Euripides

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Contents

Introduction

Insincerity and a Vacillating Mind

Oaths Made with Slight Thought

The Rebuke of a Husband

A Daughter’s Plea for Her Life

War and a Mother

A Daughter’s Sorrow after War

Marriage and War

Murder of a Child by War

Outward Signs Do Not Denote the Man

Riches Do Not Make a Man

Better Poor and Honest

Patriotism and War are Good for You

Generals May Act Like Brutes

Sources

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

In the plays of Euripides (485-408 BCE) the heroes of Homer and the classic Greek legends about the Trojan War become ordinary men, with very human traits that give complexity and depth to the dramas. In this respect, Euripides has been regarded as the first modern dramatist. When one compares his characters with those of Aeschylus, it is clear that a revolutionary move has been made towards portraying the human situation. Menelaus and Agamemnon are no longer supermen but ordinary men with human failings. The women in the Trojan war are no longer background figures but come into the foreground with their vivid description of the sufferings of civilians in warfare. Euripides shows great sympathy for the victims of society, particularly women and children, but also for immigrants, captives, and slaves. It has been said, perhaps by another great Greek dramatist, Sophocles, that whereas Sophocles showed people as they should be, Euripides showed people as they are.

 

In Iphigenia in Aulis, Iphigenea is sacrificed at the orders of Menelaus and Agamemnon, who are portrayed as indecisive political braggarts. Iphigenea, who has only a small part in the play, turns out to be the heroine. In The Trojan Women, Euripides portrays the utter ruin brought about by war by focusing on the suffering of women and children, and the demoralizing effect it has on the victors. In Andromache he shows Menelaus returning as a murderous but cowardly bully who is faced down by Peleus, the elderly father of Achilles. The plays contain more than the particular viewpoints of these extracts, of course. They are highly successful dramas that have survived for millennia because their popularity caused a large number of copies to be circulated, and because the moral questions they raised made them a subject of study by the philosophers of Alexandria.

     

The main characters appearing in the following brief extracts are King Menelaus, whose wife, Helen, was abducted to Troy by Paris, son of Priam, the King of Troy, or Illium. Priam’s wife, Hecuba, is the mother of Paris, Hector (the Trojan hero), and Cassandra, a prophetess. The brother of Menelaus, Agamemnon leads the Greek army by sea to Troy. Clytemnestra is his wife, Iphigenia and Electra, his two daughters, and Orestes his son. With the overthrow of Troy, Cassandra is given as a concubine to Agamemnon; Andromache, the wife of Hector, is given to Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles and the killer of Priam. Her daughter Polyxena is murdered over the grave of Achilles as a sacrifice to a ghost. Her son, Astyanax, is flung off the battlements to be smashed to death on the rocks below. (Modern explosives have made the shattering of children’s bodies in this primitive way unnecessary.) In this as in other plays, Euripides discredits the sort of mind that believes bloody sacrifices can bring special favors.

 

 

 

1  Insincerity and a Vacillating Mind

 

In Iphigenia in Aulis, Agamemnon at first seizes on the idea of sacrificing his daughter to obtain a fair wind for his fleet and then changes is mind. He therefore writes a letter to Clytemnestra telling here not to bring Iphigenea to Aulis. Menelaus steals this letter and after reading its contents upbraids Agamemnon.

Menelaus:

How unsteady is your mind—your thoughts change

quickly to cancel out the ones that went before!

 

Agamemnon:

Quickly you twist things , but you should know

I loathe the evil coming from a crafty tongue.

 

Menelaus:

An ever changing mind is a degrading quality,

and is disloyal to our friends: That I will prove.

But do not fret: you hold back your bluster

and I’ll not press you hard.

 

Remember when your ambition was to lead

the Grecian troops to Troy? You tried to look

as if you didn’t care, but your desire was ravenous.

What humility you showed: grasping the hand

of everyone, holding your door wide open

for all, even to the meanest, and haranguing

everyone in turn, even to those who would not listen.

And in this way you sought by servile manner

to purchase your ambitious wish.

The supreme command obtained,

your manner changed at once. To friends

you were much cooler than before; and getting in

to see you was not easy—often denied, in fact.

It ill becomes an honest man to change his tune

when he is raised to power. Rather, he is most

approved when he remains a steadfast friend,

when through his rise in power he can aid his friends.

This I lodge against you as my first charge—

where I first found you contemptible.

 

But when you came to Aulis, with the troops

of Greece in arms, you hit the very bottom.

Aghast at your bad luck to be have no

wind to swell your sails, you heard the Greeks

demand that you dismiss the ships forthwith,

and not waste further time at Aulis.

How down fallen then your face, how great

the turmoil of your mind. No longer commander

of a thousand ships? Not able to throw a

might army in full battle across the plains of Priam?

You had to turn to me and plead,

"What shall I do, what expedient can I find,

to save me from loss of my command,

loss of my high honor?"

 

When Calchas, at his mysterious rites, pronounced

a sacrificial killing of your daughter to Diana

was necessary for the Greeks to sail, your thoughts

leapt up with joy. And willingly you marked

down your girl as victim. Freely—no one forced you,

don’t claim that—you sent a message to your wife

to send your daughter here, pretending she would wed

Achilles. But you soon stood down that plan,

and secretly devised a letter with a different plot.

Now you will not be the murderer of your daughter.
This air around us is my witness!

It has heard these things from you.

This is the way of a thousand others

caught up in arduous tasks. They freely take them

up, and then retreat in shame as they fail to deliver,

sometimes because of bad judgment by their countrymen,
or by a sense of justice perhaps, for when pressed
to the wall, they recognize their lack of power

to protect the safety of the state.


But beyond all this I feel most anguish for

the unhappy fate of Greece, who, prompt

to direct her noble vengeance at barbarians,

shall let them now go scoffing off,

worthless as they are, because of you
and your daughter. Never would I appoint

a leader in arms or a ruler of a state

simply on the basis of his name.

A man should be graced by wisdom

if he is to lead his country in arms.

A man must be wise in counsel to govern.

                                    Iphigenia in Aulis


2  Oaths Made With Slight Thought

 

Agamemnon responds to Menelaus with some harsh words of his own about his brother’s motivation and responsibilities.

 

Agamemnon:

For this outburst I will rebuke you briefly

and temperately—no insolent looks—

because you are my brother, and because

a good man like me always acts with modesty.

 

But tell me, why do you swell with rage this way?

Why do you roll your blood-shot eyes?

Who injured you? Of what are you in need?

A sumptuous connubial bed, is that it?

To get you this is not within my power.

You had one once, but ruled it badly.

So, shall I, never charged with any fault,

suffer for your bad conduct? Is your heart

envious of my honors? No, you lust to hold

a beautiful woman in your foolish arms,
transgressing decency and reason.

Such pleasures are disgusting in an evil man.

But I, having made a foolish decision,

have in light of sober reason changed my mind.

Must I then be considered off my head?

No! That’s you, rather, who has lost a wife

that brought you shame, and still hotly pursues her,

should heaven grant you your wish.

 

Eager for marriage, the suitors unwisely

pledged their oath to Tyndarus,

at the urging, I believe, of the fancy-looking

bride, rather than for your grace or power.

Take that bunch, and march with them to war!

You will soon find what ill-pledged oaths made

with slight thought and by compulsion lead to.

But I will not slay my children.

Your wishes extend beyond the just

punishment of your shameful wife.

My nights, my days would pass away in tears,

if I should wrong with outrage and injustice

those who derived their birth from me.

These things I have replied to you in brief,

freely, and with plainness: but if you will not be wise,

I will be right to take care of my own concerns.

                                   Iphigenia in Aulis             

 

 

3 The Rebuke of a Husband

 

Agamemnon changes his mind again. Then when Clytemnestra finally recognizes that Agamemnon actually plans to have Iphigenia killed rather than marry her to Achilles, she feels free to tell her husband what she thinks of him.

 

Clytemnestra:

Now hear me out, for I will speak my mind

in no obscure or flamboyant style of speech.

To start then, I will rebuke you first with this.
You seized me by force and wed me against my will.

You slew my former husband Tantalus. You violently

tore my infant son from my breast, whirled him round

and dashed him against the ground. My brothers,

the sons of Zeus, advanced in arms against you

glittering on their horses; but old Tyndarus,

my father, saved you, a supplicant at his knees.

And thus you gained my bed.

When my mind was reconciled to you and

to your house, you will yourself attest

how irreproachable a wife I was,

how chaste, and with what care I increased

the splendor of your home. Entering there

you had delight, and going out, happiness went

along with you. A wife like this is a rare prize;

and the two special daughters and this son

I have borne you are not worthless.

One of these you will —O piercing grief!—

tear from me.

 

Should some one ask you why you kill your daughter,

what will you say? Speak, or I must speak for you!

Even this: so that Menelaus may get back his Helen.

That would be a splendid thing, to have our children pay

the price of his wanton wife: what we most hate

we redeem with what is dearest to us.

But if you lead the army on, leaving me

at Argos, and your absence is prolonged,

think what my heart must feel, when in the house

I see the seats all vacant of my child,

And her room empty. I shall sit alone in tears,

mourning her always in these words:

"Your father, child, has murdered you; he

that gave you birth, has killed you—no one else,

no other hand; this is the present he left his house."

 

But do not, by heaven, compel me to be

anything but good to you. And don’t you be

anything but good to me, since it will not take

much for me and my daughters left at home,

to welcome you, as we see fit, on your return.

Well, you will sacrifice your child: what vows

will you make at that time? What blessing will you

ask to wait you—you, who slits your daughter’s throat?

You, who march with shame to this unlucky war?

Is it just that I should pray for

anything good for you? Should I not judge

heaven unwise if it shower favors on those

who stain their willing hands with blood?

Will you, on coming back to Argos, hug

your children? But you will have no right!

Which of your children will look you in the face

if with cool deliberate purpose you kill one of them?

 

Now I come to this point. If on this occasion

you alone were called to bear the scepter,

to lead the troops, should you not have put

forward a just solution to Greece in this way:

"Do you want, Greeks, to sail to Phrygian shores?

Cast lots then for whose daughter must be slain."

This had at least been equal; then you would not

have been singled out to give your child
as victim for the Greeks. Alternatively,

Menelaus, whose cause this is, should

slay their daughter Hermione to get back Helen.
But no, I, who am faithful to your bed
shall have my child taken from me, and she

who is faithless shall bring to Sparta

her young daughter and be filled with joy!

If anything I said is wrong, pray tell me.

But if my words speak nothing but sober reason,

act wisely and do not slay your child and mine.

                                    Iphigenia in Aulis 


4 A Daughter’s Plea for Her Life

 

Iphigenia comes forward herself to plea for her life.

 

Iphigenea:

Had I, my father, the persuasive voice
of Orpheus, and his skill to charm even rocks
to follow me, and with winning words to

soothe anyone I please, I would try my best.

But I have nothing to offer you now
but tears, my only eloquence; and those
I can present you. On your knees I hang
like a suppliant wreath, this body which she bore
for you. Oh, do not kill me in the flower of youth!
The light under heaven is sweet; do not

send me to the death world’s gloom.

 

I was the first to call you father,

I was the first you called your child;

I was the first that on your knees fondly

caressed you, and from you received
a fond caress. This was what you said to me:
"Shall I, my child, ever see you live and

flourish in some house of splendor, happy in your

husband, as becomes my dignity?"

Leaning against your cheek, which with my hand

I now caress, my answer to you was,

"And what shall I do then for you? Shall I receive

my father when he’s grown old, and in my house

cheer him with each fond duty, to repay

the careful nurture which he gave my youth?"

These words are deeply written on my memory.

You have forgotten them, and will kill your child.

 

By Pelops I entreat you, by your father Atreus,

by my mother here, who has suffered

pangs of childbirth for me, now must

suffer such pains again, do not kill me.

If Paris is infatuated with his bride,

his Helen, why does it affect me?

And how does he come to be the source of

my destruction? Look upon me,

give me a smile, give me a kiss, my father,

that, if my words do not persuade you, I may

have in death this memorial of your love.

My brother, you can give small assistance to

your friends, yet for your sister implore your papa

with your tears that she may not die.

Even infants have a sense of wrong: and see,

father, though he is silent, he pleads for

you to be gentle with me, to have pity

on my life. Your two children entreat you

at this beard, your dear, dear children,

one still an infant, one arrived at riper years.

I will sum it all in this, which shall contain

more than long speech: To view the light of life

is most sweet to mortal man, but the world beneath

is nothing. He who has a wish to die

has lost his senses; for life, though ill,

surpasses anything good in death.

                                Iphigenia in Aulis 

 

 

5  War and a Mother

 

In The Trojan Women, the wives and daughters of the leaders of the Trojan army bewail their fates among the ruins of Troy. Hecuba, wife of the King of Troy, now sprawled on the ground, reflects on how much she has lost in the war and on her future fate.

 

Hecuba:

Rise, you unhappy being; from the cold ground

raise your head, your neck. This is no longer Troy,

we no longer rule in Troy. O the shift in fortune!

Bear the change; go with the tidal flow.

Sail where fortune takes you, don’t turn the bows

of life against the waves, or struggle with your fate.

Oh woe, woe, woe! Why is a wretch like me

forbidden to moan—my country lost, my children,

and my husband! That proud boast of noble

ancestry, how it is shrunk, how wiped out!

What shall I hold back in silence? Or not

enclose in silence? What bewail?

In what a woeful state are these poor limbs

splayed out, how ill stretched across this hard bed!

Aia, my head! My temples! My sides!

O, how I long to change my place,

to roll and shift from side to side—

proof of the restless torture of my mind!

Even here the unhappy have a Muse to give

these woes a voice, far different than the notes

attuned to joy and dance.

 

You winged ships, which from the purple seas

and sheltered bays of Greece,  sailed proudly—

your oars moving to the inauspicious 

sound of flutes and oaten pipes, with all your 

pennants flying—sailing to sacred Ilium, 

to Troy ports to get back the hated wife 

of Menelaus, a foul disgrace to Castor, 

and a stain dishonoring Eurotas. 

She has been the death of Priam, reverend 

father of fifty children, and in this gulf 

of misery has plunged wretched Hecuba.

 

My place is now—O, what a place!—

at Agamemnon's tent. And I am led, 

in my old age, a captive from my house, 

my head shorn of its gray hairs, sad symbol 

of my grief. But, O you wretched wives of Trojans 

once valiant in war, you virgins, and you brides

torn from your loves, Troy smokes: let us lament;
and, as the parent bird that swells her shrill notes

over her young, I will begin a song. But not
like those I sang in happier days, leaning

on Priam's sceptre, when my feet,
in Phrygian steps taught by the Graces,
led happy, festive dances to good fortune.

                                    The Trojan Women

 

 

6  A Daughter’s Sorrow After War

 

Cassandra, who has the gift of prophesy, is given as a concubine to Agamemnon. She sees herself ironically as given the opportunity as a "bride" to kill her "husband" and thus incur her own destruction. She then goes on to paint a picture of the sorry end of invaders killed in battle.

 

Cassandra:

Mother, put a crown upon my head;

for I have made a conquest by marriage to a king.

Rejoice. Come, lead me to him. If I go too slow,

push me forward, for by Apollo I swear

that famous Agamemnon, King of Greece,

shall get by wedding me more woe

than Paris when he married Helen.

For I will kill him, and lay waste his house.

Thus will I have vengeance for my brothers'

and my father's deaths. But no word of this.

I will say nothing either of the axe that bites

into my neck and that of others too;

nor of the bloody struggle where a mother dies—

this also shall my wedding cause—

nor of the House of Atreus sunk in ruins.

 

I will prove this city to be blessed far more

than those of Greeks. Prophesy rises in me,

but I hold off the swelling fury to tell you this.

They in seeking Helen—one woman and one

fatal bed—have lost thousands.

Their clever chief himself, to gain what most

the soul abhors, has thrown away what most

it loves. He gave up the sweet love of his

children to get back his brother's wife.

Yet she was borne consentingly, not forcibly away.

 

Greeks died when they sailed to the banks

of the Scamander, destroyed by the sword.

They were not defending their country,

or its high-towered towns.

Yet their children they saw no more,

nor were their limbs wrapped decently

in shrouds by their wives' hands. Instead

they lie abandoned in some foreign field.

At their homes an equal desolation reigns.

Their widowed wives now die alone.

Their parents, childless now, have sought in vain

to rear descendants to their line. No son

survives to make oblations at their tombs.

Such are the triumphs of this mighty horde.

And I have passed in silence over

other scandals taking place. I do not

let the Muse inspire a song in me that

raises blushes on a modest cheek.

 

The Trojans, with what is glory's brightest grace,

died in defense of their own piece of land.

They who fell beneath the spear were

borne home by their friends. The dead

found sepulchers in their native soil. They

were buried by those honored to provide

the burial rites. And those that did not

perish on the field dwelt daily with their

wives and children. The Greeks were outcasts

from such sweet company.

 

The fate of Hector seems mournful to you,

but weigh it well: he died esteemed the bravest

of the brave; the Greeks gave him this high fame

by coming here. Had they not come, this

hero's virtues would have remained obscure.

Paris married the daughter of mighty Zeus;

had she not been his bride, he would have formed

some mean alliance at home, remaining

unrenowned. The man ruled by prudence will

shun war, but if the flames of war are lit,

one who dies bravely defending his own

home wins no mean honor.

Not to act bravely is inglorious shame.

 

Therefore it behooves you, mother, not to

lament for your country or my future bed;

because those whose acts have been

most hostile to us both I will send by

this my marriage to their most certain death.

                                The Trojan Women

 

 

Marriage and War

 

Among the Trojan women, Andromache has multiple causes for sorrow as a result of the war. She answers her mother, who is trying to comfort her after the death of her daughter Polyxena, that in this war the dead are more fortunate than the living.

Andromache:

Listen, so that I may bring a touch of

comfort to your soul. I contend that not

to be born, and to die, are much the same.

But to die is far better than to live

a wretched life; for he who has no sense

of misery does not know grief.

But falling from the happy height of fortune

to the low state of abject wretchedness

muddles the mind with a keen sense

of former happiness. Polyxena is dead,

as if she never saw the light of life. She

knows nothing of her ills. I, who aimed

at glorious rank, and reached my aim,

have been cast down by fortune.

 

In Hector's house my efforts went into all

that lends grace to prudent wives.

First, asserted openly or not, blame

attaches to such women as roam abroad.

I checked this desire for wandering,

and remained at home, within my house.

Nor was idle female gossip allowed there.

Rather, I judged myself well occupied

with taking care of what was useful.

I entertained my husband with quiet

tongue and cheerful look, knowing when to

assert myself and when to yield obedience.


Word of this got to the army of the Greeks

and brought about my ruin. For as soon

as I was captured, the son of fierce Achilles

wished to take me as his wife. I was

doomed to be a slave in the house of those

whose butcher’s hands torment me. If I could

tear Hector from my fond heart and offer up

my breasts to this new husband, I would

appear faithless to the dead. If I do

disdain his love, I shall excite the malice

of my lords. 

 

                    They say a new love quickly

disarms a woman's hate. But my soul abhors

a woman who for a new marriage disdains

her former husband and loves another.

Even the gregarious horse when parted

from its fellow draws its yoke reluctantly.

Yet this beast, formed less complete than man

by nature knows neither speech nor reason.

 


O my beloved Hector, I was blest in you.
You were the lord of all my wishes—great
in noble birth, understanding, wealth, and valor.

You first led me, a maiden, from my father's

house to the bridal bed. Now you are perished,

and I board a ship for Greece, captive

to a servile yoke. Does not the death, then,

of Polyxena, whom you bewail, bring

lighter ills than mine? For even hope,

which is apportioned to all mortals,

does not remain for me. No thought

deludes me with the pleasing expectation
that better fortune will ever come my way.
                                The Trojan Women

 

 

8 Murder of a Child by War

 

Andromache’s little son is to be killed by the Greek victors at Troy. Like any mother whose child is threatened with death in a war, Andromache asks why soldiers attack little children. She is then led of to the ship of Neoptolemus. When the boy’s crushed body is brought back, his grandmother, Hecuba, rails against this disgraceful act of the Greek, or for that matter, any, army.

 

Andromache:

Do you weep, my son? Have you a sense of

what’s to be your wretched fate? Why do you

clasp me with your hands, why tug my dress and

hide beneath my wings like a young bird?

Our Hector comes no more, he’s not

returning from the tomb. His glittering spear

he wields no more to bring protection to you.

Nor do your father's kinsfolk, nor the brave

warriors of our Phrygia.

 

But from the heights of Troy you’ll plummet,

hurled headlong by merciless hands,

to have the breath crushed from your body.

0 soft embrace, so dear to your mother!

0 fragrant breath! In vain I clothed your infant limbs,

in vain I gave you nurture at this breast,

and toiled for you, till wasted with care.

If ever, now is time to embrace, to clasp

your mother, to throw your arms around my neck,

and join your cheek, your lips to mine.


Why, O you Greeks, pursuing barbarous evil,

why, why will you kill my son? He has not

wronged you. Helen, daughter of Tyndareus

but not of Zeus, I judge you to have sprung

from many fathers—from Vengeance first, then

Hate, from Slaughter, Death and all the ills

that this earth breeds:

 

The mangled body of the dead child is brought back, and Hecuba bewails his mangled body, as many a woman has done after her child has been killed in war.

 

Hecuba:

Why, you Greeks, excelling more in arms than

generous minds, why in fear of this my child,

have you engaged in murder unheard of

to this hour? Was it for fear that the time

might come when he would raise fallen Troy?

There was no cause. Even when my Hector

glittered in prosperous arms and thousands

with him shook the purple spear, we all still

perished. Since our vanquished city sank as

prey to you, and in the war the Phrygian

force was wasted, how could you fear such a child?

I loathe this fear, which reason cannot justify.

 

O darling child, how ill-timed was your death!

If you in manhood's prime, possessed a marriage

bed, and high imperial godlike power,

and then died for your country, you would have

been happy, if any such things can be

considered happy now, my child.

Even though present in your eyes and thought,

you did not taste them, nor enjoy a thing

of what your house contained.

 

Ah me, how wretchedly your father's walls,

the towers raised up by Phoebus,

have ripped from your head the tight curls which your 

fond mother cherished, and gave a frequent kiss!

But now, the bones all crushed portray Death’s

bloody grimace, a ghastliness of which

I cannot speak. O, these hands, whose joints once

bore the dear image of your father's, now

lie with tattered nerves! O, your dear mouth,

which uttered so many quick-spirited remarks,

how it is smashed away! Where is your promise now

which you once made me, hanging on my dress?

"Old mother," you did say, "these lengthy locks

I will cut off for you, and bear them to your tomb

with my companions, remembering you

with precious words." Such honors you cannot

pay me now. Instead I, old, robbed of my country,

robbed of my children, must bury you, unhappy child,

dead in your early bloom. Ah me, are all my fond

embraces, all my nursing pains to lull your infancy

to sleep, so lost? And on your tomb what verse

recording this your death shall poet inscribe?

" Because they feared him, this child was murdered

by the Greeks", words telling the disgrace of Greece.

. . .

I judge a mortal man unwise who, finding

that his state is blessed celebrates it as secure.
For Fortune, like a man out of his senses,

now staggering in this direction, now that,

can find no constant course. So no man knows
uninterrupted bliss.

                                The Trojan Women

 

 

Outward Signs Do Not Denote The Man

 

In Orestes, Electra, the daughter of Clytemnestra, is married to a humble man, a move engineered by her mother to prevent her being in a position to avenge Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband, Agamemnon. The honorable behavior of Electra’s husband causes Orestes, Electra’s brother, to reflect on how one might judge men.

 

Orestes:

Nature has given no outward mark to

tag the generous mind. The qualities

of men are not distinct to the five senses.

I have often seen a worthless man shame

a noble father, and worthy children

spring from vile parents. In the rich man's mind

meanness often grows, and often exalted

spirits find their dwelling in the poor.

How shall we then judge properly, with

discernment? By riches? They would pass the

test poorly. By poverty? There is this

problem with poverty: that dire need prompts

some sordid deeds.

 

Shall we make skill with arms the test?

But who can see, by looking at the spear,

the fearless heart? Such judgment can be

false; for this man, not great among the Greeks,

nor puffed up with proud honors of his house,
just one of many, has proved to have a

generous heart. Will you not then learn wisdom,

you whose minds error leads astray

with false appearances?


Will you not learn to judge the noble by

manners and by deeds? Such ones discharge

their trust with honor to the state, and to their house.
Mere flesh, without a spirit, is no more
than statues in the forum. Also, in war,
the strong arm the does not the repel the

dangerous assault better than the weak.

Rather this depends on character and

an intrepid mind.

                                Orestes

 

 

10 Riches Do Not Make a Man

 

Orestes kills Aegisthus, Electra’s uncle and the lover of Clytemnestra. Electra rebukes the dead Aegisthus for assuming that riches made him a great man

 

Electra:

Your pride was most deceived, when you proclaimed 

yourself as great, being vainly raised up

by the power of riches. But these are

nothing, their enjoyment is both frail and brief.

Character is firm, not riches; it stays

for ever, and lifts its head in triumph.

But unjust wealth residing with the wicked,

glitters for some short time, then fades away.

                                            Orestes

 

 

11 Better Poor and Honest

 

In Andromache Euripides shows how leaders like Menelaus who make a great show of their honor may in fact act most dishonorably, while an old man, in this case Peleus, may act honorably and vigorously in defense of his grandchild. Peleus finds that Menelaus has persuaded Andromache to surrender herself to him, to be put to death, in exchange for his letting her son by Achilles live. Menelaus immediately goes back on his word, binds up Andromache, and says he will give her son to his daughter, Hermione, to kill.

 

Peleus:

O you villain, born from a line of irreverent fathers,

what right have you to be called illustrious,

and numbered with the truly brave?

You, who by a Phrygian tramper was deprived

of your fair woman, after you had left your house

unbarred and with no guards, as if you kept

a virtuous wife in your mansion though

she was the most dissolute of her sex.

 

Nor can any Spartan girl be chaste,

even if she tries. Skipping from their homes

with loosened dresses, showing off bare thighs,

they strive against young men on track and mat.

Such customs I hold in abhorrence.

Why doubt that women educated in this way

lack modesty? Your Helen should have sparked

such questions in your mind, before

she spurned your love and left her native land,

seduced by that youthful and illicit lover,

gallivanting wantonly in foreign lands.

Yet for her sake you collected that band

of Grecian tribes and led them off

to storm the Phrygian walls.

 

When you found that cute baggage of no worth,

you should have despised her. You ought not

have taken up one javelin on her behalf,

but let her stay in Troy. You should have

sent rich gifts to Paris, making a deal

that she would not be sent back home.

But you did not allow these reasonable

considerations to trouble your mind.

Instead, you led many valiant men to death,

made aged mothers childless, and deprived

gray-haired fathers of their illustrious sons.

My wretched self I place with those that

owe their ruin to you. In my indignant eyes

you are, like some evil genius, the killer of Achilles.

You alone, unharmed even by a grazing arrow,

came back from Troy’s hostile shore unwounded.

In burnished chests you now bring back

the same bedazzling arms you carried there.

 

Before he married, I warned my grandson

to form no connection with you, nor to admit

into these dwellings the young of that adulteress;

for daughters emulate their mothers shameful acts.

Remember this well, young men, and choose

a girl who has an honorable mother!

And with what scorn you ruled your brother,

commanding him to take leave of his senses

and sacrifice his daughter. Because you were

so scared of losing that loose wife of yours.

 

I also hold this against you. When you

had taken Troy, though you had your wife

within your clutches, you did not cut her throat.

No, when you gazed upon that rising bosom

you cast away your sword, to receive the kisses

and soothe away the fears, of the one who

had betrayed you. You worthless criminal,

whom Aphrodite has so debased!

 

After this, you thrust yourself into my

grandson's palace, and in his absence

perpetrate these outrages. Treacherously,

you would kill a miserable woman

and her child—one who will give you and your

daughter cause to weep for this,

though his birth be trebly illegitimate.
Often the parched ground when skillfully worked

yields more than the richest soil, and greater

instances of virtue are often found

in bastards than in the lawful line.
But get your daughter out of here. It’s far

better to choose relatives and close friends

from poor and honest folks than from those who

join iniquity with wealth. And as for you,
you are an utterly worthless thing..

. . .

                            Andromache

 

 

12 Patriotism and War are Good For You

 

Menelaus:

Why do we speak in such exalted terms

of aged men, as if they were imbued

with wisdom as in former days, when the

whole Greek race assumed they showed

good judgment? Why? When you, Peleus,

from an illustrious father born,

and linked so closely with my house,

use language disgraceful to your very self.

You slander me for a barbarian woman,

who you should banish from this land—

far beyond the Nile, beyond the Phasis even.

You should applaud my vengeance;

because she comes from Asiatic shores,

where many a valiant Grecian chief lies slain.

She has in part been guilty of the blood

of your famed son; for Paris, whose arrow

pierced Achilles and dropped him dead,

was the brother, and she the wife, of Hector.

Yet you enter the same house with her, share

genial meals, and allow her to bring up

a detestable brood beneath your very roof.

Aware of this danger to both you and me,

old man, I have snatched her from your grasp

and mean to kill her.

 

                                 But, suppose, 

for there is nothing wrong in talking hypothetically,

that my daughter bears no child, and this

other thing has sons. Will you appoint them lords

of your Phthian land? Shall children springing

from a barbarian race rule over Greeks?

Am I, because I hate injustice, void of

understanding, and you yourself discerning?

Reflect on this: if you had married your daughter
to any citizen and she were thus mistreated,

would you sit down and bear her wrongs in silence?

I think you would not do so.

Why then do you speak with so much harshness

against your nearest friends in favor of

a foreign woman? As great a right

to vengeance as her husband, has the wife

injured by her husband. A man has in his hands

the power to set things right if an unchaste wife

comes within his doors. But a woman's strength
lies only in her parents and her friends.
I am, therefore, bound to help my daughter.


You exhibit the disabilities of age my friend:

for when you rail against that famous war I waged,

you befriend me more than if you had been silent.

Helen was plunged deep in woe, not by her

own consent but by the gods. And this event

has proved most advantageous to the Greeks,

because its sons, who didn’t know till then

the handling of a spear, have grown valiant.

From experience, the best of tutors,
men gather all the knowledge they possess.
But when I saw my wife, I acted prudently

in not depriving her of life. And would that

you had done like me, and not slain your brother Phocus;

I tell you this in pure benevolence, and not in anger.
But if resentment takes away your reason,

your intemperate tongue will wag more shamefully,

whilst I by prudent forethought shall get what I want.

. . .                                        Andromache

 

 

13 Generals May Act Like Brutes

 

Peleus

Ah me, what mischievous opinions have prevailed

in Greece! When an army sets up a trophy

with the loot from beaten foes, they do not

think how it was gained by ordinary soldiers

who endure the toil of battle bravely while

their general bears away public renown.

He gains a larger portion of applause

though he was just one among thousands

waving a spear, and surpassed no one man

in combat. As venerable rulers of a city,

high in position yet devoid of real merit,

they look down upon the common people,

though many in the crowd below are far

more wise than they, if courage and honest zeal

happily combine to thrust them into public view.

You and your brother are thus fat with pride,
from having led those troops to conquer Troy,
and triumph amid the sufferings of your friends.
But from now on I will teach you to not
look on Paris, a sheep chaser from Mount Ida,

as a foe more terrible than Peleus.

If with speed you do not quit these dwellings,

and take away your childless daughter,

my indignant grandson will drag this barren

woman by her disheveled hair around the palace:

this woman so stung with envy that she

cannot endure the fruitful mother's joy.
And, if she prove so luckless as to bare no child,

should she thus deprive us of posterity?

 

Step aside, you slaves, so I may see who

dares obstruct my loosening of her hands.

Get up. Though trembling with old age,

I can unbind your ties. You worthless man,

Did you tear her wrists this way? Did you

think you held a bull or lion in your snare?

Or did you tremble in case she should snatch up

a sword, and wreak just vengeance on your head?

My child, come to these sheltering arms,

untie your mother's bonds. I'll educate you

in Phthia, to regard these here as a bitter foes.

If you sons of Sparta can obtain no fame

with thrusting spears, nor demonstrate your

prowess on the battle field, be well assured

you have no other source of merit.

                                    Andromache

 

___________________________________

Phthia: a town in Thessaly, the birthplace of Achilles.

 

 

Sources

 

Adapted from the Euripides translations of Robert Potter, 1780, appearing in The Plays of Euripides translated by Shelley, Milman, Potter, and Woodhull. Everyman’s Library. J. M. Dent & Co London, 1906.

 

Other Translations:

 

Euripides Volumes I and II, translated by A. S. Way. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1912. Has the Greek text. A new translation is in the works.

 

Ten Plays By Euripides, translated by Moses Hadas and John McLean. Bantam Books, New York, 1960. Originally published by Dial Press, 1936. An excellent prose translation.

 

Euripides: Ten Plays, translated by Paul Roche. Signet Classic, New York, 1998. An excellent new verse translation that presents the chorus verses particularly well..