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The Eumenides


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The Eumenides is the final play of the Oresteia, in which Orestes is hunted down and tormented by the Furies, a trio of goddesses known to be the instruments of justice. He pleads with the goddess Athena for help and she responds by setting up a trial for him in Athens on the Areopagus.

№ 3 in The Oresteia Trilogy.

Part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World set.

This book has 51 pages in the PDF version, and was originally written c.458 B.C. This translation by E. D. A. Morshead, 1881.

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Excerpt from 'The Eumenides'

The Scene of the Drama is the Temple of Apollo, at Delphi: afterwards the Temple of Athena, on the Acropolis of Athens, and the adjoining Areopagus.

The Temple at Delphi

The Pythian Priestess:

First, in this prayer, of all the gods I name

The prophet mother Earth; and Themis next,

Second who sat--for so with truth is said--

On this her mother's shrine oracular.

Then by her grace, who unconstrained allowed,

There sat thereon another child of Earth--

Titanian Phoebe. She, in after time,

Gave o'er the throne, as birthgift to a god,

Phoebus, who in his own bears Phoebe's name.

He from the lake and ridge of Delos' isle

Steered to the port of Pallas' Attic shores,

The home of ships; and thence he passed and came

Unto this land and to Parnassus' shrine.

And at his side, with awe revering him,

There went the children of Hephaestus' seed,

The hewers of the sacred way, who tame

The stubborn tract that erst was wilderness.

And all this folk, and Delphos, chieftain-king

Of this their land, with honour gave him home;

And in his breast Zeus set a prophet's soul,

And gave to him this throne, whereon he sits,

Fourth prophet of the shrine, and, Loxias hight,

Gives voice to that which Zeus his sire decrees.

Such gods I name in my preluding prayer,

And after them, I call with honour due

On Pallas, wardress of the fane, and Nymphs

Who dwell around the rock Corycian,

Where in the hollow cave, the wild birds' haunt,

Wander the feet of lesser gods; and there,

Right well I know it, Bromian Bacchus dwells,

Since he in godship led his Maenad host,

Devising death for Pentheus, whom they rent

Piecemeal, as hare among the hounds. And last,

I call on Pleistus' springs, Poseidon's might,

And Zeus most high, the great Accomplisher.

Then as a seeress to the sacred chair

I pass and sit; and may the powers divine

Make this mine entrance fruitful in response

Beyond each former advent, triply blest.

And if there stand without, from Hellas bound,

Men seeking oracles, let each pass in

In order of the lot, as use allows;

For the god guides whate'er my tongue proclaims.

She goes into the interior of the temple; after a short interval, she returns in great fear.

Things fell to speak of, fell for eyes to see,

Have sped me forth again from Loxias' shrine,

With strength unstrung, moving erect no more,

But aiding with my hands my failing feet,

Unnerved by fear. A beldame's force is naught--

Is as a child's, when age and fear combine.

For as I pace towards the inmost fane

Bay-filleted by many a suppliant's hand,

Lo, at the central altar I descry

One crouching as for refuge--yea, a man

Abhorredd of heaven; and from his hands, wherein

A sword new-drawn he holds, blood reeked and fell:

A wand he bears, the olive's topmost bough,

Twined as of purpose with a deep close tuft

Of whitest wool. This, that I plainly saw,

Plainly I tell.But lo, in front of him,

Crouched on the altar-steps, a grisly band

Of women slumbers--not like women they,

But Gorgons rather; nay, that word is weak,

Nor may I match the Gorgons' shape with theirs!

Such have I seen in painted semblance erst--

Winged Harpies, snatching food from Phineus' board,--

But these are wingless, black, and all their shape

The eye's abomination to behold.

Fell is the breath--let none draw nigh to it--

Wherewith they snort in slumber; from their eyes

Exude the damned drops of poisonous ire:

And such their garb as none should dare to bring

To statues of the gods or homes of men.

I wot not of the tribe wherefrom can come

So fell a legion, nor in what land Earth

Could rear, unharmed, such creatures, nor avow

That she had travailed and brought forth death.

But, for the rest, be all these things a care

Unto the mighty Loxias, the lord

Of this our shrine: healer and prophet he,

Discerner he of portents, and the cleanser

Of other homes--behold, his own to cleanse!


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