bom is best by far ; 
Next best, by far the next, for man 
To speed as fast as speed he can. 
Soon as his eyes have glanced on earth, 
To where he was before his birth." 

And then they point their moral by the fate of 
(Edipus, thus stricken with age and misery ; and pos- 
sibly, in writing the last lines of the chorus, the poet 
may have been thinking of his own approaching end : — 

" As billows, by the tempest tossed. 
Burst on some wintry northern coast. 
So toppling o*er his aged form. 
Descends the fury of the storm ; 
The troublous breakers never rest ; 
Some from the chambers of the west. 
Some from the orient sun, or where 
At noon he sheds his angry glare, 
Or where the stars, faint twinkling, light 
The gloomy length of Arctic night." — (A.) 

Then, with faltering steps and shrinking gesture, 
Folynices enters; and if eloquent seK-reproach and 
protestations of sorrow could have atoned for years of 
imfil^ftl insult and neglect, he might have gained his 
end. He throws himseK at his father's feet, and appeals 

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to him^ in the name of that divine mercy which '^ is 
the attribute of God HimseK," to forego his just resent- 
ment : — 

" But since there, 
Sharing the throne of Zeus, compassion dwells, 
Regarding all our deeds ; so let it come 
And dwell with thee, my father ; more we cannot add. 
Why art thou silent ? Speak, my father, speak ! 
Turn not away."— (P.) 

But CEdipus answers him not a word. Then Poly- 
nices teUs the story of the wrong done him by his 
brother, of his flight to Argos, of his &esh alliance, 
and, trembling with martial ardour, he describes 

" The seven great armies, by seven captains led, 
That gird the plam of Thebes;*' 

and he implores his father, in the name of these chief- 
tains, to forget his ancient wrongs, and to join his 
strength with theirs, that so they may break the might 
of " the despot lord at home." 

CEdipus has listened with brows bent and lips close 
set to this passionate appeal, and at last he breaks his 
silence. The repentance of Polynices has come too 
late. He has sown the wind, and must reap the whirl- 
wind. Then the sightless king, with all the passion 
of Lear, reiterates those awful curses which he had 
before pronounced. Euin and disaster await the host 
that is marshalled against Thebes. Polynices shall 
never return again to " Argos in the vale," but shall slay 
his brother, and be slain by his brother's sword, and 
no man shall bury him : — 

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" Yea, curses shall possess thy seat and throne, 
If ancient justice o'er the laws of earth 
Reign with the Thunder-god. March on to ruin ! 
Spumed and disowned, the basest of the base. 
And with thee bear this burden ; o'er thine head 
I pour a prophet's doom ; nor throne nor home 
Waits on the sharpness of thy levelled spear : 
Thy very land of refuge hath no welcome ; 
Thine eyes have looked their last on hollow Argos." * 

Heartless renegade though he is, Polynices is not 
"without some touch of a nobler spirit. He has learned 
Lis fate, and must return ; but he will not discourage 
Lis friends by imparting to them the old man's words 
of doom. And so he tears himself from the embraces 
of his sisters, rejecting almost angrily the advice of 
Antigone, that he should lead his army back to Argos. 
" How," he asks, " can he 

" Lead back an army that* could deem I trembled ? " 

He makes a last request of his sisters — that they 
will give his body seemly burial ; the next play will 
show how faithfully this charge was kept by one of 
them. And then, with a blessing on his lips, and a 
prayer that the gods will keep them at least from all 
harm, he goes forth as Saul went forth to Gilboa, as 
Otho headed his legions at Bedriacum — ^knowing him- 
self to be a doomed man. So touching is the heroism, 
that (as a French critic observes) we know not whether 
we ought to condemn Polynices with CEdipus, to pity 
him with Theseus, or to love him with Antigone, t 

* Lord Lytton's Athens, iL 642. 
t Patm, Etudes sur Sophocle, p. 243. 
A. 0. VoL X. B 

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The father, in the modem drama, however justly 
incensed he might have been, would have relented at 
the sight of so much real sorrow. Accordingly, in the 
play of Ducis, CEdipus and Polynices mutually embrace 
in the French fashion. With us, Christianity transfers 
the penalty for sin to a future life. But if (Edipus 
had pardoned Polynices, he would in a Greek point 
of view have destroyed the very principle of filial 
piety. With them, the expiation for impious wrongs 
must be made by the actual criminal in his own person, 
and in this world.* 

Suddenly the sky grows black with storm-clouds, 
the lightning flashes, and peals of thunder, in quicker 
and louder succession, denote that the end which 
(Edipus had prayed for at last draws nigh. The 
Chorus, terrified by "the fire from heaven" and the 
incessant roll of thunder, call loudly upon Theseus ; 
and the Athenian king, amazed at the tumult, enters 
hurriedly, in obedience to the summons. (Edipus 
bids him follow where he leads ; for to his eyes alone 
shall be revealed that secret grave which should prove 
a bulwark against his foes — "stronger than many 
shields" — and to his ears alone shall those mystic 
words be uttered, which shall be transmitted at the 
hour of death to his son, and to his son's sons after 
him. " Follow me," he cries to his daughters ; " fol- 
low me, who have so often followed you — ^but touch 
me not Let me find for myself the sepulchre, where 
the gods have willed that I shall rest in peace. Fol- 
* Girardin, Lit. Dramat, i. 196. 

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low me, my cliildreii, whither Mercury and the Queen 
of !N'ight are leading me." Then, directed by some 
mysterious agency, (Edipus moves slowly onwards and 
upwards along the sloping ridge, towards the " steps 
of brass,*' followed at a little distance by Theseus and 
by his daughters, and at last he disappears from view. 
Then the Chorus utter a solemn requiem for his 
soul, addressed to the Dark "King and his bride, who 
rule the lower world : — 

" If to thee, eternal queen, 
Empress of the worlds unseen ; 
Mighty Pluto, if to thee, 
Hell's terrific deity. 
Lips of mortal mould may dare 
Breathe the solemn suppliant prayer, — 
Grant the stranger swift release. 
Bid the mourner part in peace ; 
Guide him, where in silence deep 
All that once were mortal sleep. 
Since relentless Fate hath shed 
Sorrows o'er thy guiltless head, 
In thy pangs let mercy stay thee, 
In the grave let rest repay thee ! " — (D.) 

A messenger, who had followed as near as he might 
the small company that had attended CEdipus, tells 
the sequel of this mysterious drama. They had 
reached the brazen steps, and there, near " the Thori- 
cian rock and the hollow pear-tree" (both probably 
consecrated by tradition), CEdipus had sat down; 
and after bathing his limbs in pure water from the 
stream, had doffed the mean rags of his exile, and 
clothed himself in a clean white robe, '^ meet for the 

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sepulcbie." Then came tlio somid of subterranean 
thunder; and the wanderer, recognising the sign, liad 
clasped his daughters in a last passionate embrace, as 
they clung to him, wailing in grief and terror : — 

" But when their piercing cries ofi instant ceased. 
And the first thrill was hushed, silence ensued— 
A silence, oh, how awful ! From beneath, 
With deep mysterious voice, called one unseen- 
Agi^iTi and yet again the god exclaimed : 
* Come, (Edipus, why pause we to depart ? 
Come, CEdipus, for thou hast tarried long.' " — (D.) 

Then CEdipus bids aU leave the spot, save Theseus 
only ; and when, after a short interval, they return, 
the Athenian king is found alone, shading his eyes as 
if dazzled by some unearthly vision, and then prostrat- 
ing himself in fervent prayer to the gods of light and 
day. He alone has seen and knows the manner of the 
death of OEdipus — 

" For neither was it thunderbolt from God, 
With flashing fire that slew him, nor the blast 
Of whirlwind sweeping o'er the sea's dark waves ; 
But either some one whom the gods had sent 
To guide his steps, or gentleness of mood 
Had moved the Powers beneath to ope the way 
To earth's deep centre painlessly. He died 
No death to mourn for — did not leave the world 
Worn out with pain and sickness ; but his end. 
If any ever was, was wonderful." — (P.) * 

* The following is De Quincey's eloquent, description of this 
" call," like nothing else in history or fiction. ** What lan- 
guage of earth or trumpet of heaven could decipher the woe of 
that unfathomable call, when from the depth of the ancient 

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woods a voice, that drew like gravitation, that sucked in like a 
vortex, far off, yet near — in some distant world, yet close at 
hand — cried, * Hark, (Edipus ! King (Edipus I come hither ; 
thou art wanted 1 * WwnJUd! for what? Was it for death ? 
was it for judgment ? was it for some wilderness of pariah eter- 
nities % No man ever knew. Chasms opened in the earth ; 
dark gigantic arms stretched out to receive the king ; clouds 
and vapour settled over the penal abyss ; and of him only, 
though the neighbourhood of his disappearance was known, no 
trace or visible record survived — neither bones, nor grave, nor 
dust, nor epitaph." — The Theban Sphinx (Works, ix. 260). 

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Op all the plays of Sophocles, this has had the most 
long-lived popularity. Not only was it frequently 
acted on the Athenian stage, but it has been translated, 
imitated, and " adapted " by successive generations of 
dramatists, from Seneca to Racine. The plot has been 
illustrated by Alfieri, and the choruses have been set 
to music by Mendelssohn; and only so recently as 
1845, the play was actually represented on the boards 
of Covent Garden Theatre, with all the accessories of 
classical costume and scenery, and with Helen Faucit 
as the heroine. 

It is not hard to discover the secret of the enduring 
favour with which the * Antigone ' has been regarded. 
The heroine, who absorbs the interest of the piece, is 
the purest and noblest idea of womanhood that ever 
inspired a poet. In reading the play we have some- 
thing of the same feeling as when we look at Dela- 
roche's famous picture of Marie Antoinette. All else 
in the painting — whether judges, guards, or spectators 
— sinks into shade and insignificance before the one 

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grand central figure, standing out in bold relief against 
the darkness of the canvas — 

" Death's purpose flashing in her face."* 

* Antigone ' has been said to be the poetry of what 
Socrates is the prose ; that is, she is in Action what he 
is in history — a martyr in the cause of truth. The 
death of both was as truly a martyrdom as that of 
any Christian who suffered for his faith in the perse- 
cutions of Nero or Diocletian. Both chose to obey 
Grod rather than man. Both appealed from the law 
of the land, and from the sentence of an earthly judge, 
to those laws which are " neither written on tablets 
nor proclaimed by heralds," but engraven in the heart 
of man. More than two thousand Ave hundred years 
have passed since the day when Antigone made her 
noble protest; but time has only justified her cause, 
and her voice still speaks to us across the lapse of 

" No ordinance of Man shall override 
The settled laws of Nature and of God ; 
Not written these in pages of a book, 
Nor were they framed to-day, nor yesterday ; 
We know not whence they are ; but this we know. 
That they from all eternity have been, 
And shall to all eternity endure." f 

It was outraged nature which made this appeal 
through the mouth of Antigone. Creon had, by his 

* Conington's translation of Horace's '*deUberata morte 
ferodor," applied to Cleopatra, 
t Thompson's Sales Attici, 65. 

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exposure of the body of Polynices, violated the first 
great law of humanity, and had committed an act 
"which was at once impious and barbarous, detestable 
alike in the eyes of gods and men. To the Greek, 
reverence for the dead was the most sacred of all 
duties. In his national creed, the ghosts of Hades 
seem more than disembodied spirits ; — ^they retain their 
bodily senses ; they remember the joys and brood over 
the sorrows of their former life ; they carry traces of 
the mortal wounds or mutilation which caused their 
death ; and so, in the Odyssey, we find them crowd- 
ing to drink the blood which, like an elixir of life, 
seems to reanimate their veins, and give them speech 
and utterance. To the Greek the grave was not a 
barrier across which there was no return. Hercules 
had wrestled bodily with Death for the possession of 
Alcestis ; Orpheus had almost regained his Eurydice ; 
and Hesiod tells us how the spirits of the just revisit 
the loved scenes of their lifetime, like guardian 
angels — 

" Earth haunting, beneficent, holy." * 

But nothing could compensate to the dead for their 
cruel deprivation of a tomb. Not only was the spirit 
in such a case condemned to wander restlessly for a 
hundred years on the banks of Styx — a belief of which 
Lord Lytton has made such skilful use in his tale of 
' Sisyphus ' — ^but the laws of the gods in the lower 
world were violated, and the majesty of Proserpine, 
the queen of Hades, was set at nought. Few would 
♦ Op. et D., 122, 262. 

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take the common-sense view of Socrates in Plato's 
Dialogue, who told his friends that, do what they 
•would, they could not bury Mm; or of Anchises in 
the uEneid, that 

*' He lacks not much who lacks a grave." * 

Tradition unanimously consecrated the importance of 
sepulture. The fiercest battles in Homer are those 
waged for the possession of the dead bodies of heroes 
like Sarpedon or Patroclus. The most cruel insult to 
the conquered is that of Achilles, when he lashes the 
corpse of Hector to his chariot, and drags it round the 
walls of Troy. The most touching scene in all the 
niad is where Priam humbles himseK in the dust 
before the victor to obtain the body of his son for 
burial. So strong was the feeling even in actual his- 
tory, that after the battle of Arginusse (fought in the 
same year that Sophocles died) we find the Athenian 
people condemning ten victorious generals to death for 
having allowed the seamen of sinking vessels to be 
drowned unrescued, and so be deprived of a grave. 
Hence, without question, the tragedies which must 
have excited the keenest sympathy in a Greek audi- 
ence were those in which the interest turned on 
the violation of funeral rites — as in the 'Ajax' and 
* Antigone * of Sophocles, and in the * Suppliants ' of 

The sisters Antigone and Ismene had returned to 

♦ * * Facilis jactura sepulchri. "— Virg. ^n. , ii. 646. Compare 
Lucan (Phars. yi. 809), '* coelo tegitur qui non habet umam." . 

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Thebes after the death of CEdipus, and there they 
lived, under the guardianship of Creon, with their 
brother Eteocles. Then came the fSeunons siege, of 
which an account has been given in a preceding volume 
of this ^series. For three days the Seven Chieftains 
had assaulted the seven gates, with varying success, 
and on the third day the single combat took place 
which resulted in the death by each other's hands of 
the two brothers. After their fall, the battle still 
raged on, until at last Menoeceus, son of Creon, de- 
voted himself as a sacrifice for his country, and then 
the Argive host were seized with a sudden panic, and 
fled in headlong rout. 

It is on the morning after their flight that the play 
opens. All that scenery can do to heighten the effect 
has been employed by the poet. In the background 
rises the palace of the kings of Thebes, and on the 
walls are hung six suits of armour, taken from the 
Argive chieftains. One side-scene represents the dis- 
tant hills of Cithaeron ; on the other is depicted the 
city itself, with its houses and temples, the sacred 
streams of Dirce and Ismenus, and the '^ Scaean gates," 
still bearing traces of the late assault 

The audience, who have murmured their applause 
at the fidelity with which the artist has brought before 
them a well-known locality, are hushed into silence as 
the two sisters enter. They have come forth from the 
palace to discuss the new decree which Creon the king 
has just proclaimed. By his orders, Eteocles has been 
already buried with all the honours of a soldier's 
grave ; but the corpse of Polynices is to lie " unwept. 

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unburied," a prey for the fowls of the air and the 
beasts of the field. Whoever disobeys this mandate 
is to be stoned to death. " Now is the time," says 
Antigone to her sister, " to show 

" Whether thou hast an innate nobleness. 
Or art the base-bom child of noble sires." — (P.) 

And here we find at once the same strong contrast 
between the characters of the two sisters, which in a 
subsequent tragedy is seen between Electra and Chry- 
sothemis. Antigone, like Joan of Arc and other 
enthusiasts, is so absorbed in her own self-sacrifice, 
inspired with such a lofty sense of what her duty 
towards her brother demands, that she spurns all other 
considerations. Death and life, honour and dishonour, 
hapijiness and misery, are ,as nothing compared with 
the work she has in hand. Ismene, though not less 
•affectionate, is of a softer temper. She has less 
heroism, but more common - sense. Her advice is 
that which prudence naturally suggests — " Why add 
another to the countless sorrows of the family? Why 
offend the powers that be, or offer unavailing resist- 
ance to the majesty of law 1 " 

But these prudent counsels only incense Antigone, 
and she breaks into a tone of lofty scorn ; — 

" No more will I exhort thee— no ! and if 
Thou wouldst it now, it would not pleasiure me 
To have thee as a partner in the deed. 
Be what it liketh thee to be, but / 
Will bury him ; and shall esteem it honour 
To die in the attempt ; dying for him, 
Loving with one who loves me I shall lie 

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After a holy deed of sin ; the time 

Of the world's claims upon me may not mate 

With what the grave demands ; for there my rest 

Will be for everlasting. 

• •••••• 

Come what will, 
It cannot take from me a noble death." 


In her "fiery mood," Antigone disdainfully rejects 
Ismene's offer to keep her counsel, and so the sisters 
part, — ^Antigone going to prepare the body for burial, 
and Ismene, broken-hearted at the thought of the 
coming evil, retreating within the palace. 

The Chorus of " grave and reverend " Theban elders 
now enter to the sound of music, and burst into a 
triumphal hymn in honour of the late victory, as they 
hail the bright sunlight which streams above the 
eastern gates. For it is the Sun-god himself that 
has driven in headlong flight 

" The Argive hero of the argent shield." 

Then, in the figurative style of lyric verse, which 
recalls to the reader the songs of Miriam and Deborah, 
they tell how Polynices had swooped down upon his 
native land, like an eagle thirsting for slaughter : — 

" White as the snow were the pinions that clothed him. 
Many his bucklers. 
And his helmets crested with horse-hair." 

But ere he could lay the city low in blood and fire, 
" the dragon " (of Thebes) " had proved his match in 

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Then they sing of the fall of Capaneus, that impious 
blasphemer of the gods, who had been dashed from 
tbe scaling-ladder, torch in hand, by a thunderbolt 
&om heaven. The gods had fought for the city they 
loved so well, and the seven chieftains had left their 
panoplies as trophies for the Theban temples. And 
now that victory has come with the bright daylight 
(conclude the Chorus) — 

" Forget the wars that now no longer rage. 
And seek we all the temples of the gods 
With choirs that last the livelong night." 

Creon now sweeps upon the stage with a long ret- 
inue of attendants, splendid in royal apparel, and 
carrying the sceptre which is the symbol of his dignity. 
He delivers a " speech from the throne," in which he 
vindicates his past and present policy, and explains 
the reasons for his different treatment of the bodies of 
the two brothers in the decree which had roused the 
indignation of Antigone. But in this elaborate ad- 
dress we are at once reminded of the proverb, " Qui 
^excuse s'dccttseJ* There is a ring of insincerity in his 
studious defence of the prerogative which has put in 
force the late decree. There is a covert dread of 
opposition in the tone in which he deprecates the 
forbearance of his "good friends" and "trusty citi- 
zens " — ^the Chorus. There is ostentation in his asser- 
tion of the great principle of patriotism, which he 
assumes to be the mainspring of his conduct, and 
which he is resolved to carry out, whatever may be the 
sacrifice of private affections involved : — 

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« There is no man whose sonl and will and meaning 
Stand forth as outward things for all to see, 
Till he has shown himself by practice versed 
In ruling under law and making laws. 
As to myself, it is, and was of old. 
My fixed belief that he is Tile indeed 
Who, when the general State his guidance claims, 
Dares not adhere to wisest policy, 
But keeps his tongue locked up for fear of somewhat. 
Him too I reckon nowhere, who esteems 
A private friend more than his fatherland. 

Nor would I ever count among my friends 
My country's enemy ; for well I know 
She is the barque that brings us safe to port : 
Sailing in her, unswayed by sidelong gales, 
We make the only friends we ought to make." 

— (Donaldson.) 

And then he recites the words of the decree, — ^all the 
honours of the tomb to the brave champion who had 
fallen in defence of hearth and home ; but as to the 
body of the outcast and renegade, who had brought 
fire and sword against the city of his fathers, it shall 
lie unburied and dishonoured, to be mangled by dogs 
and vultures. " Such is my will," concludes the king 
(and we can fancy the majestic wave of the hand with 
which a great actor would have accompanied the 
words) ; and then he announces that, in order to 
secure obedience to his mandate, a watch had been 
abeady set to guard the body. 

He has scarcely spoken before one of the watchmen 
enters — ^a personage aUen from the general lofty vein 
of tragedy. He is emphatically " vulgar" — a true son 

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of democracy ; low-bred, half-educated, insolent where 
lie dare be so, but cringing before a superior will, with 
something of the coarse and garrulous wit of the 
" Sausage-seller " in the comedy of Aristophanes. His 
opening speech (which has been well translated by Dr 
Donaldson) will remind the reader of Lancelot Gobbo's 
dilemma between the suggestions of " the fiend " and 
his " conscience," in the ' Merchant of Venice.' The 
watchman has been divided within himself — starting, 
and returning, and halting by the road. " In fact," he 
says, " my soul often addressed me with some such tale 
as this : ' Why goest, simpleton, where to be come is to 
be punished ?' Then again, * What 1 wilt not away, poor 
wretch? and if Creon shall learn these tidings from 
some one else, how then wilt thou escape tiie penalty 1'" 
There is some excuse for his unwillingness to come, 
for he has been charged with unwelcome tidings. 
Early though it is in the day, the recent decree has 
been already broken. " Some one has entombed the 
body, and is gone." At daybreak the watchmen had 
discovered the corpse covered with a light coating of 
dust — sufficient to meet the religious idea of burial * — 
and untouched by bird or beast. Each had accused 

* The casting of three handfols of dust upon the corpse was 
enough to avoid the pollution of leaving it unburied. So in 
Horace we find the ghost of a shipwrecked and unburied man 
. threatening a passing sailor — 

" My prayers shall reach the avengers of all wrong ; 
No expiations shall the curse unbind. 
Great though your haste, I would not task you long ; 
Thrice sprinkle dust — ^then scud before the wind." 

—Ode L xxviii (Conington's Ttansl.) 

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his fellow, and each had disclainied all knowledge of 
the deed — 

" And we were ready m our hands to take 
Bars of hot iron, and to walk through fire, 
And call the gods to witness, none of us 
Were privy to his schemes who planned the deed, 
Nor his who wrought it."— (P.) 

Then they had cast lots to decide who should bear 
''the news to Creon; and the lot had fallen on this 
-^nnlucky member of the force, who has now actually 

brought it — ^no pleasant office, he says ; for 

" Though it be honest, it is never good 
To bring bad news." 

The Chorus suggest that this " unseen worker ** may 
possibly have been a god ; but the suggestion only in- 
creases Croon's resentment. " Not so," he angrily replies ; 
" the gods would scarcely have favoured the man who 
in his life had threatened their altars with the flames." 
It is an act of rebeUion against his own authority. 
Some evil-disposed townsmen have tampered with the 
sentinels ; and it is " money" which is at the root of this 
as of aU other evils. If the Chorus cannot or wiU not 
discover the traitor — so help him Zeus ! — ^they shall 
be hung themselves ; and then, with a fierce parting 
threat to the watchman, Creon departs in a rage. The 
watchman also goes his way, naively confessing his 
relief at his escape : — 

'* God send we find him ! If we find liim not, 
As well may be (for this must chance decide). 
You will not see me coming here again." — (P.) 

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In the choral ode which follows, a nohle tribute 
is paid to the versatility of human genius, and to the 
dominion of man over the powers of uature, — true 
even then, and far truer now, in these fairy times of 
modem science, which have eclipsed all the wonders 
T . of the " New Atlantis." 

** Many the things that strange and wondrous are, 
None stranger and more wonderful than Man ; 

He dares to wander far, 
With stormy blast across the hoary sea, 

Where nought his eye can scan 
But waves still surging round unceasingly ; 

And Earth, of all the gods 
Mightiest, unwearied, indestructible, 
He weareth year by year, and breaks her clods, 
While the keen ploughshare marks her furrows well, 

Still turning to and fro ; 

And still he bids his steeds 

Through daily task-work go." — (P.) 

Man extends his dominion over the fish of the sea, 
and the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the field. 
He has resources against all dangers, plans by which 
he overcomes all obstacles, inventions which can solve 
all difficulties — 

'' Armed at all points, unarmed he nought shall meet 
That coming time reveals ; 
Only from Hades finds he no retreat. 

Though many a hopeless sore disease he heals." — (P.) 

Pride is the besetting sin of so gifted a being, and it 
is pride in the statesman which brings about his speedy 
A. 0. vol X. F 

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fall ; and then comes the warning, like "Wolsey's to 
Cromwell, to " guard against ambition " — 

'^ By that ran fell the angels, — how can man, then, 
The image of his Maker, hope to profit by it ? " 

Suddenly the Chorus break off in wonder and dis- 
may. They can scarcely believe their eyes ; for, bound 
between two of the watch, Antigone walks in with 
a stately and defiant bearing. At the same moment 
Creon comes from the palace - gates, and meets the 
prisoner. The same watchman who had enraged 
Creon by his vulgar insolence before, becomes the 
spokesman now ; and this time his tale is to the point. 
The guard had returned to their post, and, after clear- 
ing the corpse from the dust which had been sprinkled 
(m it by the unknown visitor on the previous night, 
they had sat down on the hillside, at a little distance 
from the body, to watch for what might happen. The 
morning had passed without a sign, and the sun had 
reached mid-heavens, and stfll they waited, " scorched 
by the sultry heat." Then came a whirlwind, " rais- 
ing the dust in clouds, stripping the foliage off the 
trees, and choking the atmosphere ; " and still they 
watched, with closed eyes and mouths. Then at last 
the maiden was seen, and she uttered a bitter cry to 
see her work undone, and the corpse again exposed. 
And as she was in the act of again sprinkling the dust 
and pouring a libation, the guards had rushed in and 
seized her. 

Creon, who has listened intently to the watchman*8 
story, now turns to Antigone, and asks whether she 

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has dared thus to disobey the laws. "Yes/' she 
proudly replies, — 

" Yes, for it was not Zeus who gave them forth, 
Nor Justice, dwelling with the gods below, 
Who traced these laws for all the sons of men ; 
Nor did I deem thy edicts strong enough. 
That thou, a mortal man, shouldst overpass 
The imwritten laws of God that know no change. 
They are not of to-day nor yesterday, 
But live for ever, nor can man assign 
When first they sprang to being. Not through fear 
Of any man's resolve was I prepared 
Before the gods to bear the penalty 
Of sinning against these. That I should die 
I knew (how should I not ?) though thy decree 
Had never spoken. And before my time 
If I shall die, I reckon this a gain ; 
For whoso lives, as I, in many woes. 
How can it be but he shall gain by death ? " — (P.) 

This noble appeal of Antigone to a higher law only 
incenses Creon. This stubbornness of temper, which 
glories in crime, shall break and shiver like brittle 
steeL Were she his own sister's child, or more near 
" than all the kith and kin of household Zeus," she 
shall not escape her doom. But to his angry de- 
nunciations Antigone answers shortly and simply, 
" Does he wish for anything beyond her death % " To 
his question why she had insulted the dead patriot by 
honouring the godless renegade, she replies — and how 
faintly can the famous line be reproduced in English — 

" My love shaU go with thine, but not my hate." * 

* So the line is rendered by Franklin ; but the German of 

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Ismene now enters, in obedience to a summons from 
Creon. Slio does not defend herself against his charge 
of having been an accomplice in the deed, but only 
piteously entreats that she may be allowed to share 
her sister's fate. But Antigone at once rejects her 
offer. " Tou have chosen life," she says (almost in 
the last words of Socrates to his judges), "but / 
have chosen death," — 

" Thou dost Hve. My soul long since 
Hath died to render service to the dead." 

Creon cuts short their dialogue by bidding his guards 
lead them both within the palace. 

The Chorus mourn, in the strain which follows, 
over the doom of ancestral guilt — the sorrows upon 
sorrows which have extinguished the last faint gleam 
of light which had shone upon the house of Labdacus. 
Bright delusive hopes, high aspirations, mortal day- 
dreams, the glory of man and the pride of life — ^what 
are they, compared with the resistless decree of Zeus ? 

^ A potentate through time, which grows not old." 

'' Shall judgment be less strong than sin ? 
Shall man o'er Jove dominion win ? 
No ! Sleep beneath his leaden sway 
May hold but things that know decay ; 

The unwearied months with godlike vigour move. 
Yet cannot change the might of Jove. 

Schlegel gives more thoronghly the force of the two Greek 
verbs : — 

''Nicht mitzuhassan, initzulieben bin ich da." 

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Compaased with dazzling light, 
Throned on Olympus' height, 
His front the eternal god uprears. 
By toils unwearied, and imaged by years ! 
Far back through seasons past, 

Far on through times to come. 
Has been, and still must last, 
Sin*s never-failing doom ; 
Doom, whence with countless sorrows rife 
Is erring man's tumultuous life. 
Some, heeding hope's beguiling voice. 

From virtue's pathway rove ; 
And some, deluded, make their choice 
The levities of love. 

For well and wisely was it said, 
■ That all, by Heaven to sorrows led. 
Perverted by delirious mood. 
Deem evil wears the shape of good ; 
Chase the fair phantom, free from fears, 
And waken to a life of tears." — (A.) 

Haemon, Green's son, betrothed to Antigone — ^and 
who is perhaps the only "lover" in all ancient tra- 
gedy, so widely different is the Greek drama from our 
own — comes now to plead for the life of his affianced 
bride. Then ensues a scene familiar in life and fiction, 
where two strong wills inevitably clash — ^the son eager 
and impassioned, the father hardened by that sense of 
duty never so keenly felt as when stimulated by a pri- 
vate pique. The first and foremost of all duties in the 
home and in the state, argues Creon, is obedience. The 
family must be one — united under the patria poteetas. 
The object of men's prayer for children is, according to 
Creon, much like that of the Hebrew Psalmist, — ^that 

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they may "not be ashamed when they speak with 
their enemies in the gate.** Sons are bom that 

'* They may requite with ill their father's foe, 
And honour whom their father loves to honour. 
But when a man's own children help him not, 
What shall we say he has b^otten, but 
Clogs for himself and laughter for his foes ? " 

Love for a woman — already doomed to death — ^should 
not make shipwreck of a man's understanding. Dis- 
obedience produces anarchy, and anarchy destroys the 

Haemon eloquently entreats his father to listen to 
the voice of reason, and not to disregard the public 
opinion, which had already pronounced in favour of 
Antigone. Creon, as a sovereign, cannot himself hear 
the secret whispers of the people, or know 

" How the whole city mourns this maiden's fate 
As one ' who of all women most unjustly 
For noblest deed must die the foulest death.' " — (P.) 

King though he is, let him beware of straining the 
reins of government too tightly. He should not act 
the tyrant by ruling only for himself. 

" That is no city which belongs to one." 

But all Hsemon's arguments and remonstrances are 
unavailing. Croon's heart is hardened, and he will 
not let the maiden go. 

" Lead her out 
Whom my soul hates, that she may die forthwith 
Before mine eyes, and near her bridegroom here." — (P.) 

This cruel speech exhausts Hsemon's patience, and he 

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homes from the scene ^th a parting threat to his 
father that, come what will, '^ he shall see his face no 

Haemon and Antigone, as we have seen, are lovers, 
and, even in introducing them at all, Sophocles had 
gone a step beyond -^chylus, with whom Love is 
simply the divine and eternal principle of fecundity — 
a law, and not a passion.* But there is httle romance 
or sentiment about these Greek lovers ; and modem 
criticism at once decides that Sophocles has lost his 
opportunity, for he does not even once bring them on 
the stage together. Had it been Eomeo and Juliet 
thus torn asunder — ^what tender farewells, what pas- 
sionate embraces, there would have been at the last ! 
what sombre and funereal joy in the contemplated 
suicide ! t In his dialogue with his father, Haemon 
scarcely names his love — his appeal is to justice and to 
public opinion ; while his father simply replies that he 
is not bound to alter the course of law, to suit either a 
woman's caprice or " a people's veering wilL" 

The Chorus, half in awe and half in wonder, cele- 
brate the power of Love — that irresistible and all-per- 

* The only passage in which ^schylns dwells upon the in- 
fluence of love is in a fragment of the Danaidse, where Yenus 
says, '' The pure Heavens are enamoured of the Earth ; and 
Love impels Earth to embrace the Heavens ; and Rain falling 
from the Heavens kisses Earth ; and she brings forth com and 
sheep for the sustenance of man ; and from these rainy nuptials 
the fruits of autumn come to their perfection ; and it is I, Love, 
who am the cause of all these things." 

t Girardm, ii. 326. 

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vading passion, mightier than kings, and, strong as 
death, levelling all distinctions : — 

" Unconqiiered Love ! whose mystic sway 
Creation's varied forms obey ; 
Who watchest long at midnight hour 
On the soft cheek of beauty's flower : 
Now inmate of the sylvan cot, 
Now flitting o'er the waves, 
Immortal gods escape thee not. 
Thou rulest man's ephemeral lot, 
And he who hath thee raves.* 

Thy magic warps the right to wrong, 
And troubles now the kindred throng ; 
The look of love yon destined bride 

Darts from her pleading eye, 
A subtle counsellor, hath vied 
With mighty laws and princedom's pride, 

And won the victory." — (A.) 

Well might the Chorus now weep, as they express 
it, " fountains of tears," for they see Antigone led by 
Croon's guards to be entombed alive in a cavern among 
the rocks. The horror of no death can equal that of a 
living grave, the fearful penalty which has been annexed 
in all ages for certain crimes — to the vestal virgin at 
Eome and to the nun in the middle ages for broken 
vows of chastity. But Antigone was pure from sin. 
She had not stained her hands with blood ; much less 

* Scott's imitation— conscious or unconsdous — does not come 
up to the fire of the Greek original : — 

'' Lore roles the court, the camp, the grove. 
And men below, and saints above." 

— Lay, ill 1. 

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had she been guilty of frailty, like Scott's ' Constance 
of Beverley/ The act for which she suffers was 
prompted by the holiest affection. Hitherto she 
has been buoyed up by the sublime enthusiasm 
which inspires the martyr; but now that the sac- 
rifice has been consummated, what wonder if the 
nerves so tightly strung give way, if for a moment 
nature reasserts herself, and the heroine becomes the 
ivoman? Like Jephtha's daughter, she breaks out 
into a passionate lament — mourning for her bright 
young life so cruelly cut short, for those fair promises 
of marriage never to be realised The cold comfort 
of the Chorus and the consciousness of her own inno- 
cence can, after all, but slightly lighten the dread of 
approaching death to her who goes down, "living 
among the dead, to the strong dungeon of the tomb." 
Then she tries to steel her fortitude by remembering 
how others had suffered before her ; and sbe recalls the 
fate of Niobe (one of her own race), whose children 
had been slain by Apollo and Diana, while she herself 
was changed into stone : — 

*' And there, hard by the crag of Siphylos, 

As creeping ivy grows, 
So crept the shoots of rock o'er life and breath ; 

And, as the rumour goes, 
The showers ne'er leave her wasting in her death, 

Nor yet the drifting snows ; 
From weeping brows they drip on rocks beneath— 

Thus God my life overthrows."— (P.) * 

♦ *' As a docmnentary reminiscence of the myths proper to 
these regions (Lydia), there gleams, even at the present day, at 
two hoars' distance from the ancient Magnesia, in the sunken 

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90 80PS0CLS& 

" Yes," say the Choras, ^^ and she was immoital^ while 
thou art mortal ; yet for a mortal to obtain tihe lot of 
immortality is great glory." 

Bat this glory is too yague to consoLe Antigone, and 
her mind reverts to the actual honor of the present. 
She must tread this last sad journey alone, ^* unwept, 
and unwedded." She must look on the bright sun- 
light, on the streams of Dirce, on the familiar streets 
of Thebes,— 

** This once, but never more; for Hades vast, 

Drear home of all the dead. 
Leads me, in life, where Acheron flows ilBst, 

Sparing no marriage-bed ; 
No marriage-hymn was mine in all the past, 

But Acheron I wed."— (P.) 

Creon roughly breaks in upon the lament of Antig< 
one; and at sight of him the maiden recpvers some- 
thing of her haughty spirit, and proclaims aloud the 
justice of her cause and her own innocence, deserted 
though she seems to be by men and gods. Looking 
with steady gaze towards the tomb whither she is 
being led, she uiteTa her last farewell to li^t and 

" tomb, my bridal chamber, vaulted home. 
Guarded right well for ever, where I go 

depths of the rock, the sitting fonn of a woman, bending for- 
ward in her grief, over whom the water drips and flows ceaselessly. 
This is Niobe, the mother of the Phrygian mountains, who 
saw her happy ofiQspring, the rivulets, playing roand her, till 
they were all carried away by the day-heat of the son." — 
Curti^s's Hist, of Greece, I SI, 

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To join mine own, of whom the greater part 
Among the dead doth Persephassa * hold ; 
And I, of all the last and saddest, wend 
My way below, life's little span unfilled." — (P.) 

And then, as Socrates, her antitype, tries to console 
himself and his friends with the thought that if death 
be not annihilation or a dreamless sleep, he may pace 
Elysian fields, and converse with the spirits of the good 
and wise ; so the maiden dwells upon the hope that 
in death she too may not be divided from those who 
were nearest and dearest to her on earth — that she may 
meet her father and her mother, and the brother for 
whom she has sacrificed everything. But then again 
there swells up in her heart the remembrance of the 
pleasant life she is about to leave : — 

" Cut off fipom marriage-bed and marriage-song, 

Untasting wife's true joy or mother's bliss, 

Bereaved of Mends, in utter misery. 

Alive I tread the chambers of the dead. 

What law of heaven have I transgressed against ? 

What use for me, ill-starred one, still to look 

To any god for succour, or to call 

On any friend for aid ? For holiest deed 

I bear the charge of rank unholiness. 

If acts like these the gods on high approve. 

We, taught by pain, shall see that we have sinned ; 

But if these sin [hohing at Creon\ I pray they suffer not 

Worse evils than the wrongs they do to me."— (P.) 

And then she passes from the scene. We may pity 
her — ^indeed who could not % — ^but we can hardly real- 
ise the extent of her self-sacrifice. Like the Decii or 
♦ Th« Gwek form of." Proserpine." 

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others who devoted themselves for a noble cause, she 
" surrendered ally and looked forward to nothing but 
the joyless asphodel meadow, and ' drear Cocytus, with 
its languid stream.* *' * There was not even the expec- 
tancy of a material happiness, such as consoles the 
dying Islamite. To the Greek maiden aU beyond the 
Styx was dim, shadowy, and spectral as the ghosts 
with which Homer peopled Hades. 

Eetribution, in the drama, foUows closely upon 
crime. Scarcely has Antigone been led away to death 
— sc€ircely have the Chorus ended their dirge in her 
memory, in which they illustrate the law of suffering, 
from which even gods are not exempt — when Teire- 
sias, the blind prophet, whose approach is always 
ominous of woe, confronts Creon> as Elijah confronted 
Ahab on his return from the vineyard whither he had 
gone up to take possession. The augur has read signs 
of coming disaster portended in the heavens above and 
in the earth beneath. To Teiresias, as to Elijah, " the 
horizon was darkened with the visions of vultures 
glutting on the carcases of the dead, and the packs of 
savage dogs feeding on their remains, or lapping up 
their blood." f Seated on his " old augurial throne," 
he has heard a strange clamour of birds battling in the 
air, and tearing each other's flesh. Instead of the 
wonted flame rising bright and clear from the altar, 
the sacred fire had but smoked and spluttered ; the vic- 
tim's flesh had fallen to the ground and wasted ; every 
shrine and hearth was full of unclean food, 

* Ecce Homo, ch. xL 

t Stanley's Lectures on the Jewish Church, ii. ai4. 

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" The gods no more hear prayers of sacrifice, 
Nor own the flame that bums the victim's limbs ; 
Nor do the birds give cry of omen good, 
But feed on carrion of a slaughtered corpse." — (P.) 

Let the king, then, concludes the seer, listen to 
good counsel, and not reverse the common laws of 
humanity. Let him restore Antigone to the upper air, 
and bury Polynices. 

But Creon, like (Edipus before him, is deaf to the 
voice of prophecy, and scorns repentance or atonement 
till repentance and atonement come too late. Like 
(Edipus, he adds impiety to crime, and in the stub- 
bornness of his pride utters blasphemous words which 
must have outraged the pious sense of the Athenian 
audience. Teiresias may play his " augur's tricks " on 
others, and make his gains of amber from Sardis and 
gold from India ; but 

" That corpse ye shall not hide in any tomb, 
Not though the eagles, birds of Zeus, should bear 
Their carrion morsels to the throne of God, — 
Not even fearing this pollution dire, 
Will I consent to burial"— (P.) 

And then, inspired by his evil genius (or, as the 
Greeks would have put it, infatuated by At^, the demon- 
goddess of destruction), Creon adds insult to reproach, 
until the prophet, sorely vexed, declares the doom 
which awaits the shedder of innocent blood. Sorrow 
shall come upon his own house ; few and avil shall be 
the days that remain of his life. The sun shall not 
rise and set again before he shall repay blood for 
blood ; — 

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"For that thou 
Hast to the ground cast one that walked on earth, 
And foully placed within the sepulchre 
A living soul ; and now they wait for thee, 
The sure though slow avengers of the grave, 
The dread Erinyes of the mighty gods."— (P.) 

There shall be wailing and lamentation in the palace 
of Thebes, and the cities round shall rise in aims 
against the polluter of the holiest and most universal 
law of nature. 

Creon, overawed by the reality of this prediction, 
is smitten with remorse almost before Teiresias is led 
from the sta^e. He will yield to necessity, and he 
summons his attendants to bring axes that may break 
open the tomb while there is yet time to release the 

Then the Chorus utter a fervent prayer to Bacchus, 
" the god of many names," to come to the rescue of 
Thebes, the city of his mother, Semele : — 

" Prince of each silver star 
That breathes through darkness its celestial light, — 
Lord of the train who on the car of night 

Swell their wild hymns afar, — 
Blest youth ! high offspring of eternal Jove ! 

Haste, and thy fair attendants bring. 
Those Naxian nymphs the livelong night who rove^ 

Dancing around thy throne in festive ring, 

And shout lacchus' name, their leader and their king;" 

Events crowd on one another in rapid succession, as 
the action hurries on to the catastrophe. In accord- 
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ance with the usual machinerj of Greek tragedy, 
the messenger of evil tidings enters, and in one line 
tells his stoiy : — 

^ Bathed in his blood, all lifeless, Hsemon lies." 

Eurydice, the queen -mother, passing by on her way 
to the shrine of Minerva, overhears his words, and in 
an agony of terror demands to be told the whole truth. 
Then follows the tale of doonu 

Creon had hurried to make what atonement he 
might to the outraged corpse of Polynices. It still 
lay upon the plain where the watchmen had left it, 
torn and mangled by the dogs, holding their carnival 
around the dead. After prayer had been made to 
the " Goddess of Pathways,"* Creon's attendants rever- 
ently wash the body in pure water, bum the remains, 
and raise a mound of earth. Then they take their 
way to " death's marriage-chamber," in which Antig- 
one had been immured. Even before they reach it, a 
shrill cry of lamentation breaks upon their ears ; and 
with a heart foreboding the worst, Creon bids his 
slaves roll away the stones and widen the entrance 
to the tomb. The sight which meets their eyes, as 
the set scene in the background opens, is piteous be- 
yond all expression. The messenger continues : — 

" In the farthest comer of the vault 
"We saw her hanging by her neck, with cord 
Of linen thredds entwined, and him we found 
" Clasping her form in passionate embzaee." — (P.) 

• Proserpine or Hecate — the goddess who guarded the high- 
ways which were poUnted by &e nnboried body of Polynices. 

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Then Creon, groaning in the bitterness of his heart, 
entreats his son to leave the body and to come forth 
from the ill-omened chamber. Haemon answers not, 
but, glaring with angry eyes, draws his sword; and 
as his father, believing his own life to be threatened, 
starts back in terror, the unfortunate youth buries the 
blade in his own body, and falls forwards on the earth, 
still clasping the dead Antigone : — 

*' Yet ever, while dim sense 
Struggled within the fast-expiring soul. 
Feebler and feebler still his stiffening limbs 
Clung to that virgin form, and every gasp 
Of his last breath with bloody dews distained 
The cold white cheek that was his pillow. So ' 
Lies death embracing death." — (Lord Lytton.) * 

But the doom of the house of CEdipus is not yet 
consummated. Eurydice had heard to the end the 
tale of the messenger, and had then rushed into the 
palace without a word or cry. The Chorus argue the 
worst from this ominous silence ; and their fears are 
fulfilled, for hardly has Creon again come upon the 
stage, bearing the dead body of his son in his arms, 
when he is met by a second messenger with the news 
that the queen, his wife, has stabbed herself to the 
heart with a mortal blow. 

And here the horror culminates. Nothing can be 

* We are at once reminded of the last scene in * Romeo and 
Juliet)' where rescue and explanation come too late to save the 
lovers, and where the tomb of the Capulets is, as the Friar 
says, ** a nest 

*' Of death, contagion, and unnatural sleep." 

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added to increase the agony and remorse of Creon — 
left living, it is true, but more to be pitied than the 
dead themselves, — crushed and humbled in the dust, 
all joy in life, all domestic happiness, all peace of 
mind gone for ever. Above all, he is tormented by 
the consciousness that it is his own stubborn pride, 
and not his evil destiny, that has thus made him the 
murderer of son and wife. " Heaven has sorely smitten 
me," he says, — 

"And I know not 
Which way to look or turn. All near at hand 
Is turned to evil ; and upon my head 
There falls a doom far worse than I can bear." — (P.) 

A. 0. vol. z. O 

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Op all heroic families, perhaps none were more famous 
than that of the iEacidse, to which Ajax, the hero of 
this tragedy, belonged. u3Eacus, the founder of the 
race, was a son of Jove, and he married a daughter of 
the centaur Chiron, from whom two sons were bom to 
him, Peleus and Telamon. Peleus married the sea- 
nymph, " silver-footed " Thetis, and by her had Achil- 
les; while Telamon took to wife Eriboea, who bore 
him Ajax, The cousins were both mighty warriors, 
renowned beyond all the other Greeks in the siege of 
Troy; but in character and appearance they were as 
different as Athelstane and Ivanhoe. Achilles was the 
true knight of chivalry, brave, graceful, and courteous, 
but high-spirited and passionate. Ajax was a man of 
war, of huge bulk and ponderous strength, taller than all 
the rest by the head and shoulders. More than once his 
single right arm had saved the army from destruction, — 

^' Stemming the war as stems a torrenfs force 
Some wooded cliff far reaching o'er the plain,"*— 

* Lord Derby's Homer, II. xvii. 847. 

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keeping his foes at bay, and then slowly retreating, 
covered by his shield of bull's hide, " huge as a tower." 
But he had waxed insolent in the pride of his strength, 
and more than once (as we are told in the play) his 
arrogant and impious words had provoked the anger of 
the gods. When he first left Salamis, his father, per- 
haps foreseeing the trouble which his haughty spirit 
was doomed to bring upon him, had given him pru- 
dent advice : — 

" Seek, my son, in fight. 
To conquer, but still conquer through the gods." 

But Ajax, Hke the old ^Norseman, "put his trust 
neither in idols nor demons, but in his own battle- 
axe," and his reply was, — 

" Father, with heavenly aid a coward's hand 
May grasp the prize of conquest ; I confide 
To win such trophies e'en without the gods." — (D.) 

Again, in the heat of battle, when Minerva herself had 
urged him to turn *his arms where she led the way, 
he had defiantly rejected her gracious offer of assist- 
ance : — 

' " O Queen I to other Argives lend thine aid ; 

No hostile might shall break where Ajax stands." — (D.) 

It would seem as if his sullen and haughty temper 
had estranged the friendship of men as well as the 
favour of the gods. He was certainly impopular 
among his brothers in arms. To Agamemnon he was 
"most hateful;" Menelaus bore him no love; and 
the Ulysses of Homer, like the Ulysses of Shakspeare, 

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despised this " beef-witted lord " * for being as stolid as 
he was arrogant. On the death of Achilles, it was de- 
cided that the celestial armour forged by Vulcan for the 
hero at the prayer of Thetis should be given to the 
bravest warrior in the host. Only two chieftains pre- 
sumed to lay claim to it on the score of their personal 
valour, Ajax and Ulysses. But whatever Ajax might 
have been in the battle-field, in council or debate be 
was far inferior to his rival; and the other princes, 
after listening to the claims urged by the two candi- 
dates, influenced partly by personal feeling, partly by 
the eloquence of Ulysses himself, and partly by the in- 
spiration of Minerva, adjudged the armour to the '' king 
of rocky Ithaca." 

Ajax left the council and retired to his tent, in 
bitter wrath at what he considered the unjust decision 
of the judges ; and it is on the following morning that 
the play opens. 

The scene represents the historic plain of Troy. 
The sea sparkles in the distance, and the shore is 
fringed by a line of boats — one larger than the others 
in the centre of the foreground. There is only one 
person on the stage — a chieftain narrowly scanning, as 
it seems, footprints on the ground. Suddenly there 
is a flash of light high up in the background of the 
scene, and the audience see a majestic form in radiant 

* Troilas and Cressida, act i. sc. 3. M. Taine is even more 
nncomplimentary. In his classification of Shakspeare's char- 
acters, he places Ajax between Caliban and Cloten among ** lea 
brutes et les imb6ciles."— (Lit. AngL, ii. 206.) 

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armour ; and by the spear in her hand, the Gorgon's 
head upon her shield, and, above all, by the clear-cut 
face and by the "azure eyes," they recognise their 
own virgin goddess, Pallas Athene, or, as we may call 
her, Minerva. 

Then, in that musical and sonorous Greek of which we 
shall never know the true sound or accent, she addresses 
the warrior on the stage. Why (she asks) — ^why does 
Ulysses scan these freshly - imprinted footsteps, as 
though, " like a keen-scented Spartan hound," he were 
tracking his foe to his lair? Ulysses recognises the 
voice, "clear as a Tyrrhenian trumpet," and makes 
answer. He is on the track of his foe, the hero of the 
seven-fold shield. In the night just past, the herds 
and herdsmen have been butchered by some unknown 
hand, and rumour points to Ajax, who was seen 

" The fields o'erleaping with a blood-stained sword." 

Ulysses has come to spy out the truth, and is now 
ready to learn it from one whose wisdom he has proved 
of old. 

Then Minerva tells him all,— how Ajax, burning 
with wrath at the loss of these much-coveted arms, 
had gone forth sword in hand at the dead of night, 
and was on the point of bursting into the tent of the 
Atreidse, thirsting for their blood, when (says the 

" I held him back from that accursed joy. 
Casting strange glamour o'er his wandering eyes, 
And turned him on the flocks, and where with them 
The herd of captured oxen press in crowds. 

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Not yet divided. And on these lie falls, 

And wrought fell slaughter of the homfed kine, 

Smiting all round ; and now it seemed to him 

That he did slay the Atreidce with his hand, 

Now this, now that, of other generals. 

And I still urged the wild and moon-struck man 

With fresh access of madness, and I cast 

An evil net around him. After this, 

When he had ceased that slaughter, binding fast 

The oxen that still lived, and all the flocks, 

He leads them to his dwelling, counting them 

No troop of homM cattle, but of men ; 

And now within he flouts his prisoners." — (P.) 

Minerva is not even satisfied with having blinded 
the eyes and deluded the senses of the rash man v(rho 
had insulted her. She wishes to humiliate her victim 
before her favourite hero, and loudly summons Ajax to 
come forth from the tent. At the second summons he 
appears, his eyes still glaring with a ferocious joy, 
carrying the scourge of cords vrith which he has been 
lashing his prisoners. No translation can express the 
bitter mockery with which the goddess humours his 
fancied triumph, " first gazing on her victim, while the 
depths of his mental ruin are lighted up by her irony, 
then turning in more benignant majesty to point the 
moral for her favourite." * 

Ajax warmly thanks Minerva for her aid. His 
revenge has been glorious. Not only has he reddened 
his sword with the blood of the Atreidae, but he has 
Ulysses, his bitterest foe (it is a ram which to his mad 
fancy represents him), bound to a pillar within, and 

* Jebb's Ajax, p. 8, note. 

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he intends presently to scourge him to death. Then 
he re-enters the tent to complete his vengeance. 

The real Ulysses, whom Minerva has hidden in a 
cloud firom his rival's sight, cannot resist expressing 
his pity that so stout a warrior should have been 
brought so low ; but the goddess has no such compas- 
sion. It is his impious pride that has brought these 
evils on the victim of her wrath. Let his fate be a 
warning to all, and let Ulysses himself take heed : — 

" Do thou, then, seeing this, refrain thy tongue 
From any lofty speech against the gods, 
Nor boast thyself, though thou excel in strength 
Or weight of stored-up wealth. All human things 
A day lays low, a day lifts up again ; 
But still the gods love those of ordered soul. 
And hate the evil"— (P.) 

And with these parting words the goddess is borne 
upwards by some ingenious mechanism, and Ulysses 
departs, having learnt the object of his quest, and 
marvelling much at the strange frenzy which had 
come upon his unsuccessfrd rival. 

Music in the ''Dorian mode" is heard, and the 
Chorus, here composed of Salaminian sailors, the faith- 
ful comrades of Ajax, enter in search of their chieftain. 
They have been much perplexed and disquieted by an 
evil rumour, tending to the dishonour of their much- 
loved prince. 

" Tis said that, rushing to the plain. 
By thee the captured herds were slain 
To Grecian valour due ; 

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All that of martial spoils remain 

Thy hand infuriate slew. 
Such slanders does Ulysses bear, 
Such whispers breathe in every ear : 

His calumnies glad credence gain ; 
As he who speaks, so they who hear, 

Insulting mock thy pain. 
He rarely errs who flings on high 
At gallant souls his contumely ; 
Whilst I of lowlier lot evade 
The penalty by greatness paid ; 
For envy steals with silent aim 
On nobler birth and loftier fame." — (D.) 

Let their chief but come forth horn his tent, and he 
wiU confound his enemies by his presence ; at sight of 
him they will scatter " like a flock of birds." 

Then the Chorus pause, waiting for an answer; 
but no word of response comes from the closed cur- 
tains of the tent of Ajax. They are alarmed by this 
strange silence. Can there be, after all, they ask, 
some truth in this dark rumour? Can Diana or the 
god of war have sent this curse of madness on their 
prince ? Heaven help him, if this be so I But if 
Ulysses has invented the story, — " Up from thy seat," 
is their last appeal, "where all too long thou hast 
been tarrying, while the insolence of thy foes sweeps on 
like a breeze through wind-swept dells, mocking thee 
to thy heart's grief and to my abiding sorrow." 

There is still no answer from Ajax, but a woman 
comes forth from his tent, weeping bitterly. The 
sailors know her weU. It is Tecmessa, a captive of the 

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spear, whom Ajax, according to the existing rules of 
"war, " deigned to take for his bride." She has to tell 
them of '* a sorrow sharp as death." The rumour is 
all too true, for Ajax, the valiant, the mighty, the broad- 
shouldered hero (and she dwells fondly on each epithet), 
is the victim of a heaven-sent frenzy ; and then she 
tells them all she knows of the wild work of the pre- 
vious night. When the evening lamps burnt no 
longer, and all was darkness and silence through the 
camp, Ajax had taken his sword and gone forth alone, 
cutting short her remonstrances with a proverb (familiar 
to the Greeks, but which would find little favour in 
our days), — 

"Silence, woman, is a woman's grace."— (D.) 

After a space he had returned, driving before him the 
sheep and oxen. Some of these he had slain, hacking 
and mangling them with insensate fury ; others he had 
bound and lashed with the scourge, laughing madly 
the while, and threatening his fancied enemies. Then 
jtt last reason and remorse came upon him ; — 

" And when he saw the tent with slaughter filled. 
He smote his head and groaned ; and, falling down, 
He sat among the fallen carcasses 
Of that great slaughter of the flocks and herds, 
Tearing his hair by handfuls ydth his nails. 
And for a long, long time he speechless sat ; 
And then with those dread words he threatened me, 
Unless I told him all the woeful chance. 
And asked me of the plight in which he stood ; 
And I, my friends, in terror told him all. 
All that 1 knew of all that he had done. 

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And he forthwith sent out a bitter ciy, 

Such as till now I never heard from him ; 

For ever did he hold snch loud lament 

Sure sign of one with coward heart and base ; 

And holding back from shriU and wailing cries, 

Would groan with deep, low muttering, like a bull ; 

But now, thus fallen on an evil chance, 

Tasting nor food nor drink, among the herds 

Slain with his sword, he sits in silent calm. 

And looks like one on some dire mischief bent." — (P.) 

This burst of anguish followed by a sullen despair is, 
as Tecmessa fears, more dangerous than his first fran- 
tic state of madness. What help can they, his old 
and true friends, bring to their king in this extremity I 

But the Chorus have not time to answer her ; for 
groan after groan comes from the closed tent, and Ajaz 
is heard piteously calling on his child Eurysaces, and 
on Teucer his foster-brother, then far away, to come to 
him. Then Tecmessa can refrain no longer, but throws 
open the door of the tent, and discovers Ajax seated 
in gloomy silence, with his head buried in his hands, 
while all about him lie the carcasses of the slaughtered 
sheep and oxen. Disturbed by the light entering the 
tent, he lifts up his head and sees his faithful sailors ; 
but they can bring him no comfort. His baffled ven- 
geance, the insulting joy of his foes, — ^more than all, 
of that wheedling knave Ulysses, whom he pictures to 
himseK as " laughing long and loudly for very joy of 
heart," — ^all these thoughts rankle in his breast, and 
render life itseK unbearable. How, he asks, can he 
endure the light of day ) how can he look on the fsice 
of men any longer? Let his own true friends, the 

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[THE DEATH ^ OF A J AX. 107 

sailois of liis fleet, come near and slay him witli the 
sword. The sight of the mangled carcasses around 
liim aggravates this sense of shame ; to think that he, 
the hero of a hundred fights, should have dyed his 
sword in the blood of dumb and defenceless beasts ! 
There is only one escape open to him now ; — 

" Fair death it is, to shun more shame, to die " * 

And he welcomes the thought. " darkness," he con- 
tinues, " my light ! gloom of Erebus, bright as day 
to such as me ! Take me, take me to dwell with you ; 
for I am no longer worthy to look on the raCe of gods 
or mortals for any profit that I can bring to man, since 
the warrior-daughter of Jove torments me to my death. 
Whither, then, can I fly ? whither can I go and be at 
rest % for my glory is gone, my Mends, and vengeance 
presses hard upon me." 

Then he turns (as every hero in Sophocles turns) to 
^Nature — ^to the familiar plains of Troy — and bids them 
all an affectionate farewell. 

" paths by the ocean waves, and caverns on the 
shore, and grove overshadowing the beach, too long, 
too long have ye held me here a weary while ! but 
no longer shall ye hold me, while I have breath of 
life. Let him who is wise know this. streams of 
Scamander, old friends of mine, never shall ye see me 
more ; the bravest warrior of all the host that came 
from Greece!" 

And then there crowd upon him the sweet and 
bitter memories of the past, — ^the promises of glory so 
* Faery Queen, III. v. 46. 

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soon cut short, — ^the hopes of vengeance so ruinously 
frustrated. How can he return to Salamis, and meet 
the questioning looks of his father Telamon, deprived 
of the meeds of valour ) He is hated hy the gods ; 
he is hated hy the Greek host ; " yea," he says, ** all 
Troy and these plains hate me." 

" I must seek out some perilous emprise, 
To show my father that I sprang from him,' 
In nature not faint-hearted. It is shame 
For any man to wish for length of life, 
Who, wrapped in troubles, knows no change for good. 
For what delight brings day still following day, 
Or bringing on, or putting off our death ? 
I would not rate that man as worth regard, 
Whose fervour glows on vain and empty hopes : 
But either noble life or noble death 
Becomes the gentle bom. My say is said." — (P.) 

Then Tecmessa implores him, in the name of all 
that he regards as dearest and most sacred upon earth, 
not to leave her and his child desolate, to eat the 
bread of slavery and bear the bitter insults of his 

''For very shame, 
Leave not thy father in his sad old age ; 
For shame, leave not thy mother, feeble grown 
With many years, who ofttimes prays the gods 
That thou may'st live, and to thy house return. 
Pity, O king, thy boy, and think if he, 
Deprived of childhoods nurture, live bereaved 
Beneath unfriendly gnardians, what sore grief 
Thou in thy death dost give to him and me ; 
For I have nothing now on earth save thee 
To which to look."— (P.) 

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The Chorus — themselves moved to tears — implore 
Ajax to listen to this touching appeal, and to forego 
his deadly purpose. But Ajax, if he is touched at 
all, is too proud to show it. If Tecmessa loves him, 
let her bring his child Eurysaces, — ^and Eurysaces is 
brought. Then Ajax, taking the child upon his knee, 
looks tenderly on him, as Hector looked on Astyanax, 
— fio happily unconscious of his father's misery, and 
scarcely heeding the carnage with which the ground 
was strewed ; and then addressing the child as though 
it could understand his words, he pictures it growing 
tip in careless innocence, " as a young plant," sheltered 
from all rough winds under the guardianship of Teucer, 
rejoicing its widowed mother's heart, and perhaps 
hereafter (and the warrior's heart swells at the thought) 
avenging his father's wrongs. " my child," he says, 
almost in the words of ^Eneas to the young Ascanius, — 

*' Learn of your father to be great, ^* 
Of others to be fortunate." * 

Eurysaces, he concludes, shall inherit the famous 
shield — ^from which he takes his name : all his other 
arms shall be buried in his own grave. Then, with a 
hint that " sore wounds need sharp remedies," he bids 
her take the child within and fasten the tent-doors. 
Again Tecmessa implores him to relent — "in the 
name of the gods." "The gods!" bitterly repeats 
Ajax — what duty or allegiance does he owe the gods, 
who so plainly hate him ? and once more he angrily 
orders her to leave him to himself. 

* Virgil, .£neid, xiL 485 (Conington's Transl.) 


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But Tecmessa still lingers — ^finding it, perhaps, im- 
possible to tear berseK from the presence of one whom 
she loves with all a woman's devoted affection — ^and 
she stays near the tent-door, clasping the hands of 
Eurysaces.* Ajax does not look to see whether she has 
obeyed him ; but, relapsing into profound melancholy, { 
covers his face in his hands. And so the three remain, i 
motionless as statues; while the Chorus, in their song, | 
contrast the peaceful happiness of the island-home which , 
they have left with the weary travail of the siege, and 
the gloom and dishonour of their king. '^ Blessed art 
thou," their chant begins, "glorious Salamis, where 
thou liest by the beating waves, famous in the sight of 
all for ever ; " — ^and they deplore the fate which has 
befallen so noble a warrior-^doomed to perish in his 
prime, though sprung from a race in which " prince 
after prince had lived out his span, and gone to the 
grave fuU of years and honours." t 

" Oh ! when the pride of Grsecia's noblest race 
Wanders, as now, in darkness and disgrace, 

When reason's day 
Sets rayless— joyless— quenched in cold decay, 

Better to die, and sleep 
The never-waking sleep, than linger on, 
And dare to live, when the soul's life is gone : 

But thou shalt weep, 
Thou wretched father, for thy dearest son. 
Thy best beloved, by inward furies torn, 
The deepest, bitterest curse, thine ancient house hath 

• Bishop Thirlwall's view of the scene is here followed, 
t Jebb's Ajax, p. 88. % Praed*s Poems, il 349. 

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Then Ajax comes forward again. His better nature 
has been touched — perhaps more by the allusions to 
his beloved island than by any awakened tenderness 
for Tecmessa. He addresses the Chorus, and there is 
no necessity for supposing his speech to be spoken 
Tvith studied artifice : if there is artifice, it is the poet's 
" irony." Or it may be that he " desires, half in pity 
and half in scorn, to disguise from his listeners a pur- 
pose too great for their sympathy."* But whatever 
may l^ve been the intention of the words, their pur- 
port is that his heart has been melted within him : he 
■will atone for his rash deeds : he will purify himself 
from the stain of blood, that so he may find rest for 
his soul. 

This famous farewell speech is worthy of being 
given in full, and the following is Mr Calverley's 
admirable translation : — 

'^ All strangest things the multitudinous years 
Bring forth, and shadow from us all we know. 
Falter alike great oath and steeled resolve ; 
And none shall say of aught, ' This may not be.' 
Lo ! I myself, but yesterday so strong 
As new-dipt steel, am weak and all unsexed 
By yonder woman : yea I mourn for them, 
Widow and orphan, left amid their foes. 
But I will journey seaward — where the shore 
lies meadow-fringed — so haply wash away 
My sin, and flee that wrath that weighs me down, 
And, lighting somewhere on an untrodden way, 
I will bury this my sword, this hateful thing. 
Deep in some earth-hole where no eye shall see — 
Night and hell keep it in the under-world ! 
* JebVs Ajax, 

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For never to tlds day, since first I grasped 
The gift that Hector gave, my bitterest foe, 
Have I reaped aught of honour from the Greeks. 
So true that byword in the mouths of men, 
' A foeman's gifts are no gifts, but a curse.* 

Wherefore henceforward shall I know that God 
Is great ; and strive to honour Atreus* sons. 
Princes they are, and should be obeyed. How else ? 
Do not all terrible and most puissant things 
Yet bow to loftier majesties ? The Winter, 
Who walks forth scattering snows, gives place anon 
To &uitage-laden Summer ; and the orb 
Of weary Night doth in her turn stand by. 
And let shine out, with her white steeds, the Day : 
Stem tempest-blasts at last sing lullaby 
To groaning seas : even the arch-tyrant. Sleep, 
Doth loose his slaves, not hold them chained for ever. 

And shaU not mankind, too, learn discipline ? 
/ know, of late experience taught, that him 
Who is my foe I must but hate as one 
Whom I may yet call friend : and him who loves me 
Will I but serve and cherish as a man 
Whose love is not abiding. Few be they 
Who reaching friendship's port have there found rest. 

But, for these things they shall be welL Go thou. 
Lady, within, and there pray that the gods 
May fill unto the full my heart's desire ; 
And ye, my mates, do unto me with her 
Like honour ; bid young Teucer, if he comes. 
To care for me, but to be your friend stilL 
For where my way leads, thither must I go ; 
Do ye my bidding ; haply ye may hear, 
Though now is my dark hour, that I have peace." * 
The Chorus are convinced that Ajax has shaken off 
the sullen despair which had brooded over his spirit, 
* Verses and Translations, p. 177. 

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and give vent to their delight in a passionate burst 
of joy, which must have been far more effective in 
the original music of the ode than it can ever be in 
an English translation, however gracefully rendered. 
Once more they may see the " white glory of happy 
days ; " and they call on Pan himself to lead their 
dance of triumph. 

" I thriU with eager delight, 
And with passionate joy I leap ; 
loPanl Id Pan! loPan! 
Come over the waves from the height 
Of the cliffs of Cyllene, where sweep 
The storm-blasts of snow in their might ! 

Come, come, King, at the head 
Of the dance of the Gods as they tread. 

• ••••• 

And over Icarian wave, 

Coming with will to save, 
May Delos' king, Apollo, gloriously advance ! 

Yes, the dark sorrow and pain 

Far &om me Ares hath set ; 

lo Pan ! lo Pan ! once more ; 

And now, Zeus ! yet again 
May our swift-sailing vessels be met 
By the dawn with clear light in its train." — (P.) 

But hardly have these joyous strains died away, 
when a messenger from the Greek camp enters, in- 
quiring for Ajax. Teucer has just returned from the 
foray, and has with difl&culty made his way through 
the crowd of soldiers, who assailed him with a storm 
of insults and threats as 'Hhe madman's brother." 
On his entering the council chamber, Calchas, the 

A. c. voL X. H 

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seer, had diawn him aside, and earnestly warned him 
to keep Ajax within doors till sunset. The wrath 
of Minerva would last for the space of this one day, 
which was destined to bring him death or life. But 
the warning and the message have come too late. 
Ajax has already gone forth, and the Chorus — ^realising 
the irony of his farewell speech to them — ^hurriedly 
summon Tecmessa, and disperse themselves to seek 
their prince, and stay his hand while there may yet 
be time. 

For a moment the stage is vacant; then, by a 
skilful appliance of machinery, the scene changes. 
The sea still heaves in the distance; but, instead 
of the tents of the Salaminian sailors, there is seen 
the dark and lonely " grove by the shore," and near 
it stands Ajax himself, looking steadfastly at his 
sword, which is fixed point upwards with the hilt 
buried in the earth. All things, he says, are ready 
for the sacrifice. The sword that is to slay him — 
Hector's fatal gift, but his best friend now — ^is ready 
sharpened, and fixed where it may strike the surest 
blow. Then he invokes the gods, with whom he 
makes his peace by his blood. Let Zeus summon 
Teucer by a " swift rumour," that he may protect his 
body from the insults of his enemies; let Mercury 
guide his soul to a home of rest, after it has parted 
from his body "at one swift bound — without a 
struggle;" let the Furies avenge his wrongs, and 
" spare not the Greek host, but lap their fill of slaugh- 
ter." Then a softer spirit comes over him, and he bids 
farewell to life — ^not with the bitter and half-aflfected 

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disdain of Eomeo and Hamlet, but aflfectionately 
appealing to the bright daylight, and to Nature, with 
all their pleasant memories of the past : — 

" And thou that mak'st high heaven thy cLariot-course, 

Sun, when gazing on my Fatherland, 
Draw back thy golden rein, and tell my woes 
To the old man my father, and to her 

Who nursed me at her bosom — my poor mother ! 
There will be wailing through the echoing walls 
When — ^but away with thoughts like these ! the hour 
Brings on the ripening deed. Death, death 1 lookjon me — 
Did I say Death ? — ^it was a waste of words ; 
We shall be friends hereafter. 

'Tis the DAY, 
Present and breathing round me, and the car 
Of the sweet sun, that never shall again 
Receive my greeting ! — ^henceforth time is sunless, 
And day a thing that is not ! Beautiful Light, 
My Salamis — my country — and the floor 
Of ^y dear household-hearth; and thou, bright Athens, 
Thou — ^for thy sons and I were boys together — 
Fountains and rivers, and ye Trojan plains, 

1 loved you as my fosterers — fare ye well ! 

Take in these words, the last earth hears from Ajax — 

All else unspoken ; in a spectre-land 

m whisper to the Dead." — (Lord Lytton.) 

And we must remember, says a French critic, that 
this appeal was made in a theatre with the blue 
heaven for its canopy, and the mountains and sea for 
its decorations. When he saluted for the last time 
the sun and the sweet light of day, the real sun was 
actually shedding a radiance on the features of the 
dying hero, and the entranced faces of the audience. 

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" Salamis, sacred land of my fathers !*' cried Ajax, and 
all the spectators could see Salamis and its glorious 
gulf. There it lay, sparkling in the sunshine, in 
the midst of the waves, which still murmur the name 
of Themistocles ; there it lay, with all the memories 
which its name and sight could recall to the Athenians. 
" Fair and glorious Athens, sweet sister of my father- 
land ! " again cried the hero ; and not only did he say 
this in Athens, but Athens was all there centred 
beneath his gaze.* 

"With one last look at the sunlight, Ajax falls for- 
wards on his sword, and his body lies concealed from 
the audience by the underwood of the grove. The 
Chorus enter hurriedly in two bands, right and left of 
the stage. They have wearied themselves with a vain 
search, far and wide, on the eastern and western sides 
of the camp, but they have not found their prince ; 
and they appeal to the "children of the sea" — the 
nymphs and naiads of the springs — ^to aid their quest. 
Suddenly a woman's cry is heard from the grove. It 
is Tecmessa, who, searching nearer home, has just 
stumbled on the body of Ajax, as it lies " with the life- 
blood streaming from the nostrils ; " and they see her 
covering it with her robe from the eyes of his friends. 

Teucer enters in the midst of their grief, warned by 
a mysterious rumour from some god of the death of 
Ajax. He uncovers the body; and, gazing steadfastly 
at it, he too bursts into a passionate lament. As the 
sons of Jacob feared to return to their father without 

♦ translated from Girardin, Cours de Litt^rature Dramat, 

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"bringing Benjamin with them, so the foster-brother 
shrinks from returning alone to Salamis and facing the 
aged Telamon — fierce even in his gentlest mood; and he 
foresees, what actually happened, that he will be driven, 
like a slave and an outcast, from his doors. And then he 
moralises over the fatality of an enemy's gifts, which 
have brought death and dole to giver and receiver. 

*' Mark, by the j^ods, these hapless heroes' fate. 
Bound by the very belt which Ajax gave 
To the swift chariot, Hector breathed his last : ' 
He too, possessing Hector's fatal gift, 
By it hath perished with a mortal wound. 
Did not some Fury forge that sword, and Death — 
A stem artificer — that baldric weave ? 
Such fates, I ween, the gods for man ordain ; 
Yea, and all strange vicissitudes of life." — (D.) 

Here it seems as if the play should end ; but it is 
carried on into another act. To an Athenian audi- 
ence, Ajax was more than a hero of tragedy : he was 
almost a tutelary god, the deified ancestor of one of 
their noblest families, to which not only Miltiades, but 
Alcibiades, and Thucydides the historian — ^perhaps ac- 
tual spectators of the play — all belonged. Divine hon- 
ours were paid to his tomb ; and a yearly festival was 
held in his memory at Salamis. His burial, therefore, 
even on the stage, had almost the sanctity of a religious 
rite; and Menelaus and his brother (as types of Argos 
and Sparta, the national enemies of Athens) appropri- 
ately " fill the posts of ' Devil's Advocates ' at this 
process of canonisation." * 

♦ Bishop Thirlwall. 

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Just as Teucer is about to remove the body in order 
to prepare it for burial, Menelaus, accompanied by a 
herald, appears, and haughtily bids him leave the 
corpse as it lies upon the sand. "There," he says, "it 
shaU remain, food for the birds that haunt the shore ; 
for in his lifetime Ajax had been a worse foe to the 
Greeks than all the Trojans." Then follows an angry 
dialogue, in which the speakers, with Homeric rough- 
ness, exchange all degrees of insult, from the " reply 
churhsh" to the "lie direct." Teucer is a fearless 
champion of the dead, and cares nothing for the rank 
of his opponent or for the consequences to himself. 
" Come, therefore," he replies, in a spirit as haughty 
as the Spartan's, — 

" Come, therefore, bring with thee a host of heralds ; 
Yea, bring the King of men himself. I care not 
For all thy stir, while thou art — ^what thou art." 

Menelaus, accordingly, goes to summon his brother 
Agamemnon ; and Teucer calls Tecmessa and Eury- 
saces to watch the body while he prepares the grave. 
Then he bids the young child sit as a suppliant, with 
one hand on the corpse, and holding in the other a lock 
of his father's hair. 

" And should one 
In all our army tear thee from the dead. 
May he thus bare, unburied, basely die. 
An exile from his home, with all his race 
As utterly cut off, as I now cut 
This braided lock."— (P.) 

The Chorus deplore the weary length of the siege, and 
curse the memory of him who first taught war to the 

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Gieeks, and thereby cut them off from all the joys of 
life — "garlands, and brimming wine-cups, and the 
flute's sweet music, and sleep, and love." 

** Yes, he from love and all its joy 

Has cut me off, ah me ! ah me ! 
And here I linger still in Troy, 

By all uncared for, sad to see. 
Till now, from every fear by night. 

And bulwark against darts of foe, 
Ajax stood forward in his might, 

But now the stem god lays him low. 

Ah ! would that I my flight could take 
Where o'er the sea the dark crags frown. 

And on the rocks the wild waves break. 
And woods the height of Sunium crown. 

That so we might with welcome bless 

Great Athens and her holiness 1 " — (P.) 

Teucer enters again, and at the same moment there 
is seen approaching from the Greek camp a tall chief- 
tain of stately bearing, in resplendent armour. It is 
" the King of men, the commander of the host," Aga- 
memnon himsel£ He addresses Teucer with studied 
insolence, affecting not even to understand his "bar- 
barous tongue." " Does the son of the bondmaid,"* he 
asks, "presume to set himseK up as champion of a 
hero no whit better than his fellow-captains] Let 
him bring a free -bom Greek to plead his cause." 
Teucer replies half in anger, half in sorrow, that the 
valour and the good services of Ajax should so soon 
have fjEuied from men's remembrance. He apostrophises 

* Teucer was the son of Telamon by a captive princess. 

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the dead before lie will even condescend to notice the 
taunt of the living. 

^ Alas ! how swiftly doth man's gratitude 
Turn traitor to the memory of the dead ! 
Lo, hath this prince not even one little word 
Of thought for thee, O Ajax, who didst oft 
In his behalf aforetime gage thy life ? " * 

Then he turns indignantly to the great king — "What, 
does he not remember % It was Ajax who had saved 
the ships from destruction, when wrapped in flames. It 
was Ajax who had confronted Hector himself — ^and the 
* son of the bondmaid ' had then stood by his brother's 
side." Then he retorts the charge of mean descent on 
Agamemnon — sprung from the " godless Atreus," and 
from a mother who played her husband false. He will 
die himself sooner than desert the dead — and it would 
be more glorious, he adds, to die for his gallant foster- 
brother than for Helen, the faithless wife. 

At this point Ulysses enters, and acts as peacemaker 
between the angry disputants. His shrewd sense had 
argued that nothing could be gained by outraging the 
body of the dead warrior; and he appeals to Agamemnon 
not to press his hatred beyond the grave — ^basing bis 
appeal upon common humanity and reason — 

" Unto me 
This man of all the host was greatest foe, 
Since I prevailed to gain Achilles' arms ; 

* " But yesterday the name of Csesar might 

Have stood against the world : now lies he there. 
And none so poor to do him reverence." 

— Julius Cnsar, act iii. bc. 2. 

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But though he were so, being what he was, 
I would not put so foul a shame on him, 
'As not to own I looked upon a man 
The best and bravest of the Argive host, 
Of all that came to Troia, saving one, 
Achilles' self. Most wrong 'twould therefore be 
That he should suffer outrage at thy hands ; 
Thou wouldst not trample upon him alone, 
But on the laws of God."— (P.) 

Agamemnon reluctantly gives way, and leaves the 
scene. Then Ulysses, turning to Teucer, offers him his 
hand in friendship, with a genercsity which is in strong 
contrast to the bitter insolence of the son of Atreus ; 
he offers also to assist in paying the last honours to the 
noble dead. But this Teucer cannot allow, "lest it 
displease the dead himself;" and so Ulysses departs, 
having, so far as he could, made his peace with the 
manes of his ancient enemy. 

Ulysses and Ajax met once more — so says the 
Homeric legend — ^in the lower world. While all the 
other heroes, in " the asphodel meadow," press forward 
to greet their old comrade in arms who has come to 
visit them in the flesh, the shade of Ajax stands aloof 
from all the others, brooding over the injuries of his 
lifetime, and sullenly turns away from the proffered 
courtesy of his rival 

Teucer returned to Salamis, taking with him Tec- 
messa and Eurysaces ; but, as he had foreseen, Telamon 
received him with angry reproaches for allowing Ajax 
to pensh. Then Teucer set sail for Cyprus, and there 
he founded a city which he called Salamis, after his 

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old home. Horace describes his farewell banquet, axid 
his spirited address to the companions of his voyage : 

^' Where fortune bears us, than my sire more kind. 

There let us go, my own, my gallant crew: 
*Ti8 Teucer leads, 'tis Teucer breathes the wind ; 

No more despair ; Apollo's word is true. 
Another Salamis in kindlier air 

Shall yet arise. Hearts, that have borne with me 
Worse buffets ! drown, to-day, in wine your care ; 

To-morrow we recross the wide, wide sea ! " * 

* Odes, I. 7 (Conington's Transl.) 

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This play, like many of the Greek tragedies, takes 
its name not from the* plot or the hero, but from 
the personages of the Chorus — ^that very important 
element in the Greek drama. The vague title tells 
nothing to an English reader, but every Athenian 
knew, at least by name, the little Thessalian town of 
Trachis, nestling at the foot of Mount (Eta, not far 
from the famous pass of Thermopylae ; and many, like 
Plutarch, had visited the spot, and seen for themselves 
what tradition had consecrated as the tomb of De- 
janira. But what, after all, mattered to them the title 
of the play, even if Trachis had been as distant as 
Babylon, when its subject was perhaps the best-known 
story in all mythology 1 

Hercules in his wanderings had come to Pleuron in 
iEtolia. . There he saw and fell in love with Dejanira, 
the king's daughter, whose hand was sought by a 
suitor of a strange sort — the river-god Achelous. This 
potent rival had, as she tells us, wooed her in various 
shapes (none of them, it must be confessed, attractive), 

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— now coming as a bull, now as a scaly dragon, now 
in human form, with a bull's head, "with streams 
of water flowing from his shaggy beard." Hercules 
wrestled with Achelous, while the maiden looked on 
at a prudent distance ; and the river-god, after being 
nearly strangled and losing one of his horns, gave way, 
and the victor bore away his bride in triumph. On 
their way homewards they came to the river Evenns, 
where the centaur Nessus dwelt, who was wont to 
carry travellers across. Hercules himself breasted the 
stream, and reached the further bank in safety, carry- 
ing his lion's skin, his bow, and the fsimous arrows 
which had been dipped in the poison of the hydra. 
Hearing a cry, he looked back, and saw Nessus oflfer- 
ing violence to Dejanira, as he was bearing her across. 
Ovid — ^who has told the whole story — describes the 
prompt vengeance of the hero, as the centaur tries to 
fly. " Think not, thou," exclaims Hercules — 

" * With all the speed of all thy hoofe to 'scape ! 
My wounds are swifter than my feet ! ' The act 
Followed the word, and through his flying back 
Impelled before his breast the barb outstood. 
And as he plucked it thence, from either woimd 
Mingled with Lema's venom gushed the blood. 
And steeped his mantle's fold. * Not unavenged,' 
He muttered, ' will I perish ! ' and to her 
He would have ravished gave the robe, yet warm 
With poisoned gore, and bade her with that gift 
At need assure her husband's wavering love." * 

Dejanira herself comes forward, and, as the single 
actor was wont to do in the earlier drama, tells the 
* Ovid's Metam. ix. ii. (transl. by King.) 

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audience the history of her troubles. All these years 
of her married life, though her husband has treated her 
kindly, and children have been bom to her, she has 
known little peace of mind. Hercules was constantly 
absent, fulfilling the labours imposed on him by Eurys- 
theus. He was seldom at Trachis, and saw his chil- 
dren as rarely as "the husbandman who visits his 
distant fields at seed-time and at harvest." For fif- 
teen months he has now been away from home, and 
his wife is sorely troubled at heart ; for on his last 
departure he had made disposition of his wealth, and 
left with her a tablet, on which was engraved an 
oracle to the effect that the next year would be the 
crisis of his life — bringing him either death or rest 
from all his toils. But month after month has passed, 
and still Dejanira has heard nothing of her husband, 
and she fears the worst. 

Then her eldest son Hyllus enters, and bids his 
mother be of good cheer, for Hercules is even now 
close at hand, in the island of Euboea, which could 
almost be seen from Trachis. There, as rumour said, 
he was making war on the town of Eurytus; and 
there, at the suggestion of Dejanira, Hyllus sets out, 
like Telemachus, to obtain more certain tidings of his 

The Chorus enter — young girls from the town of 
Trachis ; and in their opening song they endeavour to 
console and reassure their neighbour with warm sym- 
pathy. They beseech the Sun-god to tell them where 
the hero is at that moment. 

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" TTiou flaming Sun ! whom spangled Night, 
Self-destroying, brings to light, 

Then luUs to sleep again ; 
Bright Herald, girt with beaming rays, 
Say, where Alcmena's offspring strays; 

Say, lurks he on the main? 

Or lays his head to rest 
On Europe or on Asia's breast? 

In pity deign reply. 

Thou of the lordly eye ! 

His bride, erst won by desperate fray. 
Muses where lies his dangerous way ; 
Like some sad bird, her soul is set 
On constancy and vain regret : 
Sleep never seals those eyes, where woe 
Lies all too deep for tears to flow. 
While thought and boding Fancy's dread 
Flit ever round her lonely bed. 

Oft when the northern blast. 
Or southern winds unwearied rave. 

Ye see the ocean cast 
In quick succession wave on wave ; 
So to whelm old Cadmus' son, 
Eush redoubled labours on, 
Thick as round the Cretan shore 
The swoln and turbid billows roar : 
Yet his step from Pluto's halls 
Still some unerring God recalls. 
My Queen ! disdain not thou to brook 
My chidings kind, and soft rebuke, 
Nor cast away, in morbid mood, 
The cheering hope of future good. 
For universal nature's lord, 
Saturn's great son, by all adored, 

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Enjoyment \^dlled not to bestow 
On human lot, unmixed with woe : 
Grief and delight, in endless change, 
Bound man in mazy circles range, 
Like never-setting stars, that roll 
In ceaseless courses round the pole. 
Soon spangled night must yield to day, 
Soon wealth, soon trouble flits away ; 
In turn, so fixed the eternal plan. 
Bliss and bereavement wait on man. 
My Queen ! on hope thy soul be stayed, 

Nor yield thee to despair ; 
"When hath not Jove his children made 

His providential care 1 " — (A.) 

But Dejanira, though she appreciates their kindness, 
is but half-convinced by the words of the Chorus. 
They are but young girls, she says, and know little 
o£ the sad experiences of a wife and mother. Night 
after night she has started up in an agony of terror, 
lest she should be bereaved of the " noblest man on 
earth;" and that mysterious tablet causes her grave 

Suddenly comes a messenger with good news. Her- 
cules is not only alive, but is on the point of returning 
home after victory, and has sent his herald Lichas with 
the captives on before him. Then Lichas himself 
enters, and behind him follow a train of women, the 
unfortunate prizes of the war. Dejanira turns eagerly 
to the herald. "Tell me," she asks, "0 dearest of 
messengers, what I most wish to know, — shall I re- 
ceive Hercules again alive 1 " " Yes," is the answer ; 
"I left him alive and strong, and smitten of no 

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disease." Dejanira is made happy by the answer — 
so happy, that she fears some fresh disaster. She can- 
not help contrasting her own joy with the forlorn and 
helpless state of these captive women. Heaven grant, 
is her prayer, such sorrow may never come on her or 
hers ! 

Then her attention is caught by one of the captives 
standing somewhat apart from the others, and a 
woman's instinct impels her to ask of Lichas the name 
and history of this pale and graceful stranger — 

" For, more than all, my own heart pities her, 
And, more than all, her soul is quick to feel." — (P.) 

But Lichas professes ignorance. He knows nothing of 
this maiden, except that she has done nothing but weep 
and wring her hands ever since she left her home on 
the '^ windy heights " of CEchalia ; and she has been 
possessed by a dumb spirit, and will answer no 
questions. And then he leads his retinue off the 

Then the same old messenger who had preceded the 
herald enters again. He is, as M. Girardin terms him, 
an " indiscreet lago," * whose meddlesome loquacity 
produces graver mischief than the machinations of a 
hardened villain. With a mysterious and important 
air he begs an audience; he tells his mistress that 
Lichas has deceived her; that this fair and grace- 
ful maiden is none other than lole, the daughter of 
Eurytus ; and that it was love of her which had im- 

* Conrs de Litt. Dramat., v. 255. 

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pelled Hercules to attack and storm (Echalia. Such 
is the whole truth, concludes this ancient mischief- 
maker, which it has heen his painful duty to tell — at 
all costs. 

Lichas now comes to ask his mistress if she has any 
parting message for Hercules ; and Dejanira confronts 
him with his falsehood. He protests and denies, and 
repeats his former story. Then Dejanira, with a 
woman's duplicity, bids him speak out and fear no- 
thing. She knows the ways of men — she knows the 
power of love — she knows the amorous temper of her 
husband : — 

" Has he not, 
Our Hercules, of all the men that lived. 
Wedded most wives, and yet not one of them 
Has had from me or evil speech or taunt ? 
Nor will she have ; though she in love for him 
Should melt and pine — for lo ! I pitied her 
When first I saw her, for her beauty's sake : 
For it, I knew, had wrecked her life's fond hope. 
And she, poor soul, against her will, had wrought 
The ruin of her fatherland, and brought 
Its people into bondage. Let all this 
Go to the winds. For thee, I bid thee, I, 
Be false to others, but to me be true." — (P.) 

Lichas is completely deceived by this speech, and is 
persuaded that Dejanira will resign herself quietly to 
her fate. Accordingly he confirms what the messenger 
had already told her; but, like a good servant, he 
makes out the best case he can for his master. 

" Well then, dear mistress, since I see that thou, 
Being human, hast a human heart, and knoVst 
A. 0. vol. X. I 

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No stubborn purpose, I will tell tbee all. 

The whole truth, nought concealingi All is so 

As this man tells thee. Strong desire for her 

Did seize on Heracles, and so her land, 

CEchalia, was laid waste by arm^ host. 

And brought full low. And this (for I must tell 

His doings also) he nor bade conceal 

Nor yet denied ; but I myself, dear lady, 

Fearing to grieye thy heart with these my words, 

Did sin, if thou dost count it as a sin. 

And now, since thou dost know the whole of things 

For his sake and for thine, full equally 

Treat the girl kindly, and those words of thine 

Thou saidst of her, be firm and true to them;; 

For he whose might prevails iu all things else, 

In all is conquered by his love for her." — (P.) 

Then he takes his leave. Dejanira bethinks herself 
of some means by which she may recall the waning 
affections of her husband, and she remembers that she 
has still preserved the blood wJbdch had flowed from 
the wound of Nessus, but has never yet used it, though 
the Centaur had assured her it would prove a resistless 
love-charm. After taking counsel with the Chorus, 
who advise her to make experiment before puttii^ her 
project into action, she smears an embroidered robe 
with the blood, ajid intrusts it to Lichas, vfith strict 
charge that none should wear it before Hercules him- 

" Nor must the light of sunshine look on it, 
Nor sacred shrine, nor flame of altar hearth. 
Before he stands, conspicuous, showing it 
On day of sacrifice, in sight of gods. 
For so I vowed, if I should see hjm safe 

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At home, or hear his safety well asBured, 
To clothe him with this tunic, and send forth 
Th§ glorious worshipper in glorious robe." — (P.) 

But hardly has Lichas departed, carrying with him 
the fatal gift, than Dejaniia enters again in an agony 
of alann. She had, according to the Centaur's instruc- 
tions, kept the blood in a bronze vessel " untouched 
by fire or sunlight " — even when she smeared it on 
the robe, it had been in a dark chamber within the 
house ; but she had thrown the wisp of wool which 
she had used for the purpose on the ground in the 
sunshine. There it had melted and crumbled into 
dust in a strange fashion — 

" And from the earth where it had lain, there oozed 
Thick clots of foam, as when in vintage bright 
Kich must is poured upon the earth from vine 
Sacred to Bacchus ; and I know not now 
Which way of thought to turn, but see too well 
That I have done a deed most perilous." — (P.) 

Why, she reasons, should the Centaur have wished her 
well ? No — the philtre must have been given with 
a purpose, and her husband will die of that ^' black 
poison " in which his own arrows have been steeped. 

And at that moment Hyllus rushes in, and charges 
her with being his father's murderess. He has just 
come from witnessing the agony which had convulsed 
Hercules in the midst of his triumphal sacrifice to 
Jove. The blaze of fire from the altar had excited the 
latent and deadly power of the venom in which the 
robe had been steeped ; maddened with pain, the hero 
had seized on Lichas, the unlucky bringer of the pre- 

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sent, and had dashed his brains out against the rocks; 
then he had hurst away from his attendants, and — 
Ovid gives even a more vivid picture of the giant's 
sufferings than Sophocles — 

" And filled all leafy (Eta with his groans, 
Striving to rend away the deadly robe 
That with it rent the skin, and horribly 
Or to his limbs inseparably glued 
Refused to part, or, as it parted, bare 
From the big bones the quivering muscle tore ! 
And LQ that poisonous heat his very blood, 
Like white-hot steel in cooling water plunged, 
Seethed hissing in his veins ; — the greedy fire 
Devoured his inmost vitals ; — audible snapped 
The crackling sinews ; and from every limb 
The lurking venom broke in livid sweat. 
And sucked the melting marrow from his bones." * 

Then Hyllus, in compliance with his prayer, had 
placed him in a ship, and he was even now on his 
way to Trachis. But may all the curses of the gods 
fall on his mother's head, he concludes, for 

" Murdering the noblest man of all the earth, 
Of whom thou ne'er shalt see the like again." 

Dejanira had listened in silence, both to the tale of 
her husband's agony, and to the cruel reproaches of 
her son. All her happiness had been bound up with 
the wellbeing of Hercules. She had loved him with 
devoted affection, in spite of his long absences and 
his countless amours ; and now by her own thought- 
less act she has destroyed this idol of her heart, and 

* Ovid, Metam. ix. iii. (King.) 

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has plunged the man whom she so faithfully loved into 
bodily tonnent such as she could not have devised 
even for her bitterest enemy. She is powerless to 
avert or to heal the sufferings which she has so un- 
wittingly inflicted ; and the voice of conscience within 
tells her that she can give but one real proof of her 
affection. It is the resolve which forms the i-efrain in 
the pathetic epistle which Ovid imagines her to have 
written to her husband — 

" Impia, quid dubitas, Deianira, mori ? " * 

And so, without answering her son, she leaves the 
stage, and soon her nurse comes to tell the maidens 
that all is over. After wandering restlessly from room 
to room, mourning for the evil fate which had come 
upon her, she had thrown herself upon the bed of 
Hercules, and there ended her sorrow by a mortal 
wound from his sword ; and then Hyllus, learning her 
innocence too late, had embraced the insensate body, 
with idle tears and kisses. 

As the Chorus are lamenting her cruel death, the 
tramp of approaching steps is heard, and Hyllus and 
some attendants are seen carrying a litter, on which 
the huge frame of Hercules lies stretched. The convul- 
sive pains which had so cruelly tortured him are lulled 
for the moment, and he is plunged in a death-like 
stupor ; but he is roused by his son's voice, and with 
consciousness his agony revives, and he groans aloud 
in his despair. Will none, he asks, smite him with the 

* " Why, guilty Dejanira, why not die ?" 

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134 SOPffOCLES. 

sword, and give him the death he longs fori Then his 
thoughts turn to her who has wrought these sufferiiigB, 
and it angers him to think that the gigantic strength, 
which, Samson-like, had overcome all forms of death, 
and had tamed even the lion in his wrath, should have 
fallen victim to the snares of a Delilah — 

" For she a woman, woman-like in mind, 
Not of man's strength, alone, without a sword. 

She hath destroyed me 

Come, my son, be bold, 

And pity me, in all ways pitiable. 
Who like a girl must weep and shriek in pain ; 
And yet Hves there not one, who, ere it came. 
Could say that he had seen this man thus act. 
But ever I bore pain without a groan." — (P.) 

Let Hyllus, therefore, if he loves him, bring this false 
woman near him, that he may slay her before he dies 

Then Hyllus tells him of the fatal mistake of De- 
janira, and how fatally the mistake had been atoned. 
When Hercules hears that the robe had been dipped 
in the Centaur's blood, he recognises the will of the 
gods, and bows to his fate. It had been foretold to 
him long before, that, like Macbeth, he should die by 
the hand of " none of woman bom " — 

^< And thus the centaur monster, a? was shown, 
Though dead did slay me, who till now did live." 

This knowledge seems to teach him resignation. He 
utters no more groans or cries of anguish, but conjures 
Hyllus to bear his body to the top of (Eta, and there 

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to place it on a pile of wood, and kindle the flames 

Mmself : — 

" Let no tear 
Of wailing enter in, but do thy deed, 
If thou art mine, without a tear or groan ; 
Or else, though I be in the grave, my curse 
Shall rest upon thee grievous evermore." — (P.) 

One more demand he makes (according to our ideas, 
a revolting request) — HyUus must take lole to wife. 
The son, after much reluctance, promises obedience ; 
and so the drama ends. Ovid tells us how one of 
these commands Was obeyed — ^how the pile was reared ; 
how calm, " as though at a banquet," the hero spread 
his lion's skin over it and reclined thereon ; how the 
roaring flames rose upwards and around him — 

'' And as some serpent casts his wrinkled skin 
Rejuvenate, and with new burnished scales 
Delighted basks, so, of these mortal limbs 
Untrammelled, all the Hero's nobler part 
In nobler shape and loftier stature rose 
Eenewed, august, majestic, like a God ! 
Whom with those four immortal steeds that whirl 
His chariot-wheels, the Sire omnipotent 
Upbore sublime above the hollow clouds. 
And set amid the radiant stars of Heaven." ♦ 

* Ovid, Metam, iz. iv. (King.) 

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All that was mortal of Hercules, as we have seen, 
perished in the flames on Mount CEta ; but his famous 
bow and the arrows with the hydra's blood were 
not burnt with the hero. Philoctetes, his armour- 
bearer, had been among the few who had aided Hyllus 
in carrying his father up the steep sides of the moun- 
tain ; he had gathered the wood for the funeral-pile ; 
and it was said that he had with his own hands 
applied the torch and kindled the flames. In grati- 
tude for these last offices, Hercules had given him the 
bow and the poisoned arrows ; which proved a posses- 
sion almost as full of trouble to their new owner as 
they had to the hero himself. 

Philoctetes had sailed for Troy with the rest of the 
armament ; but on the voyage it happened that the 
Greek fleet touched at Chrysa, and there, w^hile rashly 
treading on consecrated ground, he had been bitten in 
the foot by a venomous serpent. The wound gangrened 
and festered — and so noisome was the stench from it, 
and so terrible were the sufferer's cries of agony, that. 

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by the advice of Ulysses, he was landed while asleep on 
the desert isle of Lenmos, and there left alone in his 

It is at Lenmos, accordingly, that the scene of this 
tragedy is laid. Instead of the usual palace or ances- 
tral mansion in the background — with the city on one 
side and the open country on the other — the spectators 
have nothing before them but rocks and waves ; and 
these for nine weary years had been the sole compan- 
ions of Philoctetes.* From time to time some stray 
ship had come, and the sailors had so far pitied him as 
to give him some scanty supplies of food and clothing ; 
but none would listen to his prayers that they would 
carry him home with them to Greece. And so he had 
lingered on, tortured by his rankling wound, — satisfy- 
ing his hunger with the birds that he brought down 
with his bow, and with difficulty dragging his limbs 
to the spring to quench his thirst. 
• Meanwhile Troy was still being besieged, though 
many of the great heroes of the war had met their 

* We ma}'^ compare a similar passage in Tennyson's Enoch 
Arden, p. 32, — 

" The monntain wooded to the peak, the lawns 
And winding glade high up like ways to heaven, 
The glories of the broad belt of the worid, 
All these he saw ; but what he fain had seen 
He could not see, the kindly human face, 
Nor ever heard a kindly voice, but heard 
The myriad shriek of wheeling ocean-fowl. 
The league-long roller thundering on the reef, 
As down the shore he ranged, or all day long 
Sat often in the seaward-gazing gorge, 
A shipwrecked sailor, waiting for a sail." 

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deaths around its walls. Hector had fallen by the 
sword of Achilles. Achilles himself had been struck 
with an arrow from the bow of Paris, guided by his 
«nemy the Sun-god. Ajax, as we have seen, had 
slain himself in his despair. But the surviving chief- 
tains maintained the war with the same obstinacy as 
before ; and recently a new aspect had been given to 
the struggle. They had captured Helenus, son of 
Priam, endowed like Cassandra with the gift of pro- 
phecy; and from him they learned that an oracle had 
disclosed that Troy should never be taken but by the 
son of Achilles and with the bow of Hercules. 

Accordingly, when the play opens, a Greek vessel 
has just reached Lemnos, bearing a deputation from the 
camp, to fetch Philoctetes and his fated arrows. At 
last in their own need the Greeks have bethought them 
of the comrade whom they had so cruelly deserted. 
And it is Ulysses, of all men, — Ulysses, by whose ad- 
vice the unhappy man had been left behind, — ^who 
now comes to induce him — by persuasion if possible, 
by force if need be — ^to give the allies the aid of his 
weapons. Such an ambassador on such an errand 
would have seemed of all men the least likely to succeed. 
Sophocles probably did but take this part of the tale 
as he found it ; and Ipy^dty to the epic tradition, that 
no enterprise which required diplomacy, eloquence, or 
subtle device, could possibly be undertaken by the 
Greeks without the aid of " the man of many wiles," 
led the story-tellers, and Sophocles after them, to make 
him the envoy on this as on similar occasions. With 
him, however, is a comrade of a very different charac- 

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ter. This is the yoxmg Neoptolemus (better known to 
US, perhaps, by his surname of Pyrrhus — " the Eed "), 
son of the dead Achilles. The poet's reasons for thus 
associating him with Ulysses (for here the dramatist 
takes original ground of his own) are sufficiently clear. 
The young chief was wholly guiltless of any compli- 
city in the injury done to the hero by the older Greeks 
in deserting him ; for he was then a boy in Phthiotis, 
far from the scene of action. Neoptolemus, too, has 
a special interest in procuring the charmed weapons, 
for it is to him the Fates point as the hero who is to 
win the town of Troy. 

The two voyagers have landed, and they commence 
the dialogue' of the piece. Ulysses knows the locali- 
ties weU. The cave with double entrance, with the 
fountain close at hand — it was here that, so many years 
ago, they had left their wretched comrade asleep. He 
bids Neoptolemus advance along the rocks and explore 
the neighbourhood, and look cautiously into the cavern, 
to ascertain whether he whom they seek lies within. 
He keeps himself in the background, for to be dis- 
covered by Philoctetes would be ruin to his plan. The 
younger chief easily finds the place — the bed of leaves, 
the wooden drinking-vessel, the few rags for dressing 
the wounded foot — such is the poor wealth of the oc- 
cupant ; but he is not within. Ulysses, then, after 
setting one of the crew to watch, discloses to his young 
companion — very conveniently for the audience — the 
plan which he wishes him to pursue in order to get 
Philoctetes and his arrows on board their vessel. If the 
too prosaic and curious reader should remark that this 

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disclosure comes very late, when there had been such 
ample time during the voyage for Ulysses to explain 
his whole design, it may be very fairly answered, that the 
wily Greek was aware that there was much in it which 
was sure to disgust the young chiefs ingenuous nature, as 
it presently does ; and that he was anxious not to enter 
into these awkward details until the last moment, when 
it would be almost too late for the other to draw back. 
The plan is this : Ulysses himself is to keep out of 
sight entirely, — for him to show his face on the island 
would be quite enough to determine the sufferer never 
to set foot on board the same vessel as his enemy, and 
probably to make them both a mark for his terrible 
arrows. Neoptolemus is to approach him, with a very 
plausible tale ; how the Greeks, after bringing him to 
Troy, had refused to give him the arms of his father 
Achilles, awarding them instead to Ulysses, upon 
whose name he receives full permission to shower 
every term of scorn and reproach. Ulysses will take 
it rather as a compliment, under the circumstances, 
that he should do so. He is to add that, stung by 
this insult, he had left the fleet, and is now on his voy- 
age homewards, and to offer Philoctetes a safe passage 
to his own country. 

The younger chief at first repudiates utterly any such 
falsehood and treachery : — 

** The thing which even in word I loathe to hear, 
Son of Laertes, — that I scorn to do. 
My nature was not made for crooked guile ; 
Nor mine, nor, as men say, his that begot me. 
I am content to take the man by force, 

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So not by treachery ; for his single strength 
Were scarce a match, I trow, for all our crew. 
Still, having shared thine errand, I were loath 
To seem a recreant now ; yet would I rather 
• Fail through fair deeds than win a foul success." 

The reader wants little more to put him in posses- 
sion of the character of Xeoptolemus. Gallant and 
impetuous, open and chivalrous, he is the true son of 
the ideal knight of Greek romance, the great Achilles, 
who had declared, in Homer's words — ^which we can 
see, from the brief passing allusion, were in the mind 
of the dramatist, as he knew they surely would be in 
those of his audience — 

" Who dares think one thing and another tell, 
My heart detests him as the gates of heU." * 

Not so Ulysses. The crafty man of the world sneers 
at the youthful enthusiast for honesty and straightfor- 
wardness. Such things are very well — in their time 
and place. He himseK had tried them : — 

*' Son of a gallant sire, I was young once. 
And used my tongue not much, my hand full promptly ; 
But now, schooled by experience, I can see 
That in all mortal dealings 'tis the tongue 
And not the hand that wins the mastery." 

After a brief parley, the plausible counsels of 
Ulysses prevail over the better feelings of his com- 
rade. The argument which the latter cannot resist is, 
that without these arrovrs of Hercules he will lose the 

♦ Iliad, ix. 812 — Pope's translation, which even Mr Glad- 
stone pronounces "not quite unworthy" of the originaL 

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4 so^U^ 

and decorations, as well 
Greek would have regard 
the tragedian aaIio made 
Sophist who might {as mu 
money for his lectuB^=^, or 
accept salary or pension i 
labour of love.* All s\i 
should be left to the has' 
man should degrade his [j^ 
trade. In th<^ case of thi^ 
to receive his iiispimtion dw 
have been simple prof an a' 
very bread of life. It wa 
pense for him if the Stati 
senting the State ^ — shoul ! 
Chorus, that he might *' s^. 
— assisted with all the p^; 
hallowed by the solemnity < 
breathed, by artists elaln^r 
the eloquence of words, n 
Greece." t 

Like every other Ath^^iu 
tician, and he took his p.u" 

* We may judge how merct f 
would have seemed Buch an ■ 
Academy, from tht* analogou.-^ 
day, who exhibited his piotuie . ; 
doors. Crowds tlonted to so<- 
cleared a large stiin— hut the u: 
a satirical public to *The Coui^ 
and Customs of Ancient Gree' - , 

+ Lord Lytton's Athens, it 




IV tliat we come 

: I joy it is 

i.oo liere? 
: liee on ? 

ros' iale, 


ii Irliod man 

= .".g filiief, of 


I li Avo have 

Atreid^a and 

iiTmnged he- 

lle^ tooj has 

iefal-sc Ulysses. 

tctetes, and re- 

\vhieh have 

ij:>! comrades, 


< dead 1 He is 

vr rejected his 

:ir. Nothing 

■ iT basj'iiess or 

.>r had lie ever 

3ons of Atreus. 



glory of taking Troy. So Ulysses leaves tiie stage, 
commending his young friend — with a calculating 
piety which unhappily is not peculiar to pagan dra- 
matists — ^to the care of the goddess of Wisdom, his 
own special protectress, and to Hermes, the god of 
guile. The piety of Ulysses (for he was pious afber 
his own fashion) breathes the spirit of the famous 
praj^er in the * Critic,' — 

" Grant us to accomplish all our ends, 
And sanctify whatever means we. use 
To gain them." 

The Chorus, who now take up the action, are com- 
posed in this play of the crew of Neoptolemus's vessel, 
and appear, from their reminiscences, to be some of the 
veteran " Myrmidons " who had served at Troy under 
his father Achille3. They proceed, by the young 
chiefs permission, to explore the island; keeping a 
careful watch, however, lest its solitary inhabitant 
should suddenly surprise them, and launch against 
such intruders his poisoned shafts. iNTeoptolemus 
shows them the opening in the rock which leads to 
the cavern, but tells them that the sufferer is not now 
within. They soon hear the cry of one in pain ; as 
they listen, the sound comes nearer, and^ dragging his 
steps painfuUy along the rocky pathway, Philoctetes 
makes his appearance. He haUs the strangers, and 
inquires their country and their errand : — 

" Your outward guise and dress of Hellas speak. 
To me most dear, and yet I fain would hear 
Your speech ; and draw not back from me in dread. 
As fearing this my wild and savage look, 

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• But pity one unhappy, left alone, 
Thus helpless, friendless, worn with weary ills : 
Speak, if it be ye come to me as friends. 

Neop, Know this then first, O stranger, that we come 
Of Hellas all ; for this thou seek'st to know. 

Phil, O dear-loved sound ! Ah me ! what joy it is 
After long years to hear a voice like thine ! 
What led thee hither, what need brought thee here ? 
Whither thy voyage, what blest wind bore thee on ? 
Tell all, that I may know thee who thou art 

Ne(yp, By birth I come from sea-girt Skyros' isle, 
And I sail homeward, I, Achilles* son. 
Named Neoptolemos. Now know*st thou alL" — (P.) 

And does Neoptolemus know the wretched man 
before himi asks Philoctetes. The young chief, of 
course, professes entire ignorance ; and Philoctetes 
proceeds to tell his miserable history, which we have 
told before ; and he invokes curses on the Atreidae and 
on Ulysses, who planned his wrongs. 

Then Neoptolemus tells his story, as arranged be- 
tween himself and Ulysses previously. He, too, has 
reason to curse the brother-kings and the false Ulysses. 
But his very first words remind Philoctetes, and re- 
mind the audience, of the long years which have 
elapsed since he was here deserted by his comrades, 

" When tibe Fates ruled it that Achilles died." 
What — breaks in the exile — is Achilles dead 1 He is 
indeed, and Ulysses and the Atreidae have rejected his 
son's rightful claim to the hero's armour. Nothing 
whiqh he hears of Ulysses, in the way of baseness or 
falsehood, can surprise Philoctetes. Nor had he ever 
much confidence in the justice of the sons of Atreus. 

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But there was one chief among the Greeks who would 
surely, he thought, have prevented this wrong. Ajax 
was honest surely, if none else — 

" He was no more, stranger. Had he lived, 
I had not thus heen cheated of my right." 

True — the questioner had again forgotten the changes 
of ten years. Is it then possible (he grasps eagerly at 
the hope) that his bitter enemy Ulysses — " the bastard 
of Sisyphus," as he calls him — and Diomed, who had 
been his abettor in the treachery, are they too dead 1 for 
at least they were unfit to live. Neoptolemus replies — 

" In sooth, not they : be sure they flourish yet, 
Holding high place amid the Argive host." 

And Nestor — ^the noble old warrior, his personal friend, 
whose prudent counsel was wont to curb the rashness 
of the younger captains — he is probably dead also? 
1^0 ; the old man lives, but lives to mourn the loss of 
Antilochus, the son of his old age, whom death, in its 
bitter irony, has taken before the father. And Patro- 
clus, the trusty friend of Achilles % — 

" He, too, has fallen. Lo I in one brief word 
I tell thee all : War never, with good will, 
Doth choose the evil man, or leave the good. 

Phil, I hold it true ; and for that very cause 
Wni ask thee yet as to one worthless wretch, 
Of subtle tongue and crafty, how he fares ? 

He must mean Ulysses, says Neoptolemus, — ^follow- 
ing his chiefs instructions to abuse him, apparently 
with considerable zest. But it is Thersites, the mob- 
orator of Homer, the man who boldly speaks evil of 

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dignities, who is in Philoctetes' mind. Every Athen- 
ian in the audience would remember the description of 
him in -the Iliad. He is alive, of course 1 Neoptole- 
mus imdeistands that he is, though he has never seen 
him. Philoctetes replies bitterly — 

"Well may he live, for nothing bad will die. 
So well the gods do fence it round about ; 
And still they joy to turn from Hades back 
The cunning and the crafty, while they send 
The just and good below." — (P.) 

Neoptolemus purposes ostensibly to return to his 
ship, to wait for the rising of the breeze which is to 
bear him home to Scyros. For he will never see the 
Greek camp and the sons of Atreus more. Never 
again will he be found amongst a company 

" Where still the evil lord it o'er the good, 
And honour starves, and cowardice bears sway." 

He bids farewell to Philoctetes, and prays that heaven 
may soon send some cure for his pains. Then follows 
a scene which, in the hands of a good actor, must have 
been one of the most effective in the play. Seeing 
himself about to be thus a second time deserted, Phil- 
octetes breaks into an agonised entreaty that the young 
chief and his sailors will take him on board their 
vessel Put him where they will, " in hold, or stem, or 
stem,*' he cares not, so he may see once more his father 
and his native land. It will be a noble deed, and 

** Noble souls 
Still find the base is hurtful, and the good 
Is full of glory." 
A. C. vol. X. K 

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The young chief acts his assumed part welL It is 
easy to imagine, from the frequent hreaks in the appeal 
made to him by Philoctetes, the by-play of hesitation — 
now turning to depart, and now apparently half relent- 
ing — ^with which he listens to the sufferer's entreaties. 
The Chorus are moved to pity. They pray their young 
captain to assent. They, for their own part, are quite 
willing to bear the inconvenience of such a passenger, 
though his grievous afUction will, as he warns them, 
make him no very pleasant companion on ship-board. 
So he yields to this double solicitation, and Philoctetes 
turns to bid a pathetic farewell to the scene of his long 
and miserable exile, to which he nevertheless bears 
some sort of affection, when two men are seen ap- 
proaching. They are two of the ship-guard — one of 
them disguised as a merchant, who professes to have 
just landed on the island, and, hearing of Ifeoptole- 
mus's presence there, has come to bring him important 
news from the coast of Troy, whence he himself has 
lately sailed. It is, in fact, an additional stratagem of 
Ulysses, brought into play apparently for the purpose 
of hurrying Philoctetes on board the vessel. The pre- 
tended merchant's tale is that the Greeks, in their 
wrajbh at the defection of Neoptolemus, have despatched 
an expedition to overtake him and bring him back by 
force. Another party has also sailed under Ulysses and 
Diomed, in quest of a certain Philoctetes, without 
whom the Fates have declared Troy cannot be taken, 
and whom Ulysses has pledged himself — and offered 
his own head as a forfeit if he fails — to bring into the 
Grecian camp either by force or by persuasion. Great 

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is the apparent dismay of the stranger at being told 
that Philoctetes stands before him; and great the 
indignation of Philoctetes to hear that he is to be 
taken now to Troy, as he had been before left in 
Lenmos, at the pleasure of his detested enemy : — 

** Wretch that I am ! this villain, most accmsed. 
Hath he then swom to lure me back to Greece ? 
Ab soon shall he persuade me, when no more, 
like his false father, to return to earth." * 

The agent of Ulysses is far too discreet to under- 
stand the sneer at his master's birth. He makes 
answer sedately, — 

" Of this I nothing know, but to my ship 
Depart The gods aright direct you both." — (D.) 

The object of this particular scene, which seems, in 
point of fact, rather to throw difficulties in the way of 
Neoptolemus and rouse the obstinacy of Philoctetes, is 
by no means easy to understand. It serves to compli- 
cate the action, and that is all It may be that the 
poet wishes to show, in the character of Ulysses, that 
insolence of conscious power which does not care so 
much to accomplish its object easily, as to enjoy the 
discomfiture of a weaker opponent. If this was the 
intention, and if, as seems possible, Ulysses is all the 
while supposed to be within ear-shot (as he certainly 
is at a later stage of the action), then there would be 
produced upon the audience, as is not uncommon in 

* Sisjrphns, who (and not Laertes) was said to have been the 
real father of Ulysses. 

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the Attic tragedies, a half-comic effect by the protest 
of Philoctetes, delivered, as it were, in the very pre- 
sence of the man between whom and himself he is 
determined to put the wide barrier of the sea, and into 
whose very arms he is thus about to rush in his eager 
haste to escape him. 

The wind is against them as yet, says Keoptolemus — 
they must wait a while. Nay, replies the other, — 

" All winds are fair to him who flies from woe." 

But before he embarks, he has some poor treasures 
which he must needs get together and take with him. 
A herb there is which he has found on the island, 
which in some sort soothes the anguish of lus wounded 
foot. And — he must take good heed that he leaves 
behind no one of the fateful arrows. Then, for the 
first time, I^eoptolemus seems to remark the bow which 
he carries. Is this the wondrous bow of Hercules^ 
May he be allowed to handle it for a moment, — ^nay, 
to print a reverent kiss upon the sacred relic of so 
renowned a hero 1 And while the sufferer, leaning on 
his new-found friend, withdraws into his cavern to 
seek what he requires, the Chorus, as they tread the 
stage in measured time to the accompanying music, 
chant an ode expressive of their kindly sympathy. 

And now the pair reappear upon the scene, to begin 
their way to the ship, when suddenly Philoctetes stops, 
and utters a suppressed cry. One of those paroxysms 
of agony which his wound causes him from time to 
time has come on at this moment. Dreading the effect 
which it may have upon Neoptolemus and his crew, as 

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reminding them of the annoyance which the close 
companionship of such a wretch is sure to prove to 
them throughout their voyage, he strives for a while to 
conceal his anguish. "'Tis but a trifle" — "he is 
better again." But at last the trial is too much for 
liim. Maddened by the pain, be begs of his friend to 
draw his sword and smite off the miserable limb, — nay, 
if it cost him his life, the deed will be a charity. But 
no, — these paroxysms are terrible while they last, but 
after a while, having run their course, they will sub- 
side. He cannot bear even the touch of the hand 
which Neoptolemus extends to support him : — 

" Nay, not so : 
But take my bow and arrows, which but now 
Thou askedst for, and keep them till the force 
Of the sharp pain be spent ; yea, guard them well, 
For slumber takes me when this evil ends, 
Nor can it cease before ; but thou must leave me 
To sleep in peace ; and should they come meanwhile 
Of whom we have heard, by all the gods I charge thee 
Nor with thy will, nor yet against it, give 
These things to them, by any art entrapped, 
Lest thou shouldst deal destruction on thyself 
And me who am thy suppliant. 

Neop, Take good heart. 

If forethought can avail. To none but thee 
And me shall they be given. Hand them to me. 
And good luck come with them ! 

Phil, {giving the bow and arrows^ Lo there, my son ! 
Receive thou them ; but first adore the power 
Whose name is Jealousy, that they may prove 
To thee less full of trouble than they were 
To me, and him who owned them ere I owned, 

Neop, So be it, ye gods, to both of us ; 

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And may we have a fair and prosperous voyage 

Wliere God thinks ri^t, and these our ships are bound ! " 

Alas ! the prayer, Philoctetes fears, will he in vain. 
The spasms have come on afresh ; and his great fear is 
lest his new-found friend shall desert him after all : — 

"And wilt thou stay? 
Neop, Deem that beyond all doubt 
Phil. I do not care to bind thee by an oath. 
Neop. I may not go from hence apart from thee. 
Phil. Give me thy hand as pledge. 
Neop. I give it thee 

As pledge of our remaining." — (Pi) 

At length — after a scene of physical suffering pro- 
tracted to a length which proves that the taste of an 
Athenian audience for sensation was as keen as that of 
any modem play-goer, though the sensation is of a dif- 
ferent type — ^nature is exhausted, and the sufferer sinks 
into a death-like sleep. As he lies there, while I^eop- 
tolemus retires into the background, the Chorus take 
up their chant again. It is in part an invocation 
to sleep, mingled with hints to I^eoptolemus (whose 
instructions from Ulysses they seem partly to under- 
stand, partly only to suspect) that now, while he lies 
thus helpless, there is an opportunity to carry him 
off bodily, or to make safe prize of the coveted weapons 
of Hercules : — 

" O sleep that know'st not pain ! 
O sleep that know'st not care ! 
Would thou mightst come with blessed balmy air. 
And blessing long remain, . 

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And from his eyes ward off the noontide blaze, 

Now full upon him poured. 

Come as our healer, lord ! 
And thou, my son, look well to all thy ways ; 

What next demands our thought ? 

What now must needs be wrought ? 

Thou seest him ; — and I ask 

Why we delay our task ; 
Occasion that still holds to counsel right 
With quickest speed appears as conqueror in the fight." 

They continue their chant in this strain of innuendo, 
while Philoctetes lies stretched in the sleep of physical 

The conflict between the better nature of the young 
chief and the uncongenial task he has undertaken, has 
begun long before the sufferer awakes. It is shown 
but faintly in the dialogue; but an actor who threw 
himseK into the part would no doubt express it very 
intelligibly by his movements and gestures, while he 
watched the sleeper and listened to the strains of the 
Chorus. Loyalty to what he holds to be the public 
interest of the Greek cause, the overwhelming import- 
ance of the capture of Troy, the renown which awaits 
him personally as its conqueror, — all these have to be 
weighed in the scale against an act of unquestionable 
treachery, — ^yet after all, it might be said, a treachery 
rather to the advantage of the victim. His embar- 
rassment is completed by the words of Philoctetes, 
when at length he awakes from his troubled sleep, 
the agony subdued for a while, and addresses his 
deliverers, as he thinks them, with simple gratitude 
and confidence : — 

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^'Fhil, (waking) light that follows sleep ! help, my 
Had never dared to hope for from these strangers ! 
Jor never had I dreamt, boy, that thou 
With such true pity wouldst endure to bear 
All these my sorrows, and remain and help. 
The AtreidfiB ne*er had hea^t to bear ^th them 
As well as thou hast borne. Brave generals they ! 
But thou, my son, who art of noble heart. 
And sprung from noble-hearted ones, hast made 
But light of aU."— (P.) 

Philoctetes begs that they may sail at once. And 
Neoptolemus assists him to rise and move in the 
direction of the ship. But suddenly the young man 
stops; he can endure to keep up this deception no 

" Neop, O heavens ! what now remains for me to do 1 

Phil, What ails thee, O my son ? what words are these ? 

Neop, I know not how to speak my sore distress. 

PhU. Distress from what ? Speak not such words, my 

Neop, And yet in that calamity I stand 

PhU, It cannot be my wound's foul noisomeness 
Hath made thee loath to take me in thy ship ? 

Neop, All things are noisome when a man deserts 
His own true self, and does what is not meet. 

Phil, But thou, at least, nor doest aught nor sa/st, 
Unworthy of thy father's soul, when thou 
Dost help a man right honest. 

Neop. I shall seem 

Basest of men. Long since this tortured me." — (P.) 

At length he tells Philoctetes the truth, — he is com- 
missioned to carry him to Troy. Then Philoctetes 

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l)reaks out into very natural indignation, and demands 
his weapons back. " That may not be," says Neop- 
tolemus. His victim's wrath, mingled with an unwil- 
lingness to believe in such treachery under so fair an 
outside seeming, 13 expressed in. one of the finest pas- 
sages in the play : — 

" Thou loathed inventor of atrocious fraud, 
"What hast thou done — ^how wronged my easy faith ? 
Doth it not shame thee to behold me thus, . 
A suitor and a suppliant, wretch, to thee ? 
Stealing my bow, of life thou hast bereft me. 
Restore, I pray thee, O my son, restore it ! 
By thine ancestral gods, take not my life ! 
Wretch that I am, he deigns not e*en reply. 
But still looks backward, as resolved to spurn me. 
Ye ports, ye beetling crags, ye haunts obscure 
Of mountain-beasts, ye wild and broken rocks. 
To you I mourn, for I have none beside ! 
To you, who oft have heard me, tell the wrongs. 
The cruel deeds Achilles' son hath wrought ! 
Pledged to convey me home, he sails to Troy ; 
Plighting his hand in faith, he meanly steals 
My bow, the sacred arms of Jove's great son, 
And would display them to the Grecian host. 
By force he takes me, as some vigorous chief. 
Nor knows his triumph is achieved o'er one 
Long helpless as the dead — a shadowy cloud — 
An empty phantom. In my hour of might 
He ne'er had seized me thus, since, in my ills, 
He but by fraud entrapped me. I am now 
Deceived to my despair. What shall I do ? — 
Ah ! yet restore them, be again thyself. 
What dost thou say ? — Yet silent ? — Then I perish. 
Thou double ported of the rock, again 

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I enter thee, of arms, of life, deprived. 

But I must pine forsaken in the cave ; 

Nor winged bird, nor mountain-ranging beast, 

Shall these good darts bring down. I yield in death 

To those a banquet, who supplied my own. 

• ••••» 

I will not curse thee, ere I learn if yet 

Thou wilt relent— if not, all evil blast thee ! "— (D.) 

!N'eoptolemns makes a motion to restore the bow, 
when Ulysses (who, we must suppose, has been a 
listener to at least the latter portion of the dialogue) 
rushes in between them : — 

" Ulys, What wouldst thou do, 

vilest of mankind ? Wilt thou not hence, 
The sacred arms resigning to my hand ? 

PhU, Ha 1 who is this ? Ulysses do I h&ss ? 

Uly9, Ay, I who stand before thee am Ulysses. 

Phil. 0, 1 am sold, undone ! This is the wretch 
Who snared and hath despoiled me of mine arms. 

Vlys* 'Tis I, in sooth — none else. I own the deed 

Phil, Bestore, give back the arms to me, my son ! 

Ulys, This, did he wish, he would not dare to grant. 
But thou must hence with us, or those around 
By force must drag thee."— (D.) 

In vain does the sufferer appeal to Heaven against 
such wrong ; it is Heaven, says Ulysses, whose will he 
and Neoptolemus are obeying in forcing him to Troy. 
Then he will throw himself headlong from the rock, 
and end his misery at once, rather than be thus dis- 
graced. But he is seized and overpowered by order 
of Ulysses, who listens with a calm composure to the 

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bitter invectives which his prisoner hurls at him. 
When Philoctetes at last pauses in his denunciation, 
Ulysses replies in nieasured words which are a 
perfect index to his character, as drawn hy the 
poet : — 

" I might say much in answer to his words, 
If there were time. Now this one word I speak : 
Where men like this are wanted, such am I ; 
But when the time for good and just men calls, 
Thou couldst not find a godlier man than me. 
In every case it is my bent to win, 
Except with thee. To thee of mine own will 
I yield the victory. Ho, leave him there ! 
Lay no hand on him, — ^let him here remain. 
With these thy arms, we have no need of thee : 
Teucros is with us, skilled in this thine art ; 
And I, too, boast that I, not less than thou, 
This bow can handle, with my hand shoot straight ; 
What need we thee ? In Lemnos walk at will. 
And let us go. And they perchance wiU give 
As prize to me what rightly thou mightst claim." — (P.) 

The character of Ulysses is drawn in stronger and 
less favourable colours by the dramatist than as he 
appears in either of the Homeric poems. There is a 
cold cruelty in his treatment of Philoctetes, &om first 
to last, which does not characterise him in either the 
Iliad or Odyssey. It is true that he is serving no 
selfish end ; it is in the cause of Greece that he under- 
takes this commission, as it was in the same interest 
(we must suppose) that he advised the desertion of 
Philoctetes at Lemnos. "We must not wonder that, 
like many diplomatists, he is little scrupulous as to 

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means. But he seems almost to revel in the odious- 
ness of his self-imposed duty. 

He withdraws again from the scene, taking with him 
the reluctant and repentant ^eoptolemus, who is half 
inclined to listen to the appeal of their victim. The 
crew, hy Neoptolemus's permission, remain, and strive 
to console the sufferer, who laments his miserable fate 
in strains to which the Chorus make such reply as they 
can: — 

" Ah me ! upon the shore. 

Where the wild waters roar. 

He sits and laughs at me, 

And tosseth in his hand 

What cheered my misery, 
What ne'er till now another might command. 

O how most dear to me, 

Tom from these hands of mine, 

If thou hast sense to see. 

Thou lookest piteously 

At this poor mate of thine, 

The friend of Heracles, 
Who never more shall wield thee as of old ; 

And thou, full ill at ease, 
Art bent by hands of one for mischief bold, 

All shameful deeds beholding. 

Deeds of fierce wrath and hate, 
And thousand evils from base thoughts unfolding 
Which none till now had ever dared to perpetrate." 


But they are interrupted by the sudden return of 
Neoptolemus, in high dispute with Ulysses, who is 
tr3ring to hold him back. The young chief has made 
up his mind. He will do the right, come what may. 

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The glory of taking Troy will be no compensation for 
the loss of self-respect. He will at once give back the 
-weapons of Hercules. In vain Ulysses threatens him 
with the vengeance of the allied Greeks ; in vain — or 
lYorse than in vain — he lays his hand significantly 
upon his sword. The young chief replies to the threat 
by a fierce grasp of the hilt of his own weapon ; and 
Ulysses, too wary to involve himself in a dangerous 
and discreditable brawl, contents himself with an ap- 
peal to the Greeks in council. Neoptolemus will not 
spare him a natural sarcasm on his discretion : — 

" Thou hast shown prudence ; be as prudent ever, 
And thou mayest chance to keep thyself from harm." 

But Ulysses, as he turns off in disgust, either does not 
hear, or affects not to hear, the taunt. Then the other 
calls Philoctetes out of his cave, and restores to him 
the weapons. Ulysses comes forward again, and loudly 
protests against such weakness ; but Philoctetes, once 
more master of his bow, vengefully prepares to launch 
an arrow at his enemy, when Neoptolemus stays his 
hand. Once more the latter tries to urge upon him to 
go with them to Troy of his own free will, and so reap 
the glories which await him there ; but arguments on 
this point have no avail, and he prepares to redeem 
his pledge to carry the exile home. 

The perplexity is solved by an expedient allowable 
in the Greek drama, though it would be held inartistic 
in our own, Hercules himself intervenes. The hero- 
god appears suddenly in mid-air (and we have reason to 
believe the scenic appliances were complete enough for 

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such appearance to be highly effective), and stands before 
the mortal captains radiant in the glories of Olympus. 
Such a visitor is, after aU, not a bolder appeal to the 
supernatural than the ghost in Hamlet ; and perhaps 
the half- imaginative belief of the educated portion 
of an Athenian audience in the continual existence, 
in some higher state, of their national heroes, might 
correspond pretty nearly to the belief in ghosts wl^ich 
would have been found amongst the same class of 
Englishmen in Shakspeare's day. It would be suffi- 
cient — indeed, it is practically sufficient still — ^for the 
sentiment of the tragedy. The tableau on the stage 
was no doubt highly effective when Hercules, with a 
commanding gesture, arrests the steps of Philoctetes as 
he is moving off: — 

" Not yet, O son of Paeas, ere once more 
Our accents reach thine ear. 
Know 'tis the voice of Hercules thou hearest. 
His form thine eyes behold. 
To watch thy fortunes I awhile have left 
My own celestial seat, 

That Jove*8 almighty mandate I may breathe, 
And in his name forbid thy purposed course." 


He tells his friend of the glory which yet awaits him, 
— how he shall be healed of his wound, shall slay 
Paris with one of the fateful arrows, and be judged the 
bravest of the Greek host. And when Troy has fallen by 
his hands and those of I^eoptolemus, let them not for- 
get, in the hour of their triumph, to reverence the gods ; 
for that alone can bring lasting happiness to mortals. 

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Philoctetes cannot resist tlie voice of the great hero 
whom he still loves and honours. He accompanies 
N"eoptolemus to the ship; hut hefore they go, he 
chants his last words of farewell to the scene of his 
long hanishment: — 

" Come, then, and let us hid farewell 
To this lone island where I dwell : 
Farewell, O home that still didst keep 
Due vigil o'er me in my sleep ; 
Ye nymphs hy stream or wood that roam ; 
Thou mighty voice of ocean's foam, 
Where oftentimes my head was wet 
With drivings of the South wind's fret ; 
And oft the mount that Hermes owns 
' Sent forth its answer to my groans, 
The wailing loud as echo given 
To me by tempest-storms sore driven ; 
And ye, fountains clear and cool, 
Thou Lykian well, the wolves' own pool — 
We leave you, yea, we leave at last, 
Though small our hope in long years past : 
Farewell, O plain of Lemnos' isle, 
Around whose coasts the bright waves smile. 
Send me with prosperous voyage and fair 
Where the great Destinies may bear. 
Counsels of friends, and God supreme in Heaven 
Who aU this lot of ours hath well and wisely given." 


This tragedy has been highly praised both by French 
and by English critics, and it has undoubtedly the 
merit of being simple and natural, though the interest 
is of a weaker quality than in most of the plays of 
Sophocles. The character of Neoptolemus is weU 

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drawn ; and the struggles "between interest and duty — 
or rather between what seem to him two conflicting 
duties — are interesting, if not highly tragic. But the 
play has one prominent feature which mars the whole 
effect to our English taste. !N'o man can be a hero, to 
our notions, whose sufferings are wholly physical ; and 
far less one who demands our sympathies for such 
sufferings by physical expressions of pain. Upon a 
Greek audience, no doubt, the effect was different 
The enjoyment of life was very keen among the Athen- 
ians : they also felt bodily pain more keenly, with 
their sensitive organisations, than we do, and they 
certainly expressed their feelings with far less reticence. 
For them, the diseased foot, and the cries of agony to 
which it gives occasion, had possibly a real tragic 
interest To us it is not so. All the ingenuity and 
ability of critics fails to make such a subject anything 
but distasteful to an ordinary English mind. We 
almost forgive the Greeks for leaving Philoctetes be- 
hind, if he was always shrieking and bemoaning him- 
self after the fashion assigned to him in the play. It 
is one of the hardest things connected with continued 
bodily suffering, when it finds vent in audible groans 
and complaints, that instead of rousing the sympathies 
of those in attendance on the sufferer, it is too apt to 
dull and weary them. Cries and complaints may be 
unavoidable, but to our notions they are always un- 
dignified and unmanly. Our cold and stem temper 
demands that pain be borne in silence — ignored 
altogether, so far as possible. Its audible expressions 
belong with us to comedy, not to tragedy. Even in 

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the Biad, we are not touched with the dying groans 
of the heroes. Our ideal hero is mute in suffering — 
he must have more of the nature of the Boman wolf- 
cub — 

" He dies in silence, biting hard, 
Amid the dying hounds." 

But in this respect, the Philoctetes of Sophocles is 
not only at variance with modern tastes and sympa- 
thies ; it stands also in strong contrast with an earlier 
Greek tragedy of a severer type, in which the hero is 
also represented in the extremity of physical suffering 
— ^the Prometheus of -^chylus. The Titan is brought 
upon the stage to be fastened to his rock, there to 
waste away for long years in sufferings compared with 
which those of Philoctetes are but ordinary : the ada- 
mantine rivets are driven through his chest, but he 
utters no cry of physical anguish. Nay, so long as his 
tormentors are present, he is mute altogether. When 
he utters his grand appeal to Earth, and Sky, and 
Sea, — ^it is against the injustice of his doom, rather 
than the bitterness of the torture. He launches de- 
fiance against his torturer, not complaints. Therefore, 
even across the gulf of centuries, we feel almost as an 
Athenian audience felt the grandeur of the conception. 
It is true enough, as has been said, that Sophocles is 
far more human in his tragic pathos than the elder 
poet; but there are phases of humanity, intensely 
natural, which are yet no fit subjects for dramatic 
representation; and it is surely not a decline but a 
development of critical taste, which reckons physical 
pain as one of them. 

A. 0. vol X. X* 

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In this drama Sophocles has selected a portion of 
the same story which formed the subject of the famous^ 
trilogy of iEschylus. The Electra is simply the return 
of Orestes, and the vengeance which he takes on 
Clytemnestra and ^Egisthus. By hoth poets this act 
of vengeance is elevated to a religious duty. The gods 
above and the shades of the dead below demand that 
a " foul unnatural murder " shall not go unpunished. 
Accordingly Orestes never swerves for a moment from 
his deadly purpose. Pity and tenderness have no 
place in his breast, nor do we ever find him reasoning 
with himseK after the manner of Hamlet — 

" heart, lose not thy nature ; let not ever 
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom ; 
Let me be cruel, not unnatural ; 
I will speak daggers, but will use none."* 

Once more — as in the trilogy of -^schylus — ^the 
scene is the royal palace of the PelopidaB, *'rich in 

* Hamlet, act ili. so. 8. 

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gold and rich, in slaugliter," as.Electra describes it, 
fronted by the stately " Gate of lions " which then 
guarded the statue of Apollo, and built in that stupen- 
dous Cyclopsean style which still impresses every tra- 
veller.. But Agatharchus, or whatever artist Sophocles 
employed, has given us on this occasion more than the 
usual architectural background. There is the grove of 
lo, "the tormented wanderer," and the market-place 
sacred to ApoUo as the "Wolf-god;" on the left is 
the famous temple of Juno, while in the far distance 
are seen the towers of Argos.* The time is early morn- 
ing in Athens as well as on the stage, and it is such 
a morning as Chaucer would have loved, with the hills 
and greenwood bright and fresh in the sunlight, as one 
of the speakers describes it, — 

" Which wakes the birds to tune their matin song. 
And star-decked night's dark shadows flee away. — (P.) 

Two young men enter. They are the famous Mends, 
whose names, like those of David and Jonathan, have 
consecrated all later friendships, — Orestes and Pylades. 
With them comes an old and faithful servant (perhaps 
" the watchman " of ^Eschylus's ' Agamemnon '), who 
had saved the young Orestes at the time of his father's 
murder, had reared him up to manhood, and is now 

* Mr Jebb quotes Clark's Peloponnesus (p. 72), with refer- 
ence to the famous historic localities wMch Sophocles has thus 
brought together in one picture, irrespectively of distance, and 
which Clark compares with a stage direction in Victor Hugo's 
play of * Marie Tudor.' "Palais de Richmond : dans le fond 
il gauche TEglise de Westminster^ & droite la Tour de Londres." 
— Jebb's Electra, p. 8. 

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guiding him back, after his long exile, to the familiar 
scenes of Argolia Orestes has returned to Mycenae 
(as he tells his Mends and the audience) on a holy 
mission of vengeance, consecrated by Apollo himself j 
but in order to gain his ends he must use a pious fraud. 
His old attendant must enter the palace, and represent 
himself as a Phocian stranger, sent by an old Mend 
of the family : — 

'' And tell them — yea, and add a Bolemn oath — 
That some fell fete has brought Orestes* death 
In Pythian games, from out the whirling car 
Rolled headlong to the earth. This tale tell thou ; 
And we, first honouring my father's grave. 
As the God bade us, with libations pure 
And tresses from our brow, will then come back, 
Bearing the urn well wrought with sides of bronze, 
Which, thou knoVst well, 'mid yonder shrubs lies hid. 
That we with crafty words may bring to them 
The pleasant news that my poor frame is gone, 
Consumed with fire, to dust and ashes turned. 

So I, from out this rumour of my death, 
Shall, like a meteor, blaze upon my foes." — (P.) 

Then the three retire, for the purpose of pouring a 
libation at Agamemnon's grave. Pylades, it should 
be observed, owing to the strict rule of the Athenian 
drama limiting the speakers on the stage to three, 
never takes part in the dialogue throughout the play. 

Even before they left the stage, they had heard the 
wailing of women from the palace; and now there 
issues from the gates Electra, the sister of Orestes, 

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meanly clad and with dishevelled hair, followed by a 
train of Argive maidens. Her history had been a sad 
one. Years had passed away since that day of horror, 
when her father had been cut off in his glory — ^not 
slain by the sword on the battle-field, but felled by 
the axe of ^gisthus, ^' as the woodman fells the oak- 
tree in the forest." Years had passed away, but each 
year had only imbittered the resentment of Electra, 
and turned to gall all the sweetness of her woman's 
nature. She can neither tear &om her heart the re- 
membrance of that deed of blood, nor forgive those 
who wrought it. It had needed no message from the 
grave, no spirit returned from limbo, to keep alive this 
memory. Always before her was the same repulsive 
contrast which tortured the keener sensibilities of 
Hamlet, — the cowardly -^Egisthus, sitting in the dead 
man's place, and receiving the caresses of the perjured 
wife; while the guilty pair had seemed to glory in 
their shame, — ^the one pouring libations on the very 
hearth where the king had fallen, and the other, with 
an impious and unnatural joy, celebrating each month 
the day of her husband's murder, as though it were a 
religious festival, with sacrifices and solemn dances. 
Meanwhile, the portion of Electra had been mockery 
and insult; for her proud spirit had scorned such 
submission as her more facile sister Chrysothemis had 
been ready to give. She had been a^ living protest 
against the sin of Clytemnestra and iEgisthus; her 
incessant grief had provoked their hatred, and this 
hatred had found its vent in bitter and continual re- 

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proaclL Day and niglit, as she tells the Choras, she 
had been mourning over the ruin of her race in the 
plaintive strains of the nightingale, whose note was 
proverbial among the Greeks for a never-ending grief; 
and she had been rated by her mother much in the 
same style as Hamlet is lectured by his uncle : — 

" To persevere 
In obstinate condolement is a course 
Of impious stubbornness. 

'Tis a fault to heaven, 
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature ; 
To reason most absurd ; whose common theme 
Is death of fathers."* 

Then, again, these tears had been followed by a 
sterner feeling, and soon 

" Vengeance, deep-brooding o'er the slain. 
Had locked the source of softer woe." 

She had cherished the thought of a day of retribu- 
tion, and had implored all the gods of the lower world 
not to overlook the shedding of innocent blood, or to 
allow "the guile which devised and the lust which 
struck the blow" to go for long unpunished. But 
years had passed, and still Orestes, for whose coming 
she had prayed, came not ; and Electra, in her despair, 
had begun to question the justice of those careless gods 
who allowed the guilty to flourish in their sin, and 
murder to go unavenged — 

"For if the dull earth cover thus the blood 
Of him who basely died, 

* Hamlet, act i. so. 2. 

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And they who wrought his &11 

Repay not life for life ; — 

Then perish shame for aye, 

And piety be banished from mankind ! " — (D.) 

The Chorus vainly try to comfort her. No tears or 
prayers, they say, can recall the dead from " the lake 
of darkness." Let her trust to Time, that '^ calm and 
patient deity," to bring her brother home at last. 

Then there enters to her " bright Chrysothemis with 
golden hair,"* bearing funeral offerings. The scene be- 
tween the sisters recalls a similar one in aformer play, with 
the difference that here the characters are more strongly 
drawn. Electra is cast in a harsher and sterner mould 
. than her counterpart, Antigone, for it is hatred rather 
than love which hardens her resolution. Chrysothemis, 
again, is more deliberately selfish than Ismene. " Shq 
should have been the ally, but is only the temptress of 
her sister, a weaker Goneril or Began, serving as a foil 
to a more masculine Cordelia." t Electra cannot con- 
ceal her scorn and indignation at this unworthy daugh- 
ter of a king, who attempts to justify her baseness, and 
whose cowardly spirit can endure to sit at the same 
table with her father's murderers. For her own part, 
she prefers the isolation of a slave to the gifts and 
delicacies which Chrysothemis accepts at such hands. 

" Loin d*eux, h ces festins, leur esclave prdftre 
Le pain de la piti^ qu'on jette & sa mis^re, 
A leur table insolente allez courber le front ; 
Flattez les meurtriers, mes pleurs me sufBiront. 

* Iliad, iz. 145 (Pope). t Jebb's Ajax, p. 84, note. 

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Des pleiire sont mes tr^sors, des pleuts ma nourriture, 
lis ne me verront pas oatrageant la nature, 
A mon p^re infid^le, indigne de mon nom, 
Boire avec eux dans Tor le sang d* Agamemnon/'^ 

Chrysotliemis is too well accustomed to her sister's 
reproaches to attempt any further justification. In 
reply, she tells her the strange mission on which she 
has now come from the palace. On the previous night 
Clytenmestra had dreamed a dream, in which she had 
seen her husband, tall and majestic as in his lifetime, 
and carrying the sceptre which had descended from 
prince to prince in the dynasty of Argos,t and was 
now wielded by the murderer ^Egisthus. In her vision, 
Clytenmestra sees him plant this sceptre in the hearth 
of his palace, and there it had seemed to take root 
downwards and bear fruit upwards, spreading forth 
into boughs and branches, and overshadowing all My- 
censB. So terribly significant had been this vision of 
the night, and so accordant with the restless dread of 
her son's return which has haimted the guilty woman, 

* Ch^nier's Electre, act i. sc. 8. (Quoted by M. Patin.) 
t Homer gives us the history of this sceptre ; — 

" His royal staff, the work of Vulcan's art, 
Which Vulcan to the son of Saturn gave. 
To Hermes he, the heavenly messenger ; 
Hermes to Pelops, matchless charioteer ; 
Pelops to Atreus ; Atreus at his death 
Bequeathed it to Thyestes, wealthy lord 
Of num*rou8 herds ; to Agamemnon last 
Thyestes left it— token of his sway 
O'er all the Argive coast and neighbouring isles." 

—Iliad, ii. 100 (Lord Derby). 

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tliat after nsiug early in the morning, and telling her 
dream to the Son-god, she had sent Chrysothemisto 
cany libations to the tomb of Agamemnon, in the hope 
of appeasing the manes of the murdered king. 

Electra can hardly restrain the fiery wrath which 
consumes her, as she hears of what she considers a 
fresh act of impious effrontery on the part of Clytem- 
nestra. Her sister must never insult the dead by pre- 
senting these offerings from the guilty wife : — 

"Cast them forth 
To the wild winds, or hide them in the earth 
Deep, deep ; that never to my father's tomb 
The accursed thing may reach ; but when she dies, 
Lie hid in earth to grace her sepulchre. 
For had she not been formed of all her sex 
The most abandoned, never had she crowned 
These loathed libations to the man she slew. 
Think'st thou the dead entombed could e'er receive 
In friendly mood such obsequies from her 
By whom he fell dishonoured, like a foe. 
While on her mangled victim's head she i^dped 
His blood for expiation ? "— (D.) 

Let her rather offer at her father's tomb locks of 
hair cut from his daughters' heads, accompanied by a 
prayer that the son may speedily return to avenge his 
death. Chrysothemis assents, but begs her sister to 
keep her counsel 

Then follows a noble choral ode — almost rising to 
the grandeur of u^chylus. The dream which had 
terrified the queen animates the dying hopes of the 

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Argive maidens. Something in their hearts telLs them 
that the day of vengeance is nigh at hand. Neither 
the spirit of the murdered man, nor the axe which 
struck that felon stroke, *' though dimmed by the> rust 
of years," has ever forgotten the deed of blood. 
They can aheady see the shadow — ^nay, they can 
almost feel the breath and hear the approaching tramp 
— of the "brazen-footed fury with many hands and 
feet." And then their thoughts revert to the fountain- 
head of all these troubles — ^the curse invoked on the 
treacherous Pelops by Myrtilus, as he was "dashed 
headlong from his golden chariot, and sent to his last 
sleep beneath the waves.*' * 

There is a pause upon the stage, and a low murmur 
of expectancy runs through the audience, as the Chorus 
respectfully move back to make way for Clytemnestra, 
who comes forward with a haughty and defiant mien, 
and whose speech shows that she is as " man-minded " 
as of old. She at once sharply rebukes Electra for 
taking her ease abroad in the absence of ^gisthus ; 
and then she vindicates her murder of Agamemnon. 
He had slain his daughter, and she had only slain her 
husband in retaliation ; and why should she not 1 

Electra is not slow to reply, and her tone and 
manner are as defiant and insulting as her mother's. 
It was the wrath of Diana, she says, reverting to a 
"wasted theme," and the contrary winds at Aulis, 

* Myrtilus was the charioteer of (Enomaus, and was bribed 
by Pelops to take out the linch-pins from his master's chariot 
Pelops won the race, but, unwilling to give him his reward, 
threw him from Cape Gersestus. 

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that forced the king, sorely against his will, to- sacri- 
fice Iphigenia. And as to the doctrine of " blood for 
blood,'* if it were put in force, Clytemnestra herself 
would be the first victim. "Yes," says the maiden, 
with a fierce look, 

" And I own. 
Had I but strength, be sure of this, 'twere done." 

The Chorus stand too much amazed and terrified at 
this stormy altercation between mother and daughter 
to offer advice, or even to speak, and at last Electra's 
passion exhausts itself. She turns her back upon her 
mother, and stands aloof in gloomy silence. Then 
Clytemnestra makes her secret prayer to the Sun- 
god :— 

" Hear thou the while, Phoebus who guard' at our gates. 
My secret prayer ; for not to friendly ears 
Can I speak forth, nor dare I breathe in air 
All that I mean, while she stands here beside me. 
Yet hear me — thus— as I with heed will speak. 
Those visions of the night, whose two-edged sense 
I dimly read, — if they be good, O King, 
Grant them fulfilment ! but, if they be evil. 
Then launch them back upon mine enemies ! 
And if there be who by their cunning plots 
Would strip me of this wealth, suffer it not ; 
But grant me still, living an unharmed life. 
To wield the sceptre here in Atreus' halls. 
Consorting still with whom I consort now, 
And happy in such children as may nurse 
No secret hate or bitter grudge against me. 
Such boon, Apollo, Slayer of the wolf, 
Grant of thy grace as folly as we ask it ! 
And, for the rest, even though I be silent, 

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Thou art a god — and needs must understand me. 
For they see all things who are bom of Jove." 

It would seem as if her prayers were to be quickly 
answered ; for at this moment the old attendant enters, 
and announces, according to the previous agreement, 
the death of Orestes. Clytemnestra, strangely dis- 
turbed herself by conflicting feelings, cuts short the 
bitter cry of grief which bursts from the lips of Electra, 
and bids the messenger tell the manner of his death- 
Then follows a false, but closely circumstantial 
account of the death of Orestes in the Pythian games 
at Delphi — a tragedy within a tragedy, so real and 
Hfe-like, that it is difficult to believe that it is not 
a description of some actual catastrophe. The lists 
were set, says the supposed Phocian stranger; the 
herald made proclamation; all Greece was there; every 
nation had sent its representatives, and among them 
came Orestes, winning the hearts of the spectators by 
his grace and noble bearing. His achievements on the 
first day were worthy of his name and lineage, for he 
came off victorious in five contests. On the second 
day followed the fatal tournament of chariots, in which 
there were ten competitors. 

" They took their stand where the appointed judges 
Had cast their lots and ranged the rival cars. 
Hang out the brazen trump ! Away they bound, 
Cheer the hot steeds and shake the slackened reins ; 
As with a body the large space is fiUed 
With the huge clangour of the battling cars. 
High whirl aloft the dust-clouds ; blent together, 
Each presses each, and the lash rings ; and loud 

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Snort the wild steeds, and from their fiery breath 
Along their manes and down the circling wheels 
Scatter the^bam." — (Lord Lytton.) 

Six times they had rounded the goal at the end 
of the course ; but in the seventh the horses of one 
chariot had proved unmanageable, and dashed against 
the next. 

" Then order changed to ruin, 
Car crashed on car ; the wild Crisssean plain 
Was sea-like strewed with wrecks ; the Athenian saw, 
:•; Slackened his speed, and, wheeling roimd the marge, 
Left the wild tumult of that tossing storm. 
Behind Orestes, hitherto the last, 
? Had yet kept back his coursers for the close ; 
'; Now one sole rival left — on, on he flew, 
}i And the sharp sound of the impelling scourge 
;. Rang in the keen ears of the flying steeds. 
He hears, he reaches — they are side by side — 
Now one— the other — by a length the victor. 
The courses all are past — the wheels erect — 
All safe — ^when, as the hurrying coursers round 
The fatal pillar dashed, the wretched boy 
Slackened the left rein : on the column's edge 
Crashed the frail axle : headlong from the car. 
Caught and all meshed within the reins, hie fell ; 
And masterless the mad steeds raged along ! 

Loud from that mighty multitude arose 
A shriek — a shout ! But yesterday such deeds, 
To-day such doom 1 Now whirled upon the earth. 
Now his limbs dashed aloft, they dragged him — those 
Wild horses — till all gory from the wheels 
Released, — and no man, not his nearest friends, 
Could in that mangled corpse have traced Orestes. 
They laid the body on the funeral-pyre ; 

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And while we speak, the Phocian strangers bear, 

In a small brazen melancholy urn, 

That handful of cold ashes to which all 

The grandeur of the Beautiful hath shrunk. 

Hither they bear him, in his father's land 

To find that heritage — a tomb !" — (Lord Lytton.) 

So circumstantial is this narrative, that uo doubt is 
left on the minds of the hearers as to its truth. Even 
Clytenmestra is touched and impressed by the sudden 
end of one 

" So young, so noble, so unfortunate."^?.) 

After all, she is a woman and a mother. Orestes is 
dead, and the secret prayer of her heart is thus ful- 
filled. Orestes is dead, and she is at once delivered 
from those terrors which had haunted her sleep. But, 
hardened and guilty as she is, there is sorrow in the 
thought that her peace of mind should be regained 
only by the death of her first-bom, " the child of her 
own life." " Wondrous," she exclaims, almost against 
her will, as if excusing her emotion — 

" Wondrous and strange the force of motherhood ! 
Though wronged, a mother cannot hate her children." 

It is a finer touch like this which stamps the poet. 
"These few words of genuine grief," says Mr Jebb, 
"humanise, and therefore dramatise, Clytenmestra 
more vividly than anything in .^schylus." 

But the queen's better nature does not assert itself 
for long. A question put by the messenger as to 

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whether his news be not welcome, and the sight of 
Electra's unfeigned sorrow, rouse in her a feeling of 
triumph and relief. Now at last, she says, she may- 
sleep soundly, and pass her days in peace. Then, 
bidding the disguised attendant follow her, she retires 
within the palace, while Electra bemoans her own fate, 
left thus desolate and friendless. Her day-dreams of 
vengeance have come to an end for ever, since the 
brother on whom she had built her hopes has died 
cruelly, trampled to death under horses* feet, in a 
strange land — 

" By strangers honoured and by strangers mourned." 

Suddenly Chrysothemis runs eagerly in with what 
she conceives to be good news. She had found her 
father's tomb covered with flowers, and moist with 
fireshly-poured libations, while on its summit lay a 
lock of hair, which she at once divines to be a token 
from Orestes. " My poor sister ! " says Electra, " your 
Orestes is dead ; " — and then she tells the story she has 
heard ; but though he be dead, she continues, let us, 
women as we are, take upon ourselves the work of 
vengeance, and earn a glorious renown by slaying 
.^^thus, our mother's paramour.. 

*' All men love to look 
On deeds of goodness. Dost not see full clear 
All the fair fame thou'lt gain for thee and me, 
If thou obey my counsels ? Who, seeing us, 
Or citizen or stranger, wiH not greet us 
With praises such as these : ' Behold, my friends, 
Those sisters twain, who saved their father's house, 

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And on their foes who walked in pride of strength, 
Regardless of their lives, wrought doom of death ! 
These aU must love, these all must reverence ; 
These in our feasts, and when the city meets 
In full assemblage, all should honour well 
For this their manly prowess.' Thus will all 
Speak of us, so that fame we shall not miss, 
Living or dying." — (P.) 

But Chrysothemis recoils from the suggestion. Her 
spirit is too weak to venture on such a hazardous 
enterprise. Besides, she says, our foes are stronger 
than we are ; — 

<^ And nothing does it help or profit us. 
Gaining fair fame, a shameful death to die." — (P.) 

Then the pretended Phocians enter, carrying, as 
they say, 

" In one small urn 
AU that is left, sad relics of the dead,"— (P.) 

The sight only increases Electra's sorrow, for it con- 
firms what she had at first hoped might have been 
only an evil rumour. She takes the urn from the 
stranger — (we must remember that the brother and 
sister had not met for years) — and she muses over her 
shattered hopes, and over the untimely death of the 
Orestes whom she had loved with such devoted affec- 
tion : * — 

* An anecdote is told of the great actor Polus, that once, 
when playing the part of Electra (for no woman ever appeared 
on the Athenian stage), he embraced an urn containing the real 
ashes of a mnch-loyed son who had lately died, and, affected by 

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" But now all joy has vanished in a day 
In this thy death, for, like a whirlwind, thou 
Hast passed and swept off all. My father falls ; 
I perish ; thou thyself hast gone from sight ; 
Our foes exult. My mother — wrongly named, 
For mother she is none — is mad with joy. 

How hast thou brought me low, thou dearest one ! 
Therefore receive thou me to this thy home, 
Ashes to ashes, that with thee below 
I may from henceforth dwell." — (P.) 

Then the disguised stranger knows that this maiden 
— ^noble even in her mean dress — must be his sister ; 
and his heart yearns towards her, and he can contain 
himself no longer. He bums with indignation as he 
looks oil one whom he had left a light-hearted and inno- 
cent girl, now worn and wasted, as she says herself, 
" By blows, by hardships, and all forms of ill." 

" Funeral urns," he cries, " are not for the living, and 
Orestes is alive." Then he shows his father's signet- 
ring, and Electra knows that he must be indeed her 
brother. The haughty spirit which bad defied ^Egis- 
thus, and repaid the queen with scorn for scorn, is at 
once softened. She bursts into tears, and with wild 
exclamations of joy throws herself into the arms of 
" her own, her dear Orestes." 

Even when told through the cold medium of a dead 
language — ^wit^iout a stage direction, without the aid 
of dress or ^cenery — ^no " recognition " in any drama 

uncontrollable/ emotion, burst into genuine tears, and uttered 
a cry of sorrow^ which deeply moved the sympathies of the 

A. C. vol. X. M 

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comes up to the simple reality of this, although critics 
may object that it is not in the highest style of art.* 

But this is not a time for caresses and embraces. 
Orestes remembers that there is sterner work before 
them, and that 

" Much speech might lose occasion's golden hour." — (P.) 

And while Electra still clings to her brother, as though 
loath to leave him even for a moment, the old attendant 
roughly breaks in upon their dialogue. Are they 
weary of their lives, he asks, that they stand thus 
idly prating on the brink of danger ] It is well that 
he has kept good watch. Let them go in, and they 
will find Clytemnestra alone within the palace. Then 
Orestes and Pylades obey his advice and enter. For 
a while there is a dead silence; but suddenly the 
silence is broken by a woman's shriek, and Electra 
turns exultingly to the Chorus : — 

** A cry goes up within ; friends, hear ye not ? 

Cho. I heard what none should hear — ah, misery !— 
And shuddered listening. 

Cljftem, (unthin,) Ah me ! ah me ! Woe, woe ! 

iBgisthus, where art thou ? 

JElec. Ha ! List again. 

I hear a bitter cry. 

Clytem, (vnthin,) My son, my son, 
Have pity on thy mother ! 

Elec. Thou hadst none 

On him, nor on the father that begat him. 

* Aristotle (Poet. xi. 80) calls recognition by signs **mo8t 

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electrA. 179 

Clytem, (within.) Ah, I am emitten ! 

Elec Smite her yet again, 

If thou hast strength for it. 

Clytem. {toithin.) Ah ! blow on blow ! 

£lec. Would that .^Igisthus shared them ! 

Cho. Yes ; the curse 

Is now fulfilled. The buried live again ; 
For they who died long since now drain in turn 
The blood of those that slew them."— (P.) 

The shrieks from within haye grown fainter and 
fainter; and then follows the stillness of the grave, 
until Orestes and Pylades come forth from the palace, 
carrying their swords unsheathed and dripping with 
blood. Almost at the same moment ^Egisthus is 
seen coming from the country, and Electra hurriedly 
pushes back her brother and his friend behind the 
scene. The usurper has heard on the way a rumour of 
the death of Orestes, and is radiant with triumphant 
joy. He aaks for the Phocian strangers, that he may 
hear these good tidings from their own lips. " And so 
they really report," he asks Electra, half incredulously, 
"that your brother is dead?" "You may see the 
corpse," is her guarded answer. Then he bids the 
palace-doors be thrown open, that all MycensB may 
behold the welcome sight. The set scene in the 
background opens, and the interior of the palace 
is discovered. There, on a bier, lies a body covered 
with a veil. 

" jEgis, Great Jove ! a grateful spectacle — if thus 
May it be said unsinning ; yet if she, 
The awful Nemesis, be nigh and hear, 

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I do recall the sentence. Raise the pall, — 
The dead was kindred to me, and shall know 
A kinsman's sorrow. 

Ores, Lift thyself the pall ; 

Not mine, but thine, the office to survey 
That which lies mute beneath^ and to salute. 
Lovingly sad, the dead one. 

JSgis, Be it so, — 

It is well said. Go thou and call the queen. 
Is she within ? 

Ores. Look not around for her, — 

She is beside thee." — (Lord Lytton.) 

Then .^Sgisthus lifts the veil, and recognises the 
body of Cly temnestra. He knows at once that it mnst 
be Orestes who stands before him, and that he is a 
doomed man. "Let me speak one little word," he 
pleads ; but Electra fiercely cuts him short, and bids 
her brother " slay him out of hand, and cast his body 
to the dogs and vultures : " — 

^' Qu'il tombe, il en est temps, sous vos glaives vengeurs ! 
Que son corps soit priv^ des fun^bres honneurs ! 
Aux oiseaux d^vorants qu*il serve de p&ture, 
Et trouve dans leurs flancs sa digne sepulture ! " * 

Orestes accordingly forces him within the palace, that 
the murderer may die by the son's hand on the same 
spot where the father had fallen. And thus " poetical 
justice elevates what on the modem stage would have 
been but a spectacle of physical horror into the deeper 
terror and sublimer gloom of a moral awe ; and vin- 

♦ From the * Electre ' of M. Leon Halfivy, acted on the stage 
at Paris in 1863 and 1866. 

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dictive murder, losing its aspect, is idealised and hal- 
lowed into a religious sacrifice." * 

In an ancient epigram, a statue of Bacchus (the 
patron god of the drama) is supposed to shadow and 
protect the tomb of Sophocles. This statue holds in 
its hands a mask, representing a woman's face of per- 
fect beauty. " Whose face is that 1 " asks a passer-by. 
" The face of Antigone," is the answer ; ** or, if you 
prefer it, that of Electra. You can make your choice, 
for both are masterpieces." 

* Lord Lytton's Athens, ii. 568. 



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