Treasure Island

Aeschylus

(525 BC - 455 BC / Eleusis)

The Sacrifice Of Iphigenia


Now long and long from wintry Strymon blew
The weary, hungry, anchor-straining blasts,
The winds that wandering seamen dearly rue,
Nor spared the cables worn and groaning masts;
And, lingering on, in indolent delay,
Slow wasted all the strength of Greece away.
But when the shrill-voiced prophet 'gan proclaim
That remedy more dismal and more dread
Than the drear weather blackening overhead,
And spoke in Artemis' most awful name,
The sons of Atreus, 'mid their armed peers,
Their sceptres dashed to earth, and each broke out in tears,
And thus the elder king began to say:
"Dire doom! to disobey the gods' commands!
More dire, my child, mine house's pride, to slay,
Dabbling in virgin blood a father's hands.
Alas! alas! which way to fly?
As base deserter quit the host,
The pride and strength of our great league all lost?
Should I the storm-appeasing rite deny,
Will not their wrathfullest wrath rage up and swell?
Exact the virgin's blood?--oh, would 't were o'er and well!"

So, 'neath Necessity's stern yoke he passed,
And his lost soul, with impious impulse veering,
Surrendered to the accursed unholy blast,
Warped to the dire extreme of human daring.
The frenzy of affliction still
Maddens, dire counselor, man's soul to ill.

So he endured to be the priest
In that child-slaughtering rite unblest,
The first full offering of that host
In fatal war for a bad woman lost.

The prayers, the mute appeal to her hard sire,
Her youth, her virgin beauty,
Naught heeded they, the chiefs for war on fire.
So to the ministers of that dire duty
(First having prayed) the father gave the sign,
Like some soft kid, to lift her to the shrine.

There lay she prone,
Her graceful garments round her thrown;
But first her beauteous mouth around
Their violent bonds they wound,
With their rude inarticulate might,
Lest her dread curse the fatal house should smite.
But she her saffron robe to earth let fall:
The shaft of pity from her eye
Transpierced that awful priesthood--one and all.
Lovely as in a picture stood she by
As she would speak. Thus at her father's feasts
The virgin, 'mid the reveling guests,
Was wont with her chaste voice to supplicate
For her dear father an auspicious fate.

I saw no more! to speak more is not mine;
Not unfulfilled was Calchas' lore divine.
Eternal justice still will bring
Wisdom out of suffering.
So to the fond desire farewell,
The inevitable future to foretell;
'Tis but our woe to antedate;
Joint knit with joint, expands the full-formed fate.
Yet at the end of these dark days
May prospering weal return at length;
Thus in his spirit prays
He of the Apian land the sole remaining strength.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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