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Lives of the Greek Heroines

Louisa Menzies

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Illustrated study of the women made famous by the genius of Homer, of Aeschylus, and of Sophocles. Includes, Niobe, Alcestis, Atalanta, Antigone, Klytaemnestra, Helene, Penelope, Iphigeneia, Kassandra and Laodameia.

This book has 110 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1880.

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Excerpt from 'Lives of the Greek Heroines'

THE honoured king, the darling of his people, the saviour of the city is fallen, worse than dead, lower than slavery! The woes he called down on the man whose crimes had brought the wrath of the gods on Thebes have lighted on his own head, for he, alas! he, the princely Oedipus, is shown to be the homicide, the parricide--nay, worse than parricide--whose crimes have tainted the very heart of Thebes, and made her an abomination in the sight of heaven!

Little did the venturous youth think of the man who lay slain by the wayside, as you come from Pytho to Thebes, when his subtle wit solved the riddle of the Sphinx, and freed the Thebans from dismay and death. Was he worth casting a thought upon, that rude old man who had insulted him beyond endurance? Surely not, his blood be on his own head; Oedipus may revel in the joy he has given to the fair Boeotian land. Is there one face in all the happy town that does not brighten as it looks to him, from the stately queen to the little child who had been frightened in its sleep with dreams of the dread monster?

The throne of Thebes was vacant, and Kreon, the queen's brother, who was regent, had made proclamation throughout the Achaean land that the widowed queen and all the sovereignty of Thebes should be given to him who should solve the riddle of the Sphinx and free the city from her presence.

The riddle of the Sphinx ran thus:

"What creature in the morning walks
On four legs, and at midday stalks
Erect on two, but which you see
Creeping at sunset upon three?"

When the stranger came, and standing boldly in front of the winged torment, declared the answer to be "man," and the Sphinx flung herself down in wrath from her pinnacle of rock, the riddle seemed so simple that everyone wondered how he could have failed to guess it, but not the less did they rival each other in paying honour to the stranger: and he, for his part, an adventurer in search of a home and kindred, was well content to find all he needed in this beautiful city of the plain, rich with tales of heroes, foreign and homebred. The royal heart, which cares for all men and thinks for all men, bade him take this kingless people for his people, and be a true helpmate to the childless and widowed queen. Here he might, perhaps, have chosen otherwise; but Jocasta was a gracious lady, and he would bend his heart to be to her a noble and a worthy consort, better than him she had lost, of whom men spoke but little, and that darkly.

So the easy years sped by, and white hairs scantly mingled with the brown locks of Oedipus; four children were growing up about him, two strong-willed, venturous boys, and two sweet maidens, on whom his heart rested. Then heavy days came, when Thebes was wasted with pestilence, and the king was helpless to avert it. When the prophet declared that he was himself the pollution which weighed upon the land, and the truth was borne in upon his mind that the insolent stranger whom he had struck down at the cross-roads coming from Phocis was no other than Laius, King of Thebes, for whose unavenged death the Erinnyes were now demanding retribution, then horror was added to horror in the conviction that the king so slain, whom, as a king, he was bound to avenge, was the father to seek whom he had left Korinth and his kind foster-parents, and the unhappy Oedipus was ashamed to look longer on the faces of men. In his frenzy he destroyed the eyes in whose sweet functions he had so much de-lighted, and, poor as he had come into Thebes, he left it alone, but for the company of his dear daughter Antigone, who clung to him in his agony, guiding his weary steps, until at last his sorrows were hidden from the upper world and the earth opened to receive him at Kolonus, in Attica.

When Oedipus was dead, Antigone returned again to Thebes, where her brothers, Eteokles and Polynices, now grown to man's estate, were about to assume the government. Antigone would have been well pleased if they could have been content to rule conjointly, as the Herakleidae in after ages ruled at Sparta, but this the young men were too haughty to assent to; therefore they agreed to rule year by year in turn, and Eteokles, as the elder, was to rule his year first. Now though neither of the brothers had done anything to succour their ill-fated father, but rather blamed him for the curse on their race, yet they were not insensible to the virtue of Antigone, and they made her royally welcome, and strove with each other which should show her most honour; and it may be that her presence in Thebes inclined them more readily to peaceful counsels, and made them think shame of merely selfish ends.

So Eteokles sat in the seat of Oedipus, and Polynices went abroad to study men and manners, and to seek adventures in the fair Achaean land.

Then for two years the life of Antigone was happy and but little troubled with care. She was as a queen in Thebes, for Ismene, her sister, readily yielded to her more royal nature, and walked by her counsel; while every citizen, from Kreon, the aged, to the stripling who had scarcely reached manhood, honoured and loved her. At the end of the first year Polynices came joyfully home to take his year of sovereignty, sunburnt and strong from his travels. Eteokles cheerily gave way to him, and set out in his turn to see the places and the men of which Polynices had so much to say.

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