Ion By Euripides
Translated by Robert Potter
CREUSA, daughter of Erechtheus
XUTHUS, husband of CREUSA
PRIESTESS OF APOLLO
OF HANDMAIDENS OF CREUSA
Before the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The sun is about to rise. MERCURY enters.
Atlas, that on his brazen shoulders rolls
Yon heaven, the ancient mansion of the gods,
Was by a goddess sire to Maia; she
To supreme Jove bore me, and call’d me Hermes;
Attendant on the king, his high behests
I execute. To Delphi am I come,
This land where Phoebus from his central throne
Utters to mortals his high strain, declaring
The present and the future; this is the cause;
Greece hath a city of distinguish’d glory,
Which from the goddess of the golden lance
Received its name; Erechtheus was its king;
His daughter, call’d Creusa, to the embrace
Of nuptial love Apollo strain’d perforce,
Where northward points the rock beneath the heights
Crown’d with the Athenian citadel of Pallas,
Call’d Macrai by the lords of Attica.
Her growing burden, to her sire unknown
(Such was the pleasure of the god,) she bore,
Till in her secret chamber to a son
The rolling months gave birth: to the same cave,
Where by the enamour’d god she was compress’d,
Creusa bore the infant: there for death
Exposed him in a well-compacted ark
Of circular form, observant of the customs
Drawn from her great progenitors, and chief
From Erichthonius, who from the Attic earth
Deriv’d his origin: to him as guards
Minerva gave two dragons, and in charge
Consign’d him to the daughters of Aglauros:
This rite to the Erechthidae hence remains,
Mid serpents wreathed in ductile gold to nurse
Their children. What of ornament she had
She hung around her son, and left him thus
To perish. But to me his earnest prayer
Phoebus applied, “To the high-lineaged sons
Of glorious Athens go, my brother; well
Thou know’st the city of Pallas; from the cave
Deep in the hollow rock a new-born babe,
Laid as he is, and all his vestments with him;
Bring to thy brother to my shrine, and place
At the entrance of my temple; of the rest
(For, know, the child is mine) I will take care.”
To gratify my brother thence I bore
The osier-woven ark, and placed the boy
Here at the temple’s base, the wreathed lid
Uncovering, that the infant might be seen.
It chanced, as the orient sun the steep of heav’n
Ascended, to the god’s oracular seat
The priestess entering, on the infant cast
Her eye, and marvelled, deeming that some nymph
Of Delphi at the fane had dared to lay
The secret burden of her womb: this thought
Prompts her to move it from the shrine: but soon
To pity she resign’d the harsh intent;
The impulse of the god secretly acting
In favour of the child, that in his temple
It might abide; her gentle hand then took it,
And gave it nurture; yet conceived she not
That Phoebus was the sire, nor who the mother
Knew aught, nor of his parents could the child
Give information. All his youthful years
Sportive he wandered round the shrine, and there
Was fed: but when his firmer age advanced
To manhood, o’er the treasures of the god
The Delphians placed him, to his faithful care
Consigning all; and in this royal dome
His hallow’d life he to this hour hath pass’d.
Meantime Creusa, mother of the child,
To Xuthus was espoused, the occasion this:-
On Athens from Euboean Chalcis roll’d
The waves of war; be join’d their martial toil,
And with his spear repell’d the foe; for this
To the proud honour of Creusa’s bed
Advanc’d; no native, in Achaea sprung
From Aeolus, the son of Jove. Long time
Unbless’d with children, to the oracular shrine
Of Phoebus are they come, through fond desire
Of progeny: to this the god hath brought
The fortune of his son, nor, as was deem’d,
Forgets him; but to Xuthus, when he stands
This sacred seat consulting, will he give
That son, declared his offspring; that the child,
When to Creusa’s house brought back, by her
May be agnized; the bridal rites of Phoebus
Kept secret, that the youth may claim the state
Due to his birth, through all the states of Greece
Named Ion, founder of the colonies
On the Asiatic coast. The laurell’d cave
Now will I visit, there to learn what fortune
Is to the boy appointed, for I see
This son of Phoebus issuing forth to adorn
The gates before the shrine with laurel boughs.
First of the gods I hail him by the name
Of Ion, which his fortune soon will give him.
MERCURY vanishes. ION and the attendants of the temple enter
Now flames this radiant chariot of the sun
High o’er the earth, at whose ethereal fire
The stars into the sacred night retreat:
O’er the Parnassian cliffs the ascending wheels
To mortals roll the beams of day; the wreaths
Of incense-breathing myrrh mount to the roof
Of Phoebus’ fane; the Delphic priestess now
Assumes her seat, and from the hallow’d tripod
Pronounces to the Greeks the oracular strains
Which the god dictates. Haste, ye Delphic train,
Haste to Castalia’s silver-streaming fount;
Bathed in its chaste dews to the temple go;
There from your guarded mouths no sound be heard
But of good omen, that to those who crave
Admission to the oracle, your voice
May with auspicious words expound the answers.
My task, which from my early infancy
Hath been my charge, shall be with laurel boughs
And sacred wreaths to cleanse the vestibule
Of Phoebus, on the pavement moistening dews
To rain, and with my bow to chase the birds
Which would defile the hallow’d ornaments.
A mother’s fondness, and a father’s care
I never knew: the temple of the god
Claims then my service, for it nurtured me.
The attendants leave.
ION busies himself before the temple as he continues to sing.
Haste, thou verdant new-sprung bough,
Haste, thy early office know;
Branch of beauteous laurel come,
Sweep Apollo’s sacred dome,
Cropp’d this temple’s base beneath,
Where the immortal gardens breathe,
And eternal dews that round
Water the delicious ground,
Bathe the myrtle’s tresses fair.
Lightly thus, with constant care,
The pavement of the god I sweep,
When over the Parnassian steep
Flames the bright sun’s mounting ray;
This my task each rising day.
Son of Latona, Paean, Paean, hail!
Never, O never may thy honours fail!
Grateful is my task, who wait
Serving, Phoebus, at thy gate;
Honouring thus thy hallow’d shrine,
Honour for the task is mine.
Labouring with unwilling hands,
Me no mortal man commands:
But, immortal gods, to you
All my pleasing toil is due.
Phoebus is to me a sire;
Grateful thoughts my soul inspire;
Nurtured by thy bounty here,
Thee, Apollo, I revere;
As a father’s I repeat.
Son of Latona, Paean, Paean, hail!
Never, O never may thy honours fail!
Now from this labour with the laurel bough
I cease; and sprinkling from the golden vase
The chaste drops which Castalia’s fountain rolls,
Bedew the pavement. Never may I quit
This office to the god; or, if I quit it,
Be it, good Fortune, at thy favouring call!
But see, the early birds have left their nests,
And this way from Parnassus wing their flight.
Come not, I charge you, near the battlements,
Nor near the golden dome. Herald of Jove,
Strong though thy beak beyond the feather’d kind,
My bow shall reach thee. Towards the altar, see,
A swan comes sailing: elsewhere wilt thou move
Thy scarlet-tinctured foot? or from my bow
The lyre of Phoebus to thy notes attuned
Will not protect thee; farther stretch thy wings;
Go, wanton, skim along the Delian lake,
Or wilt thou steep thy melody in blood.
Look, what strange bird comes onwards; wouldst thou fix
Beneath the battlements thy straw-built nest?
My singing bow shall drive thee hence; begone,
Or to the banks of Alpheus, gulfy stream,
Or to the Isthmian grove; there hatch thy young;
Mar not these pendent ornaments, nor soil
The temple of the god: I would not kill you:
‘Twere pity, for to mortal man you bear
The message of the gods; yet my due task
Must be perform’d, and never will I cease
My service to the god who nurtured me.
The CHORUS enters. The following lines between ION and the CHORUS
are chanted responsively as they gaze admiringly at the decorations on the temple.
The stately column, and the gorgeous dome
Raised to the gods, are not the boast alone
Of our magnificent Athens; nor the statues
That grace her streets; this temple of the god,
Son of Latona, beauteous to behold,
Beams the resplendent light of both her children.
Turn thine eyes this way; look, the son of Jove
Lops with his golden scimitar the heads
Of the Lernean Hydra: view it well.
I see him.
And this other standing nigh,
Who snatches from the fire the blazing brand.
What is his name? the subject, on the web
Design’d, these hands have wrought in ductile gold.
The shield-supporting Iolaus, who bears
The toils in common with the son of Jove.
View now this hero; on his winged steed
The triple-bodied monster’s dreadful force
He conquers through the flames his jaws emit.
I view it all attentively.
The battle of the giants, on the walls
Sculptured in stone.
Let us note this, my friends.
See where against Enceladus she shakes
Her gorgon shield.
I see my goddess, Pallas.
Mark the tempestuous thunder’s flaming bolt
Launch’d by the hand of Jove.
The furious Mimas
Here blazes in the volley’d fires: and there
Another earth-born monster falls beneath
The wand of Bacchus wreathed with ivy round,
No martial spear. But, as ’tis thine to tend
This temple, let me ask thee, is it lawful,
Leaving our sandals, its interior parts
Strangers, this is not permitted.
Yet may we make inquiries of thee?
What wouldst thou know?
Whether this temple’s site
Be the earth’s centre?
Ay, with garlands hung,
And gorgons all around.
So fame reports.
If at the gate the honey’d cake be offer’d,
Would you consult the oracle, advance
To the altar: till the hallow’d lamb has bled
In sacrifice, approach not the recess.
I am instructed: what the god appoints
As laws, we wish not to transgress: without
Enough of ornament delights our eyes.
Take a full view of all; that is allow’d.
To view the inmost shrine was our lord’s order.
Who are you call’d? Attendants on what house?
Our lords inhabit the magnific domes
Of Pallas.- But she comes, of whom thou askest.
CREUSA and attendants enter.
Lady, whoe’er thou art, that liberal air
Speaks an exalted mind: there is a grace,
A dignity in those of noble birth,
That marks their high rank. Yet I marvel much
That from thy closed lids the trickling tear
Water’d thy beauteous cheeks, soon as thine eye
Beheld this chaste oracular seat of Phoebus.
What brings this sorrow, lady? All besides,
Viewing the temple of the god, are struck
With joy; thy melting eye o’erflows with tears.
Not without reason, stranger, art thou seized
With wonder at my tears: this sacred dome
Awakes the sad remembrance of things past.
I had my mind at home, though present here.
How wretched is our sex! And, O ye gods,
What deeds are yours! Where may we hope for right,
If by the injustice of your power undone?
Why, lady, this inexplicable grief?
It matters not; my mind resumes its firmless:
I say no more; cease thy concern for me.
But say, who art thou? whence? what country boasts
Thy birth? and by what name may we address thee?
Creusa is my name, drawn from Erechtheus
My high-born lineage; Athens gave me birth.
Illustrious is thy state; thy ancestry
So noble that I look with reverence on thee.
Happy indeed is this, in nothing farther.
But tell me, is it true what fame has blazon’d?
What wouldst thou ask? Stranger, I wish to know.
Sprung the first author of thy line from the earth?
Ay, Erichthonius; but my race avails not.
And did Minerva raise him from the earth?
Held in her virgin hands: she bore him not.
And gave him as the picture represents?
Daughters of Cecrops these, charged not to see him.
The virgins ope’d the interdicted chest?
And died, distaining with their blood the rock.
But tell me, is this truth, or a vain rumour?
What wouldst thou ask? I am not scant of time.
Thy sisters did Erechtheus sacrifice?
He slew the virgins, victims for their country.
And thou of all thy sisters saved alone?
I was an infant in my mother’s arms.
And did the yawning earth swallow thy father?
By Neptune’s trident smote; and so he perish’d.
And Macrai call you not the fatal place?
Why dost thou ask? What thoughts hast thou recall’d?,
Does Phoebus, do his lightnings honour it?
Honour! Why this? Would I had never seen it!
Why? Dost thou hate the place dear to the god?
No: but for some base deed done in the cave.
But what Athenian, lady, wedded thee?
Of Athens none, but one of foreign birth.
What is his name? Noble he needs must be.
Xuthus, by Aeolus derived from Jove.
How weds a stranger an Athenian born?
Euboea is a state neighbouring on Athens.
A narrow sea flows, I have heard, between.
Joining the Athenian arms, that state he wasted.
Confederate in the war, thence wedded thee?
The dowral meed of war, earn’d by his spear.
Comest thou with him to Delphi, or alone?
With him, gone now to the Trophonian shrine.
To view it, or consult the oracle?
Both that and this, anxious for one response.
For the earth’s fruits consult you, or for children?
Though wedded long, yet childless is our bed.
Hast thou ne’er borne a child, that thou hast none?
My state devoid of children Phoebus knows.
Bless’d in all else, luckless in this alone.
But who art thou? Bless’d I pronounce thy mother.
Call’d as I am the servant of the god.
Presented by some state, or sold to this?
I know not aught save this, I am the god’s.
And in my turn, stranger, I pity thee.
As knowing not my mother, or my lineage.
Hast thou thy dwelling here, or in some house?
The temple is my house, ev’n when I sleep.
A child brought hither, or in riper years?
An infant, as they say, who seem to know.
What Delphian dame sustain’d thee at her breast?
I never knew a breast. She nourish’d me.
Who, hapless youth? Diseased, I find disease.
The priestess: as a mother I esteem her.
Who to these manly years gave thee support?
The altars, and the still-succeeding strangers.
Wretched, whoe’er she be, is she that bore thee.
I to some woman am perchance a shame.
Are riches thine? Thou art well habited.
Graced with these vestments by the god I serve.
Hast thou made no attempt to trace thy birth?
I have no token, lady, for a proof.
Ah, like thy mother doth another suffer.
Who? tell me: shouldst thou help me, what a joy
One for whose sake I come before my husband.
Say for what end, that I may serve thee, lady.
To ask a secret answer of the god.
Speak it: my service shall procure the rest.
Hear then the tale: but Modesty restrains me.
Ah, let her not; her power avails not here.
My friend then says that to the embrace of Phoebus-
A woman and a god! Say not so, stranger.
She bore a son: her father knew it not.
Not so: a mortal’s baseness he disdains.
This she affirms; and this, poor wretch, she suffer’d.
What follow’d, if she knew the god’s embrace?
The child, which hence had birth, she straight exposed.
This exposed child, where is he? doth he live?
This no one knows; this wish I to inquire.
If not alive, how probably destroyed?
Torn, she conjectures, by some beast of prey.
What ground hath she on which to build that thought?
Returning to the place she found him not.
Observed she drops of blood distain the path?
None, though with anxious heed she search’d around.
What time hath pass’d since thus the child was lost?
Were he alive, his youth were such as thine.
The god hath done him wrong: the unhappy mother-
Hath not to any child been mother since.
What if in secret Phoebus nurtures him!
Unjust to enjoy alone a common right.
Ah me! this cruel fate accords with mine.
For thee too thy unhappy mother mourns.
Ah, melt me not to griefs I would forget!
I will be silent: but impart thy aid.
Seest thou what most the inquiry will suppress?
And to my wretched friend what is not ill?
How shall the god what he would hide reveal?
As placed on the oracular seat of Greece.
The deed must cause him shame: convict him not.
To the poor sufferer ’tis the cause of grief.
It cannot be; for who shall dare to give
The oracle? With justice would the god,
In his own dome affronted, pour on him
Severest vengeance, who should answer thee.
Desist then, lady: it becomes us ill,
In opposition to the god, to make
Inquiries at his shrine; by sacrifice
Before their altars, or the flight of birds,
Should we attempt to force the unwilling gods
To utter what they wish not, ’twere the excess
Of rudeness; what with violence we urge
‘Gainst their consent would to no good avail us:
What their spontaneous grace confers on us,
That, lady, as a blessing we esteem.
LEADER OF THECHORUS
How numberless the ills to mortal man,
And various in their form! One single blessing
By any one through life is scarcely found.
Nor here, nor there, O Phoebus, art thou just
To her; though absent, yet her words are present.
Nor didst thou save thy son, whom it became thee
To save; nor, though a prophet, wilt thou speak
To the sad mother who inquires of thee;
That, if he is no more, to him a tomb
May rise; but, if he lives, that he may bless
His mother’s eyes. But even thus behooves us
To omit these things, if by the god denied
To know what most I wish.-But, for I see
The noble Xuthus this way bend, return’d
From the Trophonian cave; before my husband
Resume not, generous stranger, this discourse,
Lest it might cause me shame that thus I act
In secret, and perchance lead on to questions
I would not have explain’d. Our hapless sex
Oft feel our husbands’ rigour: with the bad
The virtuous they confound, and treat us harshly.
XUTHUS and his retinue enter.
With reverence to the god my first address
I pay: Hail, Phoebus! Lady, next to thee:
Absent so long, have I not caused thee fear?
Not much: as anxious thoughts ‘gan rise, thou’rt come.
But, tell me, from Trophonius what reply
Bearest thou; what means whence offspring may arise?
Unmeet he held it to anticipate
The answer of the god: one thing he told me.
That childless I should not return, nor thou,
Home from the oracle.
Mother of Phoebus, be our coming hither
In lucky hour; and our connubial bed
Be by thy son made happier than before!
It shall be so. But who is president here?
Without, that charge is mine; within, devolved
On others, stranger, seated near the tripod;
The chiefs of Delphi these, chosen by lot.
‘Tis well: all that I want is then complete.
Let me now enter: for the oracle
Is given, I hear, in common to all strangers
Before the shrine; on such a day, that falls
Propitious thus, the answer of the god
Would I receive: meanwhile, these laurel boughs
Bear round the altars; lady, breathe thy prayers
To every god, that from Apollo’s shrine
I may bring back the promise of a son.
XUTHUS, after giving the laurel boughs to CREUSA, enters the temple.
It shall, it shall be so. Should Phoebus now
At least be willing to redress the fault
Of former times, he would not through the whole
Be friendly to us: yet will I accept
What he vouchsafes us, for he is a god.
CREUSA departs to the shrines in the outer precinct of the temple.
Why does this stranger always thus revile
With obscure speech the god? Is it through love
Of her, for whom she asks? or to conceal
Some secret of importance? But to me
What is the daughter of Erechtheus? Naught
Concerns it me. Then let me to my task,
And sprinkle from the golden vase the dew.
Yet must I blame the god, if thus perforce
He mounts the bed of virgins, and by stealth
Becomes a father, leaving then his children
To die, regardless of them. Do not thou
Act thus; but, as thy power is great, respect
The virtues; for whoe’er, of mortal men,
Dares impious deeds, him the gods punish: how
Is it then just that you, who gave the laws
To mortals, should yourselves transgress those laws?,
If (though it is not thus, yet will I urge
The subject,)-if to mortals you shall pay
The penalty of forced embraces, thou,
Neptune, and Jove, that reigns supreme in heaven,
Will leave your temples treasureless by paying
The mulcts of your injustice: for unjust
You are, your pleasures to grave temperance
Preferring: and to men these deeds no more
Can it be just to charge as crimes, these deeds
If from the gods they imitate: on those
Who gave the ill examples falls the charge.
ION goes out.
Thee prompt to yield thy lenient aid,
And sooth a mother’s pain:
And thee, my Pallas, martial maid,
I call: O, hear the strain!
Thou, whom the Titan from the head of Jove,
Prometheus, drew, bright Victory, come,
Descending from thy golden throne above;
Haste, goddess, to the Pythian dome,
Where Phoebus, from his central shrine,
Gives the oracle divine,
By the raving maid repeated,
On the hallow’d tripod seated:
O haste thee, goddess, and with thee
The daughter of Latona bring;
A virgin thou, a virgin she,
Sisters to the Delphian king;
Him, virgins, let your vows implore,
That now his pure oracular power
Will to Erechtheus’ ancient line declare
The blessing of a long-expected heir!
To mortal man this promised grace
Sublimest pleasure brings,
When round the father’s hearth a race
In blooming lustre springs.
The wealth, the honours, from their high-drawn line
From sire to son transmitted down,
Shall with fresh glory through their offspring shine,
And brighten with increased renown:
A guard, when ills begin to lower,
Dear in fortune’s happier hour;
For their country’s safety waking,
Firm in fight the strong spear shaking;
More than proud wealth’s exhaustless store,
More than a monarch’s bride to reign,
The dear delight, to virtue’s lore
Careful the infant mind to train.
Doth any praise the childless state?
The joyless, loveless life I hate;
No; my desires to moderate wealth I bound,
But let me see my children smile around.
Ye rustic seats, Pan’s dear delight;
Ye caves of Macrai’s rocky height,
Where oft the social virgins meet,
And weave the dance with nimble feet;
Descendants from Aglauros they
In the third line, with festive play,
Minerva’s hallow’d fane before
The verdant plain light-tripping o’er,
When thy pipe’s quick-varying sound
Rings, O Pan, these caves around;
Where, by Apollo’s love betray’d,
Her child some hapless mother laid,
Exposed to each night-prowling beast,
Or to the ravenous birds a feast;
For never have I heard it told,
Nor wrought it in historic gold,
That happiness attends the race,
When gods with mortals mix the embrace.
Ye female train, that place yourselves around
This incense-breathing temple’s base, your lord
Awaiting, hath he left the sacred tripod
And oracle, or stays he in the shrine,
Making inquiries of his childless state?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Yet in the temple, stranger, he remains.
But he comes forth; the sounding doors announce
His near approach; behold, our lord is here.
XUTHUS enters from the temple. He rushes to greet ION
Health to my son! This first address is proper.
I have my health: be in thy senses thou,
And both are well.
O let me kiss thy hand,
And throw mine arms around thee.
Art thou, stranger,
Well in thy wits? or hath the god’s displeasure
Bereft thee of thy reason?
That which is dearest being found, to wish
A fond embrace.
Off, touch me not; thy hands
Will mar the garlands of the god.
Asserts no pledge: my own, and that most dear,
Wilt thou not keep thee distant, ere
Thou hast my arrow in thy heart?
Why fly me,
When thou shouldst own what is most fond of thee?
I am not fond of curing wayward strangers,
Kill me, raise my funeral pyre;
But, if thou kill me, thou wilt kill thy father.
My father thou! how so? it makes me laugh
To hear thee.
This my words may soon explain.
What wilt thou say to me?
I am thy father,
And thou my son.
Who declares this?
That nurtured thee, though mine.
Thou to thyself
By the oracle inform’d.
Misled by some dark answer.
Well I heard it.
What were the words of Phoebus?
That who first
Should meet me-
As I pass’d.
Forth from the temple.
What the event to him?
He is my son.
Born so, or by some other
Though a present, born my son.
And didst thou first meet me?
None else, my son.
This fortune whence?
At that we marvel both.
Who is my mother?
That I cannot say.
Did not the god inform thee?
Through my joy,
For this I ask’d not.
Haply from the earth
I sprung, my mother.
No, the earth no sons
How then am I thine?
I know not.
To Phoebus I appeal.
Be this discourse
Chang’d to some other.
This delights me most.
Hast thou e’er mounted an unlawful bed?
In foolishness of youth.
Was that before
Thy marriage with the daughter of Erechtheus?
Owe I then my birth to that?
The time agrees.
How came I hither then?
I can form no conjecture.
Was I brought
From some far distant part?
That fills my mind
With doubtful musing.
Didst thou e’er before
Visit the Pythian rock?
Once, at the feast
By some public host received?
Who with the Delphian damsels-
To the orgies
Led thee, or how?
And with the Maenades
In the temperate hour, or warm
Amid the revels of the god.
From thence I date my birth.
And fate, my son,
Hath found thee.
How then came I to the temple?
The state of servitude
Have I escaped.
Thy father now, my son,
Indecent were it in the god
Not to confide.
Thy thoughts are just.
Thou seest what thou oughtst to see.
Am I the son then of the son of Jove?
Such is thy fortune.
Those that gave me birth
Do I embrace?
Obedient to the god.
My father, hail!
That dear name I accept
This present day-
Hath made me happy.
O my dear mother, when shall I behold
Thy face? Whoe’er thou art, more wish I now
To see thee than before; but thou perchance
Art dead, and nothing our desires avail.
We in the blessing of our house rejoice.
Yet wish we that our mistress too were happy
In children, and the lineage of Erechtheus.
Well hath the god accomplish’d this, my son,
Discovering thee, well hath he joined thee to me;
And thou hast found the most endearing ties,
To which, before this hour, thou wast a stranger.
And the warm wish, which thou hast well conceived,
Is likewise mine, that thou mayst find thy mother;
I from what woman thou derivest thy birth.
This, left to time, may haply be discover’d.
Now quit this hallow’d earth, the god no more
Attending, and to mine accord thy mind,
To visit Athens, where thy father’s sceptre,
No mean one, waits thee, and abundant wealth:
Nor, though thou grieve one parent yet unknown,
Shalt thou be censured as ignobly born,
Or poor: no, thou art noble, and thy state
Adorn’d with rich possessions. Thou art silent.
Why is thine eye thus fixed upon the ground?
Why on thy brow that cloud? The smile of joy
Vanish’d, thou strikest thy father’s heart with fear.
Far other things appear when nigh, than seen
At distance. I indeed embrace my fortune,
In thee my father found. But hear what now
Wakes sad reflections. Proud of their high race
Are your Athenians, natives of the land,
Not drawn from foreign lineage: I to them
Shall come unwelcome, in two points defective,
My father not a native, and myself
Of spurious birth: loaded with this reproach,
If destitute of power, I shall be held
Abject and worthless: should I rush among
The highest order of the state, and wish
To appear important, inferior ranks
Will hate me; aught above them gives disgust.
The good, the wise, men form’d to serve the state,
Are silent, nor at public honours aim
Too hastily: by such, were I not quiet
In such a bustling state, I should be deem’d
Ridiculous, and proverb’d for a fool.
Should I attain the dignity of those,
Whose approved worth hath raised them to the height
Of public honours, by such suffrage more
Should I be watch’d; for they that hold in states
Rule and pre-eminence, bear hostile minds
To all that vie with them. And should I come
To a strange house a stranger, to a woman
Childless herself, who that misfortune shared
Before with thee, now sees it her sole lot,
And feels it bitterly, would she not hate me,
And that with justice? When I stand before them.
With what an eye would she, who hath no child,
Look on thy child? In tenderness to her,
Thy wife, thou must forsake me, or embroil
Thy house in discord, if thou favour me.
What murderous means, what poisonous drugs for men
Have women with inventive rage prepared!
Besides, I have much pity for thy wife,
Now growing old without a child, that grief
Unmerited, the last of her high race,
The exterior face indeed of royalty,
So causelessly commended, bath its brightness;
Within, all gloom: for what sweet peace of mind,
What happiness is his, whose years are pass’d
In comfortless suspicion, and the dread
Of violence? Be mine the humble blessings
Of private life, rather than be a king,
From the flagitious forced to choose my friends,
And hate the virtuous through the fear of death.
Gold, thou mayst tell me, hath o’er things like these
A sovereign power, and riches give delight:
I have no pleasure in this noisy pomp,
Nor, while I guard my riches, in the toil:
Be mine a modest mean that knows not care.
And now, my father, hear the happy state
I here enjoy’d; and first, to mortal man
That dearest blessing, leisure, and no bustle
To cause disturbance: me no ruffian force
Shoved from the way: it is not to be borne,
When every insolent and worthless wretch
Makes you give place. The worship of the god
Employ’d my life, or (no unpleasing task)
Service to men well pleased: the parting guest
I bade farewell-welcomed the new-arrived.
Thus something always new made every hour
Glide sweetly on; and to the human mind
That dearest wish, though some regard it not,
To be, what duty and my nature made me,
Just to the god: revolving this, my father,
I wish not for thy Athens to exchange
This state; permit me to myself to live;
Dear to the mind pleasures that arise
From humble life, as those which greatness brings.
Well hast thou said, if those whom my soul holds
Most dear shall in thy words find happiness.
No more of this discourse; learn to be happy.
It is my will that thou begin it here,
Where first I found thee, son: a general feast
Will I provide, and make a sacrifice,
Which at thy birth I made not: at my table
Will I receive thee as a welcome guest,
And cheer thee with the banquet, then conduct the
To Athens with me as a visitant,
Not as my son: for, mid my happiness,
I would not grieve my wife, who hath no child.
But I will watch the occasions time may bring,
And so present thee, and obtain her leave
That thou mayst hold the sceptre which I bear.
Ion I name thee, as befits thy fortune,
As first thou met’st me from the hallow’d shrine
As I came forth; assemble then thy friends,
Invite them all to share the joyful feast,
Since thou art soon to leave the Delphic state.
And you, ye females, keep, I charge you, keep
This secret; she that tells my wife shall die.
Let us then go; yet one thing to my fortune
Is wanting: if I find not her that bore me,
Life hath no joy. Might I indulge a wish,
It were to find her an Athenian dame,
That from my mother I might dare to assume
Some confidence; for he whose fortune leads him
To a free state proud of their unmix’d race,
Though call’d a citizen, must close his lips
With servile awe, for freedom is not his.
XUTHUS and ION go out
Yes, sisters, yes, the streaming eye,
The swelling heart I see, the bursting sigh,
When thus rejoicing in his son
Our queen her royal lord shall find,
And give to grief her anguish’d mind,
Afflicted, childless, and alone.
What means this voice divine,
Son of Latona, fate-declaring power?
Whence is this youth, so fondly graced,
That to ripe manhood, from his infant hour,
Hath in thy hallow’d courts been plac’d
And nurtured at thy shrine?
Thy dark reply delights not me;
Lurking beneath close fraud I see:
Where will this end? I fear, I fear-
‘Tis strange, and strange events must hence ensue:
But grateful sounds it to his ear,
The youth, that in another’s state
(Who sees not that my words are true?)
Enjoys the fraud, and triumphs in his fate.
Say, sisters, say, with duteous zeal
Shall we this secret to our queen reveal?
She, to her royal lord resign’d,
With equal hope, with equal care,
Form’d her his joys, his griefs to share,
And gave him an her willing mind.
But joys are his alone;
While she, poor mourner, with a weight of woes,
To hoary age advancing, bends;
He the bright smile of prosperous fortune knows.
Ev’n thus, unhonour’d by his friends,
Plac’d on another’s throne,
Mischance and ruin on him wait,
Who fails to guard its happy state.
Him may mischance and ruin seize,
Who round my lov’d queen spreads his wily trains.
No god may his oblation please,
No favouring flame to him ascend!
To her my faith, my zeal remains,
Known to her ancient royal house a friend.
Now the father and the new-found son
The festive table haste to spread,
Where to the skies Parnassus lifts his head,
And deep beneath the hanging stone
Forms in its rudely-rifted side
A cavern wild and wide;
Where Bacchus, shaking high his midnight flames,
In many a light fantastic round
Dances o’er the craggy ground,
And revels with his frantic dames.
Ne’er to my city let him come,
This youth: no, rather let him die,
And sink into an early tomb!
With an indignant eye
Athens would view the stranger’s pride
Within her gates triumphant ride:
Enough for her the honour’d race that springs
From old Erechtheus and her line of kings.
CREUSA and her aged TUTOR enter
Thou venerable man, whose guiding voice
My father, while he lived, revered, advance
Up to the oracular seat thy aged steps;
That, if the royal Phoebus should pronounce
Promise of offspring, thou with me mayst share
The joy; for pleasing is it when with friends
Good fortune we receive; if aught of ill
(Avert it, Heaven!) befalls, a friend’s kind eye
Beams comfort; thee, as once thou didst revere
My father, though thy queen, I now revere.
In thee, my child, the nobleness of manners
Which graced thy royal ancestors yet lives;
Thou never wilt disgrace thy high-born lineage.
Lead me, then, lead me to the shrine, support me:
High is the oracular seat, and steep the ascent;
Be thou assistant to the foot of age.
Follow; be heedful where thou set thy steps.
I am: my foot is slow, my heart hath wings.
Fix thy staff firm on this loose-rolling ground.
That hath no eyes; and dim indeed my sight.
Well hast thou said; on cheerful then, and faint not.
I have the will, but o’er constraint no power.
Ye females, on my richly-broider’d works
Faithful attendants, say, respecting children,
For which we came, what fortune hath my lord
Borne hence? if good, declare it: you shall find
That to no thankless masters you give joy.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
To thy speech this is a proem
Not tuned to happiness.
But why distress me for the oracle
Given to our lords? Be that as fate requires
In things which threaten death, what shall we do?
What means this strain of woe? Whence are these fears?
What! shall we speak, or bury this in silence?
Speak, though thy words bring wretchedness to me.
It shall be spoken, were I twice to die.
To thee, my queen, it is not given to clasp
In thy fond arms a child, or at thy breast
To hold it.
O my child, would I were dead!
Yes, this is wretchedness indeed, a grief
That makes life joyless.
This is ruin to us.
Unhappy me! this is a piercing grief,
That rends my heart with anguish.
Groan not yet.
Yet is the affliction present.
Till we learn-
To me what tidings?
If a common fate
Await our lord, partaker of thy griefs,
Or thou alone art thus unfortunate.
To him, old man, the god hath given a son,
And happiness is his unknown to her.
To ill this adds the deepest ill, a grief
For me to mourn.
Born of some other woman
Is this child yet to come, or did the god
Declare one now in being?
To manhood’s prime he gave him: I was present.
What hast thou said? Thy words denounce to me
Sorrows past speech, past utterance.
And to me.
How was this oracle accomplish’d? Tell me
With clearest circumstance: who is this youth?
Him as a son Apollo gave, whom first,
Departing from the god, thy lord should meet.
O my unhappy fate! I then am left
Childless to pass my life, childless, alone,
Amid my lonely house! Who was declared?
Whom did the husband of this wretch first meet?
How meet him? Where behold him? Tell me all.
Dost thou, my honoured mistress, call to mind
The youth that swept the temple? This is he.
O, through the liquid air that I could fly,
Far from the land of Greece, ev’n to the stars
Fix’d in the western sky! Ah me, what grief,
What piercing grief is mine I
Say, by what name
Did he address his son, if thou hast heard it?
Or does it rest in silence, yet unknown?
Ion, for that he first advanced to meet him.
And of what mother?
That I could not learn:
Abrupt was his departure (to inform thee
Of all I know, old man) to sacrifice,
With hospitable rites, a birthday feast;
And in the hallow’d cave, from her apart,
With his new son to share the common banquet.
Lady, we by thy husband are betrayed,
For I with thee am grieved, with contrived fraud
Insulted, from thy father’s house cast forth.
I speak not this in hatred to thy lord,
But that I love thee more: a stranger he
Came to the city and thy royal house,
And wedded thee, all thy inheritance
Receiving, by some other woman now
Discover’d to have children privately:
How privately I’ll tell thee: when he saw
Thou hadst no child, it pleased him not to bear
A fate like thine; but by some favourite slave,
His paramour by stealth, he hath a son.
Him to some Delphian gave he, distant far,
To educate; who to this sacred house
Consign’d, as secret here, received his nurture.
He knowing this, and that his son advanced
To manhood, urged thee to attend him hither,
Pleading thy childless state. Nor hath the god
Deceived thee: he deceived thee, and long since
Contrived this wily plan to rear his son,
That, if convicted, he might charge the god,
Himself excusing: should the fraud succeed,
He would observe the times when he might safely
Consign to him the empire of thy land.
And this new name was at his leisure form’d,
Ion, for that he came by chance to meet him.
I hate those ill-designing men, that form
Plans of injustice, and then gild them over
With artificial ornament: to me
Far dearer is the honest simple friend,
Than one whose quicker wit is train’d to ill.
And to complete this fraud, thou shalt be urged
To take into thy house, to lord it there,
This low-born youth, this offspring of a slave.
Though ill, it had been open, had he pleaded
Thy want of children, and, thy leave obtain’d,
Brought to thy house a son that could have boasted
His mother noble; or, if that displeased thee,
He might have sought a wife from Aeolus.
Behooves thee then to act a woman’s part,
Or grasp the sword, or drug the poison’d bowl,
Or plan some deep design to kill thy husband,
And this his son, before thou find thy death
From them: if thou delay, thy life is lost:
For when beneath one roof two foes are met,
The one must perish. I with ready zeal
Will aid thee in this work, and kill the youth,
Entering the grot where he prepares the feast;
Indifferent in my choice, so that I pay
What to my lords I owe, to live or die.
If there is aught that causes slaves to blush,
It is the name; in all else than the free
The slave is nothing worse, if he be virtuous.
I too, my honour’d queen, with cheerful mind
Will share thy fate, or die, or live with honour.
How, o my soul, shall I be silent, how
Disclose this secret? Can I bid farewell
To modesty? What else restrains my tongue?
To how severe a trial am I brought!
Hath not my husband wrong’d me? Of my house
I am deprived, deprived of children; hope
Is vanish’d, which my heart could not resign,
With many an honest wish this furtive bed
Concealing, this lamented bed concealing.
But by the star-bespangled throne of Jove,
And by the goddess high above my rocks
Enshrined, by the moist banks that bend around
The hallow’d lake by Triton form’d, no longer
Will I conceal this bed, but ease my breast,
The oppressive load discharged. Mine eyes drop tears,
My soul is rent, to wretchedness ensnared
By men, by gods, whom I will now disclose,
Unkind betrayers of the beds they forced.
O thou, that wakest on thy seven-string’d lyre
Sweet notes, that from the rustic lifeless horn
Enchant the ear with heavenly melody,
Son of Latona, thee before this light
Will I reprove. Thou camest to me, with gold
Thy locks all glittering, as the vermeil flowers
I gather’d in my vest to deck my bosom
With the spring’s glowing hues; in my white hand
Thy hand enlocking, to the cavern’d rock
Thou led’st me; naught avail’d my cries, that call’d
My mother; on thou led’st me, wanton god,
Immodestly, to Venus paying homage.
A son I bare thee, O my wretched fate!
Him (for I fear’d my mother) in thy cave
I placed, where I unhappy was undone
By thy unhappy love. Woe, woe is me!
And now my son and thine, ill-fated babe,
Is rent by ravenous vultures; thou, meanwhile,
Art to thy lyre attuning strains of joy.
Set of Latona, thee I call aloud
Who from thy golden seat, thy central throne,
Utterest thine oracle: my voice shall reach
Thine ear: ungrateful lover, to my husband,
No grace requiting, thou hast given a son
To bless his house; my son and thine, unown’d,
Perish’d a prey to birds; the robes that wrapp’d
The infant’s limbs, his mother’s work, lost with him.
Delos abhors thee, and the laurel boughs
With the soft foliage of the palm o’erhung,
Grasping whose round trunk with her hands divine,
Latona thee, her hallow’d offspring, bore.
Ah, what a mighty treasury of ills
Is open’d here, a copious source of tears!
Never, my daughter, can I sate my eyes
With looking on thy face: astonishment
Bears me beyond my senses. I had stemm’d
One tide of evils, when another flood
High-surging overwhelm’d me from the words
Which thou hast utter’d, from the present ills
To an ill train of other woes transferr’d.
What say’st thou? Of what charge dost thou implead
The god? What son hast thou brought forth? Where placed him
A feast for vultures? Tell me all again.
Though I must blush, old man, yet I will speak.
I mourn with generous grief at a friend’s woes.
Hear then: the northward-pointing cave thou knowest,
And the Cecropian rocks, which we call Macrai.
Where stands a shrine to Pan, and altars nigh.
There in a dreadful conflict I engaged.
What! my tears rise ready to meet thy words.
By Phoebus drawn reluctant to his bed.
Was this, my daughter, such as I suppose?
I know not: but if truth, I will confess it.
Didst thou in silence mourn this secret ill?
This was the grief I now disclose to thee.
This love of Phoebus how didst thou conceal?
I bore a son. Hear me, old man, with patience.
Where? who assisted? or wast thou alone?
Alone, in the same cave where compress’d.
Where is thy son, that childless now no more
Dead, good old man, to beasts of prey exposed.
Dead! and the ungrateful Phoebus gives no aid?
None: in the house of Pluto a young guest.
Whose hands exposed him? Surely not thine own.
Mine, in the shades of night, wrapp’d in his vests.
Hadst thou none with thee conscious to this deed?
My misery, and the secret place alone.
How durst thou in a cavern leave thy son?
How? uttering many sad and plaintive words.
Ah, cruel was thy deed, the god more cruel.
Hadst thou but seen him stretch his little hands!
Seeking the breast, or reaching to thine arms?
To this, deprived of which he suffer’d wrong.
And what induced thee to expose thy child?
Hope that the god’s kind care would save his son.
How are the glories of thy house destroy’d!
Why, thine head cover’d, dost thou pour these tears?
To see thee and thy father thus unhappy.
This is the state of man: nothing stands firm.
No longer then, my child, let grief oppress us.
What should I do? In misery all is doubt.
First on the god that wrong’d thee be avenged.
How shall a mortal ‘gainst a god prevail?
Set this revered oracular shrine on fire.
I fear: ev’n now I have enough of ills.
Attempt what may be done then; kill thy husband.
The nuptial bed I reverence, and his goodness.
This son then, which is now brought forth against thee.
How? Could that be, how warmly should I wish it.
Thy train hath swords: instruct them to the deed.
I go with speed: but where shall it be done?
In the hallow’d tent, where now he feasts his friends.
An open murder, and with coward slaves!
If mine displease, propose thou some design.
I have it, close and easy to achieve.
In both my faithful services are thine.
Hear then: not strange to thee the giants’ war.
When they in Phlegra fought against the gods.
There the earth brought forth the Gorgon, horrid monster.
In succour of her sons to annoy the gods?
Ev’n so: her Pallas slew, daughter of Jove.
What fierce and dreadful form did she then wear?
Her breastplate arm’d with vipers wreathed around.
A well-known story; often have I heard it.
Her spoils before her breast Minerva wore.
The aegis; so they call the vest of Pallas.
So named, when in the war she join’d the gods.
But how can this, my child, annoy thy foes?
Thou canst not but remember Erichthonius.
Whom first of thy high race the earth brought forth.
To him while yet an infant Pallas gave-
What? Thy slow preface raises expectation.
Two drops of blood that from the Gorgon fell.
And on the human frame what power have these?
The one works death, the other heals disease.
In what around the infant’s body hung?
Enclosed in gold: he gave them to my father.
At his decease then they devolved to thee?
Ay, and I wear it as a bracelet; look.
Their double qualities how temper’d, say.
This drop, which from her hollow vein distill’d,-
To what effect applied? What is its power?
Medicinal, of sovereign use to life.
The other drop, what faculties hath that?
It kills, the poison of the Gorgon dragons.
And dost thou bear this gore blended in one?
No, separate; for with ill good mixes not.
O my dear child, thou hast whate’er we want.
With this the boy shall die, and thou shalt kill him.
Where? How? ‘Tis thine to speak, to dare be mine.
At Athens, when he comes beneath my roof.
I like not this; what I proposed displeased.
Dost thou surmise what enters now my thoughts?
Suspicion waits thee, though thou kill him not.
Thou hast judged well: a stepdame’s hate is proverb’d.
Then kill him here; thou mayst disown the deed.
My mind ev’n now anticipates the pleasure.
Thus shalt thou meet thy husband’s wiles with wiles
This shalt thou do: this little golden casket
Take from my hand, Minerva’s gift of old;
To where my husband secretly prepares
The sacrifice, bear this beneath thy vest.
That supper ended, when they are to pour
Libations to the gods, thou mayst infuse
In the youth’s goblet this: but take good heed,
Let none observe thee; drug his cup alone
Who thinks to lord it in my house: if once
It pass his lips, his foot shall never reach
Illustrious Athens: death awaits him here.
She gives him the casket.
Go thou then to the hospitable house
Prepared for thy reception: be it mine,
Obedient to thy word to do this deed.
Come then, my aged foot, be once more young
In act, though not in years, for past recall
That time is fled: kill him, and bear him forth.
Well may the prosperous harbour virtuous thought;
But when thou wouldst avenge thee on thy foes,
There is no law of weight to hinder thee.
They both go out.
Daughter of Ceres, Trivia hear,
Propitious regent of each public way
Amid the brightness of the day,
Nor less when night’s dark hour engenders fear;
The fulness of this goblet guide
To check with death this stripling’s pride,
For whom my queen this fatal draught prepares,
Tinged with the Gorgon’s venom’d gore:
That seat, which mid Erechtheus’ royal heirs
His pride claims, it shall claim no more:
Never may one of alien blood disgrace
The imperial honours of that high-born race!
Should not this work of fate succeed,
Nor the just vengeance of my queen prevail;
Should this apt time of daring fail,
And hope, that flatters now, desert the deed;
Slaughter shall other means afford,
The strangling cord, the piercing sword;
For rage from disappointed rage shall flow,
And try each. various form of death;
For never shall my queen this torment know;
Ne’er while she draws this vital breath,
Brook in her house that foreign lords should shine,
Clothed with the splendours of her ancient line.
Thou whom the various hymn delights,
Then thy bright choir of beauteous dames among,
Dancing the stream’s soft brink along,
Thou seest the guardian of thy mystic rites,
Thy torch its midnight vigils keep,
Thine eye meantime disdaining sleep;
While with thee dances Jove’s star-spangled plain.
And the moon dances up the sky:
Ye nymphs, that lead to grots your frolic train,
Beneath the gulfy founts that lie:
Thou gold-crown’d queen, through night’s dark regions fear’d,
And thou, her mother, power revered,
How should I blush to see this youth unknown!
This Delphic vagrant, hope to seize the throne.
You, who the melting soul to move,
In loose, dishonest airs the Muse employ
To celebrate love’s wanton joy,
The joy of unallow’d, unholy love,
See how our pure and modest law
Can lavish man’s lewd deeds o’erawe!
Ye shameless bards, revoke each wanton air;
No more these melting measures frame;
Bid the chaste muse in Virtue’s cause declare,
And mark man’s lawless bed with shame!
Ungrateful is this Jove-descended lord;
For, his wife’s childless bed abhorr’d,
Lewdly he courts the embrace of other dames,
And with a spurious son his pride inflames.
An ATTENDANT of CREUSA enters.
Athenian dames, where shall I find our queen,
The daughter of Erechtheus? Seeking her,
This city have I walked around in vain.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And for what cause, my fellow-slave? What means
Thy hasty foot? What tidings dost thou bring?
We are discover’d; and the rulers here
Seek her, that she may die o’erwhelm’d with stones.
Ah me! what wouldst thou say? Are our designs
Of secret ruin to this youth disclosed?
They are; and know, the worst of ills await you.
How were our dark devices brought to light?
The god, that justice might receive no stain
Caused it to triumph o’er defeated wrong.
How? as a suppliant, I conjure thee, tell me
Of this inform’d, if we must die, more freely
Wish we to die than see the light of heaven.
Soon as the husband of Creusa left
The god’s oracular shrine, this new-found son
He to the feast, and sacrifice prepared
To the high gods, led with him. Xuthus then
Went where the hallow’d flame of Bacchus mounts,
That on each rock’s high point the victim’s blood
Might flow, a grateful offering for his son
Thus recognised, to whom he gave in charge,
“Stay thou, and with the artist’s expert aid
Erect the sheltering tent: my rites perform’d
To the kind gods that o’er the genial bed
Preside, should I be there detain’d too long,
Spread the rich table to my present friends.”
This said, he led the victims to the rocks.
Meanwhile with reverent heed the son ‘gan rear
On firm supporters the wide tent, whose sides
No masonry require, yet framed to exclude
The mid-day sun’s hot beams, or his last rays
When sinking in the west: the lengthen’d lines
Equally distant comprehend a square
Of twice five thousand feet (the skilful thus
Compute it), space to feast (for so he will’d)
All Delphi: from the treasures of the god
He took the sacred tapestry, and around
Hung the rich shade, on which the admiring eye
Gazes with fix’d delight: first over head,
Like a broad pennon spread the extended woof,
Which from the Amazonian spoils the son
Of Jove, Alcides, hallow’d to the god;
In its bright texture interwov’n a sky
Gathering the stars in its ethereal round,
While downwards to the western wave the sun
His steeds declines, and to his station high
Draws up the radiant flame of Hesperus.
Meanwhile the Night robed in her sable stole,
Her unreign’d car advances; on her state
The stars attend; the Pleiads mounting high,
And with his glittering sword Orion arm’d;
Above, Arcturus to the golden pole
Inclines; full-orb’d the month-dividing moon
Takes her bright station, and the Hyades
Marked by the sailor: distant in the rear,
Aurora ready to relume the day,
And put the stars to flight. The sides were graced
With various textures of the historic woof,
Barbaric arguments; in gallant trim
Against the fleet of Greece the hostile fleet
Rides proudly on. Here monstrous forms portray’d
Human and brutal mix’d: the Thracian steeds
Are seized, the hinds, and the adventurous chase
Of savage lions: figured nigh the doors,
Cecrops, attended by his daughter’s, roll’d
His serpent train: in the ample space within
He spread the festal table, richly deck’d
With golden goblets. Now the herald walk’d
His round, each native that inclined to grace
The feast inviting: to the crowded tent
They hasten, crown’d with garlands, and partake
The exquisite repast. The pleasured sense
Now satiate, in the midst an old man stood,
Officious in his ministry, which raised
Much mirth among the guests; for from the urns
He fill’d the lavers, and with fragrant myrrh
Incensed the place; the golden bowls he claim’d
His charge. When now the jocund pipes ‘gan breathe
Harmonious airs, and the fresh goblet stood
Ready to walk its round, the old man said,
“Away with these penurious cups, and bring
Capacious bowls; so shall you quickly bathe
Your spirits in delight.” With speed were brought
Goblets of gold and silver: one he took
Of choicer frame; and, seemingly intent
To do his young lord honour, the full vase
Gave to his hands, but in the wine infused
A drug of poisonous power, which, it is said,
His queen supplied, that the new son no more
Might view the light of heav’n; but unobserved
He mix’d it. As the youth among the rest
Pour’d the libation, ‘mid the attendant slaves
Words of reproach one utter’d: he, as train’d
Within the temple and with expert seers,
Deem’d them of evil omen, and required
Another goblet to be filled afresh-
The former a libation to the god,
He cast upon the ground, instructing all
To pour, like him, the untasted liquor down.
Silence ensued: the sacred bowls we fill
With wines of Byblos; when a troop of doves
Came fluttering in, for undisturb’d they haunt
The dome of Phoebus: in the floating wine
They dipp’d their bills to drink, then raised their heads,
Gurgling it down their beauteous-plumed throats.
Harmless to all the spilt wine, save to her
That lighted where the youth had pour’d his bowl:
She drank, and straight convulsive shiverings seized
Her beauteous plumes; around in giddy rings
She whirl’d, and in a strange and mournful note
Seem’d to lament: amazement seized the guests,
Seeing the poor bird’s pangs: her heart heaved thick,
And stretching out her scarlet legs, she died.
Rending his robes, the son of Phoebus given
Sprung from the table, and aloud exclaim’d,-
“What wretch design’d to kill me? Speak, old man:
Officious was thy ministry; the bowl
I from thy hand received.” Then straight he seized
His aged arm, and to the question held him,
As in the fact discover’d: he thus caught,
Reluctant and constrain’d, own’d the bold deed,
The deadly goblet by Creusa drugg’d.
Forth from the tent, the guests attending, rush’d
The youth announced by Phoebus, and amid
The Pythian regents says,-“O hallow’d land!
This stranger dame, this daughter of Erechtheus
Attempts my life by poison.” Then decreed
The Delphian lords (nor did one voice dissent)
That she should die, my mistress, from the rock
Cast headlong, as the deed was aim’d against
A sacred life, and impiously presumed
This hallow’d place with murder to profane.
Demanded by the state, she this way bends
Her wretched steps. Unhappy to this shrine
She came through fond desire of children; here,
Together with her hopes, her life is lost.
None, there is none, from death no flight,
To me no refuge; our dark deed
Betray’d, betray’d to open light;
The festive bowl, with sprightly wine that flow’d
Mix’d with the Gorgon’s viperous blood,
An offering to the dead decreed,
All is betray’d to light: and I,
Cast headlong from the rock, must die.
What flight shall save me from this death,
Borne on swift pinions through the air,
Sunk to the darksome cave beneath,
Or mounted on the rapid car?
Or shall the flying bark unfurl its sails?
Alas, my queen, no flight avails,
Save when some god’s auspicious power
Shall snatch us from the dangerous hour.
Unhappy queen, what pangs shall rend thy heart!
Shall we, who plann’d the deathful deed,
Be caught within the toils we spread,
While justice claims severe her chast’ning part?
CREUSA rushes in.
I am pursued, ye faithful females, doom’d
To death: the Pythian council hath decreed it:
My life is forfeited.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
We know the dreadful ills that close thee round.
Ah, whither shall I fly? From instant death
Scarce hath my foot sped hither, from my foes
By stealth escaping.
Whither wouldst thou fly,
But to this altar?
What will that avail me?
To kill a suppliant there the law forbids.
But by the law I perish.
If their hands
Had seized thee.
Dreadful contest, with drawn swords
They hastily advance.
Now take thy seat
At the altar: shouldst thou die ev’n there, thy blood
Will call the vengeance of the god on those
That spilt it: but our fortune we must bear.
She takes refuge at the altar as ION, guards, and Delphians enter.
Bull-visaged sire Cephisus, what a viper
Hast thou produced? a dragon from her eyes
Glaring pernicious flame. Each daring deed
Is hers: less venomous the Gorgon’s blood,
With which she purposed to have poison’d me.
Seize her, that the Parnassian rocks may tease
Those nice-adjusted ringlets of her hair,
As down the craggy precipice she bounds.
Here my good genius saved me, e’er I came
To Athens, there beneath my stepdame’s wiles
To fall; amid my friends thy fell intents
Have I unravell’d, what a pest to me,
Thy hate how deadly: had thy toils inclosed me
In thine own house, thou wouldst at once have sent me
With complete ruin to the shades below.
But nor the altar nor Apollo’s shrine
Shall save thee. Pity, might her voice be heard,
Would rather plead for me and for my mother,
She absent, yet the name remains with me.
Behold that sorceress; with what art she wove
Wile after wile; the altar of the god
Impress’d her not with awe, as if secure.
No vengeance waited her unhallow’d deeds.
I charge thee, kill me not, in my own right,
And in the god’s, whose suppliant here I stand.
What right hast thou to plead Apollo’s name?
My person hallow’d to the god I offer.
Yet wouldst thou poison one that is the god’s.
Thou wast no more Apollo’s, but thy father’s.
I have been, of a father’s wealth I speak.
And now I am: thou hast that claim no more.
But thou art impious: pious were my deeds.
As hostile to my house, I would have kill’d thee.
Did I against thy country march in arms?
And more; thou wouldst have fired Erechtheus’ house.
What torch, what brands, what flames had I prepared?
There wouldst thou fix, seizing my right by force.
The land which he possess’d, my father gave me.
What claim hath there the race of Aeolus?
He was its guardian, not with words but arms.
Its soldier then; an inmate, not its lord.
Wouldst thou, through fear of what might happen, kill me?
Lest death should be my portion, if not thine.
Childless thou enviest that my father found me.
And wilt thou make a childless house thy spoil?
Devolves my father then no share to me?
His shield, his spear; be those thine heritage.
Come from the altar, quit that hallow’d seat.
Instruct thy mother, whosoe’er she be.
Shalt thou unpunish’d meditate my death?
Within this shrine if thou wilt murder me.
What pleasure mid these sacred wreaths to die?
We shall grieve one, by whom we have been grieved.
Strange, that the god should give these laws to men,
Bearing no stamp of honour, nor design’d
With provident thought: it is not meet to place
The unrighteous at his altars; worthier far
To be chased thence; nor decent that the vile
Should with their touch pollute the gods: the good,
Oppress’d with wrongs, should at those hallow’d seats
Seek refuge: ill beseems it that the unjust
And just alike should seek protection there.
As ION and his followers are about to tear CREUSA from the altar,
the PRIESTESS of Apollo enters from the temple.
Forbear, my son, leaving the oracular seat,
I pass this pale, the priestess of the god,
The guardian of the tripod’s ancient law,
Call’d to this charge from all the Delphian dames.
Hail, my loved mother, dear, though not my parent.
Yet let me have the name, ’tis grateful to me.
Hast thou yet heard their wily trains to kill me?
I have; but void of mercy thou dost wrong.
Should I not ruin those that sought my life?
Stepdames to former sons are always hostile.
And I to stepdames ill intreated thus.
Be not, this shrine now leaving for thy country.
How, then, by thy monition should I act?
Go with good omens, pure to Athens go.
All must be pure that kill their enemies.
So do not thou: attentive mark my words.
Speak: from good will whate’er thou say’st must flow.
Seest thou the vase I hold beneath mine arm?
I see an ancient ark entwined with wreaths.
In this long since an infant I received thee.
What say’st thou? New is thy discourse and strange.
In silence have I kept them: now I show them.
And why conceal’d, as long since thou received’st me?
The god would have thee in his shrine a servant.
Is that no more his will? How shall I know it?
Thy father shown, he sends thee from this land.
Hast thou preserved these things by charge, or how?
It was the god that so disposed my thought.
With what design? Speak, finish thy discourse.
Ev’n to this hour to keep what then I found.
What gain imports this to me, or what loss?
There didst thou lie wrapp’d in thy infant vests.
Thou hast produced whence I may find my mother.
Since now the god so wills, but not before.
This is a day of bless’d discoveries.
Now take them: o’er all Asia, and the bounds
Of Europe hold thy progress: thou shalt know
These tokens. To do pleasure to the god,
I nurtured thee, my son; now to thy hand
Restore what was his will I should receive
Unbidden, and preserve: for what intent
It was his will, I have not power to say.
That I had these, or where they were conceal’d,
No mortal knew. And now farewell: the love
I bear thee equals what a parent feels.
Let thy inquiries where they ought begin;
First, if some Delphian virgin gave thee birth,
And in this shrine exposed thee; next, if one
Of Greece. From me, and from the god, who feels
An interest in thy fortune, thou hast all.
She goes into the temple after giving ION the ark
Ah me! the moist tear trickles from mine eye,
When I reflect that she who gave me birth,
By stealth espoused, may with like secrecy
Have sold me, to my infant lips her breast
Denied: but in the temple of the god
Without a name, a servile life I led.
All from the god was gracious, but from fortune
Harsh; for the time when in a mother’s arms
I in her fondness should have known some joy
Of life, from that sweet care was I estranged,
A mother’s nurture: nor less wretched she,
Thus forced to lose the pleasure in her son.
But I will take this vase, and to the god
Bear it, a hallow’d offering; that from thence
I may find nothing which I would not find.
Should she, that gave me being, chance to be
A slave, to find her were a greater ill,
Than to rest silent in this ignorance.
O Phoebus, in thy temple hang I this.
What am I doing? War I not against
The pleasure of the god, who saved for me
These pledges of my mother? I must dare,
And open these: my fate cannot be shunn’d.
He opens the ark
Ye sacred garlands, what have you so long
Conceal’d: ye bands, that keep these precious relics?
Behold the cover of this circular vase;
Its freshness knows no change, as if a god
So will’d; this osier-woven ark yet keeps
Its soundness undecay’d; yet many a year,
Since it contain’d this treasured charge, has pass’d.
What an unhoped-for sight do I behold!
I thought thou long hadst known to keep thee silent.
Silence is mine no more; instruct not me;
For I behold the ark, wherein of old
I laid thee, O my son, an infant babe;
And in the caves of Cecrops, with the rocks
Of Macrai roof’d, exposed thee: I will quit
This altar, though I run on certain death.
Seize her; for by the impulse of the god
She leaves the sculptured altar: bind her bands.
Instantly kill me, so that I embrace
This vase, and thee, and these thy conceal’d pledges.
Is not this strange? I take thee at thy word.
Not strange: a friend thou by thy friends art found.
Thy friend! Yet wouldst thou kill me secretly.
My son: if that to parents is most dear.
Forbear thy wiles; I shall refute them well.
Might I but to come to what I wish, my son!
Is this vase empty, or contains it aught?
Thy infant vests, in which I once exposed thee.
And wilt thou name them to me, ere thou see them?
If I recount them not, be death my meed.
Speak then: thy confidence hath something strange.
A tissue, look, which when a child I wrought.
What is it? Various are the works of virgins.
A slight, unfinish’d essay of the loom.
What figure wrought? Thou shalt not take me thus.
A Gorgon central in the warp enwoven-
What fortune haunts me, O supreme of gods!
And like an aegis edged with serpents round.
Such is the woof, and such the vest I find.
Thou old embroidery of my virgin bands!
Is there aught else besides this happy proof?
Two dragons, an old work, their jaws of gold.
The gift of Pallas, who thus nurtures children?
Emblems of Erichthonius of old times.
Why? for what use? Explain these works of gold.
For ornaments to grace the infant’s neck.
See, here they are; the third I wish to know.
A branch of olive then I wreathed around thee,
Pluck’d from that tree which from Minerva’s rock
First sprung; if it be there, it still retains
Its verdure: for the foliage of that olive,
Fresh in immortal beauty, never fades.
O my dear mother! I with joy behold thee.
With transport ‘gainst thy cheek my cheek recline.
My son, my son, far dearer to thy mother
Than yon bright orb (the god will pardon me) ,
Do I then hold thee in my arms, thus found
Beyond my hopes, when in the realms below,
I thought thy habitation ‘mong the dead?
O my dear mother, in thy arms I seem
As one that had been dead to life return’d.
Ye wide-expanded rays of heavenly light,
What notes, what high-raised strains shall tell my joy?
This pleasure whence, this unexpected transport?
There was no blessing farther from my thoughts
Than this, my mother, to be found thy son.
I tremble yet.
And hast thou yet a fear,
Holding me, not to hold me?
Such fond hopes
Long time have I renounced. Thou hallow’d matron,
From whom didst thou receive my infant child?
What bless’d hand brought him to Apollo’s shrine?
It was the god’s appointment: may our life
To come be happy, as the past was wretched.
Not without tears, my son, wast thou brought forth;
Nor without anguish did my hands resign thee.
Now breathing on thy cheek I feel a joy
Transporting me with heartfelt ecstasies.
The words expressive of thy joys speak mine.
Childless no more, no more alone, my house
Now shines with festive joy; my realms now own
A lord; Erechtheus blooms again; no more
His high-traced lineage sees night darkening round,
But glories in the sun’s refulgent beams.
Now let my father, since he’s present here,
Be partner of the joy which I have given you.
What says my son?
Such, such as I am proved.
What mean thy words? Far other is thy birth.
Ah me! thy virgin bed produced me base.
Nor bridal torch, my son, nor bridal dance
Had graced my nuptial rites, when thou wast born.
Then I’m a wretch, a base-born wretch: say whence.
Be witness, thou by whom the Gorgon died,-
What means this adjuration?
Who hast fix’d
High o’er my cave thy seat amid the rocks
With olive clothed.
Abstruse thy words, and dark.
Where on the cliffs the nightingale attunes
Her songs, Apollo-
Why Apollo named?
Led me in secret to his bed.
Thy words import some glorious fortune to me.
Thee in the tenth revolving month, my son,
A secret pang to Phoebus did I bear.
Thy words, if true, are grateful to my soul.
These swathing bands, thy mother’s virgin work,
Wove by my flying shuttle, round thy body
I roll’d; but from thy lips my breast withheld,
A mother’s nouriture, nor bathed thy bands
In cleansing lavers; but to death exposed thee,
Laid in the dreary cave, to birds of prey
A feast, rent piecemeal by their ravenous beaks.
Cruel, my mother, was thy deed.
Constrain’d, my son, I cast thy life away;
Unwillingly I left thee there to die.
And from my hands unholy were thy death.
Dreadful was then my fortune, dreadful here,
Whirl’d by the eddying blast from misery there
To misery here, and back again to joy:
Her boisterous winds are changed; may she remain
In this repose: enough of ills are past:
After the storm soft breathes a favouring gale.
From this example, mid the greatest ills
Never let mortal man abandon hope.
O thou, that hast to thousands wrought a change
Of state ere this, involving them in ills,
And raising them to happiness again;
Fortune, to what a point have I been carried,
Ready to kill my mother, horrid thought!
But in the sun’s bright course each day affords
Instruction. Thee, my mother, have I found,
In that discovery bless’d; nor hath my birth
Aught I can blame: yet one thing would I say
To thee alone:-walk this way: to thine ear
In secret would I whisper this, and throw
The veil of darkness o’er each circumstance.
Take heed, my mother, lest thy maiden fault
Seeks in these secret nuptials to conceal
Its fault, then charges on the god the deed;
And, fearing my reproach, to Phoebus gives
A son, to Phoebus whom thou didst not bear.
By her, who ‘gainst the giants in her car
Fought by the side of Jove, victorious Pallas,
No one of mortal race is father to thee,
But he who brought thee up, the royal Phoebus.
Why give his son then to another father?
Why say that I was born the son of Xuthus?
Not born the son of Xuthus; but he gives thee,
Born from himself as friend to friend may give
His son, and heir adopted to his house.
True is the god, his tripod else were vain.
Not without cause then is my mind perplex’d.
Hear what my thoughts suggest: to work thee good
Apollo placed thee in a noble house.
Acknowledged his, the rich inheritance
Could not be thine, nor could a father’s name;
For I conceal’d my nuptials, and had plann’d
To kill thee secretly: for this the god
In kindness gives thee to another father.
My mind is prompt to entertain such thoughts;
But, entering at his shrine will I inquire
If from a mortal father I am sprung,
Or from Apollo.-Ha! what may this be?
What god above the hallow’d dome unveils
His radiant face that shines another sun?
Haste, let us fly: the presence of the gods
‘Tis not for mortals to behold, and live.
MINERVA appears from above
Fly not; in me no enemy you fly;
At Athens friendly to you, and no less
Here. From that land I come, so named from me,
By Phoebus sent with speed: unmeet he deems it
To show himself before you, lest with blame
The past be mention’d; this he gave in charge,
To tell thee that she bore thee, and to him,
Phoebus thy father; he to whom he gave thee,
Not as to the author of thy being gives thee,
But to the inheritance of a noble house.
This declaration made, lest thou shouldst die,
Kill’d by thy mother’s wily trains, or she
By thee, these means to save you he devised.
These things in silence long conceal’d, at Athens
The royal Phoebus would have made it known
That thou art sprung from her, thy father he:
But to discharge my office, and unfold
The oracle of the god, for which you yoked
Your chariots, hear: Creusa, take thy son,
Go to the land of Cecrops: let him mount
The royal throne; for, from Erechtheus sprung,
That honour is his due, the sovereignty
Over my country: through the states of Greece
Wide his renown shall spread; for from his root
Four sons shall spring, that to the land, the tribes,
The dwellers on my rock, shall give their names.
Geleon the first, Hopletes, Argades,
And from my aegis named Aegicores:
Their sons in fate’s appointed time shall fix
Their seats along the coast, or in the isles
Girt by the Aegean sea, and to my land
Give strength; extending thence the opposite plains
Of either continent shall make their own,
Europe and Asia, and shall boast their name
Ionians, from the honour’d Ion call’d.
To thee by Xuthus shall a son be born,
Dorus, from whom the Dorian state shall rise
To high renown; in the Pelopian land,
Another near the Rhian cliffs, along
The sea-wash’d coast, his potent monarchy
Shall stretch, Achaeus; and his subject realms
Shall glory in their chief’s illustrious name.
Well hath Apollo quitted him in all:
First, without pain he caused thee bear a son.
That from thy friends thou mightst conceal his birth;
After the birth, soon as his infant limbs
Thy hands had clothed, to Mercury he gave
The charge to take the babe, and in his arms
Convey him hither; here with tenderness
He nurtured him, nor suffer’d him to perish.
Guard now the secret that he is thy son,
That his opinion Xuthus may enjoy
Delighted: thou too hast thy blessings, lady.
And now, farewell: from this relief from ills
A prosperous fortune I to both announce.
O Pallas, daughter of all-powerful Jove!
Not with distrust shall we receive thy words:
I am convinced that Phoebus is my father,
My mother she, not unassured before.
Hear me too, now: Phoebus I praise, before
Unpraised; my son he now restores, of whom
Till now I deem’d him heedless. Now these gates
Are beauteous to mine eyes; his oracles
Now grateful to my soul, unpleasant late.
With rapture on these sounding rings my hands
Now hang; with rapture I address the gates.
This I approve, thy former wayward thoughts
Resign’d, with honour that thou name the god.
Slow are the gifts of Heaven, but found at length
Not void of power.
My son, let us now go
Go; myself will follow you.
A noble guard, and friendly to the state.
But seat him high on thy paternal throne.
A rich possession, and I glory in him.
Son of Latona and all-powerful Jove,
Apollo, hail! Though fortune’s blackest storms
Rage on his house, the man whose pious soul
Reveres the gods, assumes a confidence,
And justly: for the good at length obtain
The meed of virtue; but the unholy wretch
(Such is his nature) never can be happy.