## SENECA, HERCULES FURENS
>> Seneca the Younger, Hercules Furens
SENECA THE YOUNGER was a Latin playwright and philosopher who flourished in Rome in the late C1st A.D. during the reigns of the emperors Claudius and Nero. His surviving work includes ten tragedy plays, nine of which are based on mythological themes. His authorship of Hercules Oetaeus and Octavia is uncertain.
Seneca. Tragedies . Translated by Miller, Frank Justus. Loeb Classical Library Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1917.
The Miller translations of Seneca’s tragedies are no longer in print having been replaced in the Loeb Classical Library series by those of John Finch. These are available new from Amazon.com (see left below for details). In addition to the translation of the plays, the two volumes contain the source Latin texts, Miller’s introduction and footnotes and an index of proper names.
HERCULES FURENS, TRANSLATED BY FRANK JUSTUS MILLER
HERCULES, son of Jupiter and Alcmena, but the reputed son of Amphitryon.
JUNO, sister and wife of Jupiter, and queen of Heaven.
AMPHITRYON, husband of Alcmena.
THESEUS, king of Athens and friend of Hercules.
LYCUS, the usurping king of Thebes, who has, prior to the opening of the play, slain King Creon in battle.
MEGARA, wife of Hercules and daughter of Creon.
CHORUS of Thebans.
The jealous wrath of Juno, working through Eurystheus, has imposed twelve mighty and destructive tasks on Hercules, her hated stepson. But these, even to the last and worst, the bringing of Cerberus to the upper world, he has triumphantly accomplished. Abandoning her plan of crushing him by toils like these, she will turn his hand against himself, and so accomplish his destruction. Upon the day of his return from hell she brings a madness on him, and so precipitates the tragedy which forms the action of the play.
 The sister of the Thunderer (for this name only is left to me), I have abandoned Jove, always another’s lover; widowed, have left the spaces of high heaven and, banished from the sky, have given up my place to harlots; I must dwell on earth, for harlots hold the sky. Yonder the Bear, high up in the icy North, a lofty constellation, guides the Argive ships; yonder, where in the warm springtime the days grow long, he shines who bore the Tyrian Europa across the waves; there the Atlantides, far wandering, put forth their band dreadful to ships and sea alike. Here Orion with threatening sword terrifies the gods, and golden Perseus has his stars; the bright constellation of the twin Tyndaridae shines yonder, and they at whose birth the unsteady land stood firm. And not alone has Bacchus himself or the mother of Bacchus attained the skies; that no place might be free from outrage, the heavens wear the crown of the Cretan maid.
 But I lament ancient wrongs; one land, the baneful and savage land of Thebes, scattered thick with shameless mistresses, how oft has it made me stepdame! Yet, though Alcmena be exalted and in triumph hold my place; though her son, likewise, obtain his promised star (for whose begetting the world lost a day, and Phoebus with tardy light shone forth from the Eastern sea, bidden to keep his bright car sunk beneath Ocean’s waves), not in such fashion shall my hatred have its end; my angry soul shall keep up a long-living wrath, and my raging smart, banishing peace, shall wage unending wars.
 What wars? Whatever fearsome creature the hostile earth produces, whatever the sea or the air has borne, terrific, dreadful, noxious, savage, wild, has been broken and subdued. He rises anew and has thrives on trouble; he enjoys my wrath; to his own credit he turns my hate; imposing too cruel tasks, I have but proved his sire, but give room for glory. Where the Sun, as he brings back, and where, as he dismisses day, colours both Ethiop races with neighbouring torch, his unconquered valour is adored, and in all the world he is storied as a god. Now I have no monsters left, and ‘tis less labour for Hercules to fulfil my orders than for me to order; with joy he welcomes my commands. What cruel biddings of his tyrant could harm this impetuous youth? Why, he bears as weapons what he once fought and overcame; he goes armed by lion and by hydra.
 Nor is earth vast enough for him; behold, he has broken down the doors of infernal Jove, and brings back to the upper world the spoils of a conquered king. I myself saw, yes, saw him, the shadows of nether night dispersed and Dis overthrown, proudly displaying to his father a brother’s spoils. Why does he not drag forth, bound and loaded down with fetters, Pluto himself, who drew a lot equal to Jove’s? Why does he not lord it over conquered Erebus and lay bare the Styx? It is not enough merely to return; the law of the shades has been annulled, a way back has been opened from the lowest ghosts, and the mysteries of dread Death lie bared. But he, exultant at having burst the prison of the shades, triumphs over me, and with arrogant hand leads through the cities of Greece that dusky hound. I saw the daylight shrink at sight of Cerberus, and the sun pale with fear; upon me, too, terror came, and as I gazed upon the three necks of the conquered monster I trembled at my own command.
 But I lament too much o’er trivial wrongs. ‘Tis for heaven we must fear, lest he seize the highest realms who has overcome the lowest – he will snatch the sceptre from his father. Nor will he come to the stars by a peaceful journey as Bacchus did; he will seek a path through ruin, and will desire to rule in an empty universe. He swells with pride of tested might, and has learned by bearing them that the heavens can be conquered by his strength; he set his head beneath the sky, nor did the burden of that immeasurable mass bend his shoulders, and the firmament rested better on the neck of Hercules. Unshaken, his back upbore the stars and the sky and me down-pressing. He seeks a way to the gods above.
 Then on, my wrath, on, and crush this plotter of big things; close with him, thyself rend him in pieces with thine own hands. Why to another entrust such hate? Let the wild beasts go their ways, let Eurystheus rest, himself weary with imposing tasks. Set free the Titans who dared to invade the majesty of Jove; unbar Sicily’s mountain cave, and let the Dorian land, which trembles whenever the giant struggles, set free the buried frame of that dread monster; let Luna in the sky produce still other monstrous creatures. But he has conquered such as these. Dost then seek Alcides’ match? None is there save himself; now with himself let him war. Rouse the Eumenides from the lowest abyss of Tartarus; let them be here, let their flaming locks drop fire, and let their savage hands brandish snaky whips.
 Go now, proud one, seek the abodes of the immortals and despise man’s estate. Dost think that now thou hast escaped the Styx and the cruel ghosts? Here will I show thee infernal shapes. One in deep darkness buried, far down below the place of banishment of guilty souls, will I call up – the goddess Discord, whom a huge cavern, barred by a mountain, guards; I will bring her forth, and drag out from the deepest realm of Dis whatever thou hast left; hateful Crime shall come and reckless Impiety, stained with kindred blood, Error, and Madness, armed ever against itself – this, this be the minister of my smarting wrath!
 Begin, handmaids of Dis, make haste to brandish the burning pine; let Megaera lead on her band bristling with serpents and with baleful hand snatch a huge faggot from the blazing pyre. To work! claim vengeance for outraged Styx. Shatter his heart; let a fiercer flame scorch his spirit than rages in Aetna’s furnaces. That Alcides may be driven on, robbed of all sense, by mighty fury smitten, mine must be the frenzy first – Juno, why rav’st thou not? Me, ye sisters, me first, bereft of reason, drive to madness, if I am to plan some deed worthy a stepdame’s doing. Let my request be changed; may he come back and find his sons unharmed, that is my prayer, and strong of hand may he return. I have found the day when Hercules’ hated valour is to be my joy. Me has he overcome; now may he overcome himself and long to die, though late returned from the world of death. Herein may it profit me that he is the son of Jove, I will stand by him and, that his shafts may fly from string unerring, I’ll poise them with my hand, guide the madman’s weapons, and so at last be on the side of Hercules in the fray. When he has done this crime, then let his father admit those hands to heaven!
 Now must my war be set in motion; the sky is brightening and the shining sun steals up in saffron dawn.
 Now stars shine few and faint in the sinking sky; vanquished night draws in her wandering fires as the new day is born, and Phosphor brings up the rear of the shining host; the icy sign high in the north, the Bears of Arcas, with their seven stars, with wheeling pole summons the dawn. Now, upborne by his azure steeds, Titan peeps forth from Oeta’s crest; now the rough brakes, made famous by Theban Bacchants, touched by the dawn, flush red, and Phoebus’ sister flees away, to return again. Hard toil arises, sets all cares astir, opens all doors.
 The shepherd, turning out his flock, plucks pasturage still white with frosty rime. In the open mead the young bullock sports at will, his forehead not yet broken with young horns; the kine at leisure fill again their udders; the sportive kid with unsteady, aimless course wanders on the soft turf; perched on the topmost bough, shrill-voiced, amid her complaining young, the Thracian paramour is eager to spread her wings to the morning sun; and all around a mingled throng sounds forth, proclaiming the dawn of day with varied notes. The sailor, life ever at risk, commits his canvas to the winds, while the breeze fills its flapping folds. Here the fisher, perched on the wave-worn rocks, either rebaits his cheated hooks or, with firm grip, watches anxiously for his prize; meantime, his line feels the quivering fish.
 Such are the tasks of those whose is the peaceful calm of harmless lives, whose home rejoices in the tiny store that is its own; overweening hopes stalk abroad in cities, and trembling fears. One, sleepless, haunts the haughty vestibules and unfeeling doors of his rich patrons; another endlessly heaps up abundant wealth, gloats over his treasures, and is still poor amid piled-up bold. Yonder dazed wretch, with empty wind puffed up, popular applause and the mob more shifting than the sea uplift; this, trafficking in the mad wrangles of the noisy court, shamelessly lets out for hire his passions and his speech. Known to but few is untroubled calm, and they, mindful of time’s swift flight, hold fast the days that never will return. While the fates permit, live happily; life speeds on with hurried step, and with winged days the wheel of the headlong year is turned. The harsh sisters ply their tasks, yet do they not spin backward the threads of life. But men are driven, each one uncertain of his own, to meet the speeding fates; we seek the Stygian waves of our own accord. With heart too brave, Alcides, thou dost haste to visit the grieving ghosts; at the appointed time the Parcae come. No one may linger when they command, no one may postpone the allotted day; the urn receives the nations hurried to their doom.
 Let glory laud another to many lands, and let babbling fame sing his praise through every city and lift him to a level with the stars of heaven; let another fare towering in his car; but me let my own land, beside my lonely, sheltered hearth, protect. The inactive reach hoary age, and in a lowly estate but secure stands the mean lot of a humble home; from a lofty height ambitious courage falls.
 But sad Megara comes hither with streaming hair, her flock of children round her, and, slow with age, the father of Alcides moves.
[Enter from the palace MEGARA with her children, and AMPHITRYON. They take their stand at the altar.]
 O mighty ruler of Olympus, judge of all the world, set now at length a limit to our crushing cares, an end to our disasters. No day has ever dawned for me untroubled; no reward from my son’s toil is ever given; the end of one ill is but the step to one beyond. Straightway on his return a new foe is ready for him; before he can reach his happy home, bidden to another struggle he sets forth; there is no chance to rest, no time left free, save while fresh commands are being given. From his very birth relentless Juno has pursued him; was even his infancy exempt? He conquered monsters before he could know that they were monsters. Serpents twain with crested heads advanced their fangs against him; the infant crawled to meet them, gazing at the snakes’ fiery eyes with mild and gentle look; with serene face he raised their close-coiled folds and, crushing their swollen throats with his baby hands, he practised for the hydra.
 The nimble hind of Maenalus, raising her head bounteously adorned with gold, was caught by his long pursuit; the lion, mightiest dread of Nemea, crushed by the arms of Hercules roared his last. Why should I tell of the horrid stalls of the Bistonian herd and the king given as food to his own herds? of the shaggy boar of Maenalus, whose wont it was on the thick-wooded heights of Erymanthus to harry the groves of Arcady? or of the bull, the crushing terror of a hundred towns? Among his herds in the distant land of Spain the three-shaped shepherd of the Tartesian shore was killed and his cattle driven as spoil from the farthest west; Cithaeron has fed the herd once to Ocean known. When bidden to enter the regions of the summer sun, those scorched realms which midday burns, he clove the mountains on either hand and, rending the barrier, made a wide path for Ocean’s rushing stream. Next he essayed the rich grove’s dwellings and bore off the watchful dragon’s golden spoil. Lerna’s fell monster, pest manifold, did he not quell at last by fire and teach to die? And the Stymphalian birds, wont to hide the day with veiling wings, did he not bring down from the very clouds? Thermodon’s unwed queen of ever virgin couch could not prevail against him, nor did his hands, bold to attempt all glorious deeds, shirk the foul labour of the Augean stalls.
 But what avails all this? He is banished from the world which he defended. All the earth has felt that the giver of its peace is lost to it. Once again prosperous and successful crime goes by the name of virtue; good men obey the bad, might is right and fear oppresses law. Before my eyes I saw the sons, defenders of their father’s kingdom, fall dead by the murderer’s hand, and the king himself fall, last scion of Cadmus’ famous line; I saw the royal crown that decked his head torn from him, head and all. Who could lament Thebes enough? O land, fertile in gods, before what lord dost thou tremble now? The city from whose fields and fecund bosom a band of youth stood forth with swords ready drawn, whose walls Jove’s son, Amphion, built, drawing its stones by his tuneful melodies – to which not once alone came the father of the gods, quitting the sky – this city, which has welcomed gods and has created gods and (may the word be lawful) perchance will yet create them, is oppressed by a shameful yoke. O seed of Cadmus and Ophion’s race, to what depths have you fallen! You tremble before a dastard exile, of his own land deprived, to ours a burden. But he who avenges crime on land and sea, who with righteous hand breaks cruel sceptres, now far away endures a master and brooks what he elsewhere forbids – and Lycus, the exile, rules the Thebes of Hercules! But not for long; he will be present with us and exact punishment, and suddenly to the sight of the stars will he come forth. He will find a way – or make one. Oh, be present and return in safety, I pray, and come at last victorious to thy vanquished home!
 Come forth, my husband, burst through the darkness shivered by thy hand; if there is no backward way, and the road is closed, rend earth asunder and return; and whatever lies hid in the hold of murky night, let forth with thee. Even as once, rending the hills asunder, seeking for the rushing stream a headlong path, thou stoodst, what time Tempe, cleft by that mighty shock, opened wide – before the thrust of thy breast, this way and that the mountain yielded and through the broken mass the Thessalian torrent raced in its new bed – even so, seeking thy parents, children, fatherland, burst through, bearing away with thee the bounds of things; and all that greedy time through all the march of years has hidden away, restore; and drive out before thee the self-forgetting dead, peoples that fear the light. Unworthy of thee is the spoil, if thou bringst back only what was commanded. But I speak too frowardly, all ignorant of the fate in store for us. Oh, whence shall come that day for me when I shall clasp thee and thy right hand and lament thy long-delayed returns that have no though of me? To thee, O leader of the gods, a hundred bulls never broken to the yoke shall yield their necks; to thee, goddess of fruits, will I perform thy secret rites; to thee in speechless faith silent Eleusis shall toss long trains of torches. Then shall I deem their lives restored unto my brothers, my father himself governing his own realm and flourishing. But if some greater power is holding thee in durance, we follow thee. Either defend us all by thy safe return, or drag us all with thee – thou wilt drag us down, nor will any god lift up our broken house.
 O ally of my blood, preserving with chaste faith the couch and children of the great-souled Hercules, have better thought and rouse thy courage. Surely he will come home, as is his wont from every task the greater.
 What the wretched overmuch desire, they easily believe.
 Nay, what they fear overmuch they think can never be set aside or done away. Fear’s trust inclineth ever to the worse.
 Submerged, deep-buried, crushed beneath all the world, what way has he to upper air?
 The same he had when across the parched desert and the sands, billowing like the stormy sea, he made his way, and across the strait with twice-receding, twice-returning waves; and when, his barque abandoned, he was stranded, a prisoner on Syrtes’ shoals, and, though his vessel was held fast, he crossed o’er seas on foot.
 Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.
 But see, ferocious and with threats upon his brow, the same in gait and spirit, Lycus comes, brandishing another’s sceptre in his hand.
 Ruling the rich domains of Thebes and all that sloping Phocis encompasses with its rich soil, whatever Ismenus waters, whatever Cithaeron views from his high peak, and slender Isthmus, keeping asunder its twin straits, no ancient rights of an ancestral home do I possess, a slothful heir; not mine are noble ancestors, nor a race illustrious with lofty titles, but valour glorious. Who vaunts his race, lauds what belongs to others. But usurped sceptres are held in anxious hand; all safety is in arms; what thou knowest thou holdest against the will of citizens, the drawn sword must guard. One alien soil kingship stands not sure; but one there is who can get my power on firm foundations, if joined to me in royal wedlock by torch and couch – Megara. From her noble line my newness shall gain richer hue. Nor do I think she will refuse and scorn my bed; but if stubbornly and with headstrong will she shall decline, it is my resolve to give to utter ruin the whole house of Hercules. Shall hatred and the common people’s talk restrain my hand? ‘Tis the first art of kings, the power to suffer hate. Let us make trial, therefore; chance has given us occasion; for Megara herself, her head close-veiled in mourning vestments, stands by the altar of her protecting gods, and close by her side keeps the true sire of Hercules.
 What new thing plans that fellow, that destruction and pestilence of our race? What does he attempt?
 O thou whose illustrious name is drawn from royal stock, graciously listen to my words a little while with patient ear. If mortals should cherish everlasting hate and if mad rage, once felt, should never drop from our hearts, but if the victor should keep and the vanquished prepare arms, nothing will wars leave us; then on the wasted farms the fields will lie untilled, the torch will be set to homes, and deep ashes will overwhelm the buried nations. ‘Tis expedient for the victor to with for peace restored; for the vanquished ‘tis necessity. – Come, share my throne; let us be joined in purpose; accept this pledge of faith – touch hands with me. Why in grim-faced silence dost thou stand?
 I touch a hand stained with my father’s blood and with my brothers’ double murder? Sooner shall the East extinguish, the West bring back, the day; sooner shall snow and flame be in lasting harmony and Scylla join the Sicilian and Ausonian shores; and sooner far shall swift Euripus with his alternating tides rest sluggish upon Euboea’s strand! My father hast thou taken from me, my kingdom, brothers, my ancestral home – what is there else? There is one thing left to me, dearer than brother and father, kingdom and home – my hate of thee, which it is my grief that I must share with all the populace. How small a part of it is mine! Rule on, swollen with pride, lift thy spirits high; an avenging god pursues the proud. I know the Theban realm; why mention the crimes which mothers have endured and dared? Why speak of the double infamy and the confused names of husband, son and sire? Why speak of the brothers’ twofold camps? the two funeral-pyres? The daughter of Tantalus, presumptuous mother, stiffens with grief and, mournful on Phrygian Sipylus, drips tears – a stone. Nay, Cadmus himself reared a head fierce with its crest and, traversing Illyria’s realm in flight, left the long trail of his dragging body. Thee do such precedents of doom await. Lord it as thou wilt, only the accustomed destinies of our realm summon thee.
 Come, mad woman, have done with this wild talk, and learn from Alcides to endure the commands of kings. Although I wield a sceptre seized by my victorious hand, though I rule all things without fear of laws which arms o’ermaster, still will I say a few words in mine own cause. ‘Twas in a cruel war thy father fell, sayest thou? thy brothers, too? Arms observe no bounds; nor can the wrath of the sword, once drawn, be easily checked or stayed; war delights in blood. But he fought for his realm, sayest thou; we, impelled by insatiable ambition? Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause. But now let all the past be forgotten; when the victor has laid down his arms, it is meet that the vanquished, too, lay down his hate. That thou on bended knee shouldst pray to me as thy sovereign I do not ask; this of itself is pleasing to me, that thou dost take thy overthrow with a high spirit. Worthy art thou to be a king’s mate; then let us wed.
 Cold horror creeps through my bloodless limbs. What outrage has struck my ears? No terror felt I when peace was broken and war’s loud crash rang around our walls; dauntlessly I bore it all; but marriage – I shudder at it; now do I indeed seem captive. Let chains load down my body, and let me die a lingering death by slow starvation; still shall no power o’ercome my loyalty. Alcides, I shall die thine own.
 Does a husband buried in the depths produce such spirit?
 He reached the depths that he might gain the heights.
 The weight of the boundless earth crushes him.
 By no weight will he be crushed who upbore the heavens.
 Thou shalt be forced.
 Who can be forced has not learned how to die.
 Say rather, what royal gift I shall prepare for my new bride.
 Thy death or mine.
 Fool, thou shalt die.
 So shall I meet my husband.
 Is a slave more to thee than I, a king?
 How many kings has that slave given to death!
 Why, then, does he serve a king and endure the yoke?
 Do away with harsh commands – what then will valour be?
 To oppose oneself to beast and monsters think’st thou valour?
 ‘Tis valour’s part to subdue what all men fear.
 The shades of Tartarus bury the braggart deep.
 There is no easy way to the stars from earth.
 Who is his father that he hopes for a home in heaven?
 Unhappy wife of great Hercules, be still; ‘tis my place to restore to Alcides his father and true lineage. [To LYCUS.] After all the great hero’s memorable deeds, after peace has been gained by his hand for all that he sun, rising and setting, sees, after so many monsters tamed, after Phlegra stained with impious blood, after his protection of the gods, is not his fathering yet clear? Claim we Jove falsely? Then believe Juno’s hate.
 Why blaspheme Jove? The race of mortals cannot mate with heaven.
 That is the common origin of many gods.
 But were they slaves ere they became divine?
 The Delian as a shepherd tended flocks at Pherae –
 But he did not in exile roam o’er all the world.
 What? He whom an exiled mother brought forth on a roaming isle?
 Did Phoebus encounter savage monsters or wild beasts?
 A dragon was the first to stain Phoebus’ shafts.
 Knowest thou not what heavy ills he bore in infancy?
 Ripped by a thunderbolt from his mother’s womb, a boy in after-time stood next his sire, the Thunderer. What? he who rules the stars, who shakes the clouds, did he not lie hid in infancy in a cave of rocky Ida? Such lofty birth must pay its price of care, and ever has its cost dear to be born a god.
 Whome’er thou shalt see wretched, known him man
 Whome’er thou shalt see brave, call him not wretched.
 Are we to call him brave from whose shoulders fell the lion’s skin and club, made present for a girl, and whose side shone resplendent, decked out in Tyrian robes? Call him brave, whose bristling locks dripped with nard, who busied those famous hands with unmanly strummings on the tambourine, whose warlike brow a barbaric turban crowned?
 But dainty Bacchus does not blush to sprinkle with perfume his flowing locks, nor in his soft hand to brandish the slender thrysus, when with mincing gait he trails his robe gay with barbaric gold. After much toil, valour still seeks relief.
 The fact the ruined house of Eurytus confesses, and the flocks of maidens harried like so many sheep; no Juno, no Eurystheus ordered this; these works are his very own.
 Thou knowest not all; his own work it is that Eryx was crushed by his own gauntlets and that Libyan Antaeus shared Eryx’ fate; that the altars which dripped the blood of strangers drank, and justly, too, Busiris’ blood; his own work is Cycnus, though proof against wound and sword, forced to suffer death untouched by wounds; and threefold Geryon by one hand overcome. Thou shalt share the fate of these – and yet they never defiled with lust the marriage-bed.
 What is Jove’s right is a king’s right, too. Thou gavest thy wife to Jove, to a king shall he give his; and taught by thy example thy daughter shall learn this old-time lesson – when the husband also gives consent, to take the better man. But should she stubbornly refuse to wed me by the torches’ rite, even by force will I get me a noble stock from her.
 Ye shades of Creon, ye household gods of Labdacus, ye nuptial torches of incestuous Oedipus, now to our union grant its accustomed doom. Now, now, ye bloody daughters of King Aegyptus, be present here, your hands deep-stained in blood. One Danaïd is lacking from the tale – I will complete the crime.
 Since my suit thou dost stubbornly refuse and threatenest thy king, now shalt thou know what royal power can do. Embrace the altar – no god shall snatch thee from me, not though earth’s mass could be pushed aside and Alcides brought back in triumph to the upper world. [To attendants.] Heap high the logs; let the temple fall blazing on its suppliants; apply the torch and let one pyre consume the wife and all her brood.
 This boon as father of Alcides I ask of thee, which becomes me well to ask, that I be first to fall.
 He who inflicts on all the penalty of death knows not how to be a king. Impose contrasting penalties: forbid the wretched, command the happy man to die. Now while the pyre feeds on the burning beams, with promised gifts will I worship him who rules the sea.
 O mightiest of gods, O ruler and sire of the immortals, at whose hurtling bolts mortals tremble, check thou the impious hand of this mad king – why make vain prayers unto the gods? Where’er thou art, hear thou, my son. But why with sudden motion does the rocking temple totter? Why does earth rumble? Infernal crashing has sounded from the lowest pit. Our prayer is heard; it is, it is the resounding tread of Hercules!
 O Fortune, jealous of the brave, in allotting thy favours how unjust art thou unto the good! “Let Eurystheus lord it in untroubled ease; let Alcmena’s son in endless wars employ on monsters the hand that bore the heavens; let him cut off the hydra’s teeming necks; let him bring back the apples from the cheated sisters when the dragon, set to watch over the precious fruit, has given his ever-waking eyes to sleep.”
 He invaded the wandering homes of Scythia and nations strangers to their ancestral haunts; he trod the sea’s frozen ridge, a still ocean with silent shores. There the frozen waters are without waves, and where but now ships had spread full sail, a path is worn by the long-haired Sarmatae. There lies the sea, changing as the seasons change, ready to hear now ship, now horseman. There she who rules o’er tribes unwed, with a golden girdle about her loins, stripped the glorious spoil from her body, her shield and the bands of her snow-white breast, on bended knee looking up to her victor.
 With what hope, driven headlong to the depths, bold to tread ways irretraceable, dist thou see Sicilian Proserpina’s realms? There beneath no southern, no western wind do the seas rise with swollen waves; there the stars of the twin Tyndaridae come not to the aid of timorous ships; sluggish stands the mere with black abyss, and, when Death, pale-visaged with greedy teeth, has brought countless tribes to the world of shades, one ferryman transports those many peoples.
 Oh, that thou mayest o’ercome the laws of cruel Styx, and the relentless distaffs of the Fates. He who as king lords it o’er countless peoples, what time thou wast making war on Pylos, Nestor’s land, brought to combat with thee his plague-dealing hands, brandishing his three-forked spear, yet fled away, with but a slight wound smitten, and, though lord of death, feared he would die. Fate’s bars burst thou with thy hands; to the sad nether regions open a view of light, and let the trackless path now give easy passage to the upper world!
 Orpheus had power to bend the ruthless lords of the shades by song and suppliant prayer, when he sought back his Eurydice. The art which had drawn the trees and birds and rocks, which had stayed the course of rivers, at whose sound the beasts had stopped to listen, soothes the underworld with unaccustomed strains, and rings out clearer in those unhearing realms. Eurydice the Thracian brides bewail; even the gods, whom no tears can move, bewail her; and they who with awful brows investigate men’s crimes and sift out ancient wrongs, as they sit in judgment bewail Eurydice. At length death’s lord exclaims: “We own defeat; go forth to the upper world, yet by this appointed doom – fare thou as comrade behind thy husband, and thou, look not back upon thy wife until bright day shall have revealed the gods of heaven, and the opening of Spartan Taenarus shall be at hand.” True love hates delay and brooks it not; while he hastes to look upon his prize, ‘tis lost.
 The realm which could be overcome by song, that realm shall strength have power to overcome.
[Enter HERCULES just returned from the lower world, accompanied by THESEUS; apparently, also, he is leading the dog, CERBERUS, though this point seems less clear as the play develops.]
 O lord of kindly light, glory of heaven, who in thy flame-bearing car dost circle both spaces of the sky, and dost show thy shining face to the broad lands, pardon, O Phoebus, if any unlawful sight thine eyes have seen; at another’s bidding have I brought to light the hidden things of earth. And thou, O judge and sire of heavenly beings, hide thy face behind thy thunderbolt; and thou who, next in power, dost control the seas, flee to thy lowest waters. Whoever from on high looks down on things of earth, and would not be defiled by a strange, new sight, let him turn away his gaze, lift his eyes to heaven, and shun the portent. Let only two look on this monster – him who brought and her who ordered it. To appoint me penalties and tasks earth is not broad enough for Juno’s hate. I have seen places unapproached by any, unknown to Phoebus, those gloomy spaces which the baser pole hath yielded to infernal Jove; and if the regions of the third estate pleased me, I might have reigned. The chaos of everlasting night, and something worse than night, and the grim gods and the fates – all these I saw and, having flouted death, I have come back. What else remains? I have seen and revealed the lower world. If aught is left to do, give it to me, O Juno; too long already dost thou let my hands lie idle. What dost thou bid me conquer?
 But why do hostile soldiers guard the shrine and dreadful arms beset the sacred portal?
 Can it be that my hopes deceive my sight, or has that world-subduer, the pride of Greece, come back from the silent halls of mournful gloom? Is that my son? My limbs are numb with joy. O son, sure, though late, deliverance of Thebes, do I really clasp thee risen to upper air, or am I mocked, enjoying but an empty shade? Is it thou indeed? Aye, now I recognize the bulging thews, the shoulders, the hand famed for its huge club.
 Whence this squalid garb, father? Why is my wife clad in mourning weeds? Why are my sons covered with loathsome rags? What disaster overwhelms my house?
 The father of thy wife is slain; Lycus has seized the throne; thy sons, thy father, thy wife he claims for death.
 O ungrateful land, was there none to aid the house of Hercules? Did it see this monstrous wrong, the world I succoured? – but why waste the day in idle plaints? Let the victim be offered up, let my manhood bear this brand of shame, and let the final foe of Hercules be – Lycus. I haste me, Theseus, to drain his detested blood; remain thou here, lest some unexpected force assail. War summons me; delay thy embraces, father; wife, delay them. Let Lycus take the news to Dis that now I have returned.
 Banish that tearful look from thine eyes, O queen, and do thou, since thy son is safe, check thy falling tears. If I know Hercules, Lycus shall pay the penalty he owes to Creon. “Shall pay” is slow – he pays; that, too, is slow – he has paid.
 May the god who can, fulfil our desire and favour our fallen estate. And do thou, great-hearted companion of our great son, unfold his heroic deeds in order; tell how long a way leads to the gloomy shades, and how the Tartarean dog bore his galling bonds.
 Thou dost force me to recall deeds which strike terror to my soul even in security. Scarcely yet do I trust assuredly to breathe the vital air; the sight of my eyes is dimmed, and my dull vision can scarce bear the unaccustomed light.
 But, Theseus, master whate’er of dread yet dwells deep in thy heart and rob not thyself of toils’ best fruit; things ‘twas hard to bear ‘tis pleasant to recall. Tell thou the awful tale.
 All the world’s holy powers, and thou who rulest the all-holding realm, and thou whom, stolen from Enna, thy mother sought in vain, may it be right, I pray, boldly to speak of powers hidden away and buried beneath the earth.
 The Spartan land a famous ridge uplifts where Taenarus with its dense forests invades the sea. Here the home of hateful Pluto unbars its mouth; a nigh cliff cracks asunder, and a huge chasm, a bottomless abyss, spreads its vast jaws wide and opens for all peoples a broad path. Not in utter darkness does the way first begin; a slender gleam of the light left behind and a doubtful glow as of the sun in eclipse falls there and cheats the vision. Such light the day mingled with night is wont to give, at early dawn or at late twilight. From here ample spaces spread out, void regions, whereto the entire human race turns and hastens. It is no toil to go; the road itself draws them down. As oft-times the waves sweep on unwilling ships, so does the downward breeze drive, and the greedy void, and never do the clutching shades permit a backward step. Within the abyss, Lethe, measureless in sweep, glides smoothly on with placid stream, and takes away our cares; and, that there may be no power to retrace the path, with windings manifold it takes its sluggish way, even as the vagrant Maeander with its inconstant waters plays along, now retreats upon itself, now presses on, in doubt whether to seek the seashore or its source. The foul pool of Cocytus’ sluggish stream lies here; here the vulture, there the dole-bringing owl utters its cry, and the sad omen of the gruesome screech-owl sounds. The leaves shudder, black with gloomy foliage where sluggish Sleep clings to the overhanging yew, where sad Hunger lies with wasted jaws, and Shame, too late, hides her guilt-burdened face. Dread stalks there, gloomy Fear and gnashing Pain, sable Grief, tottering Disease and iron-girt War; and last of all slow Age supports his steps upon a staff.
 Is any land there fruitful of corn or wine?
 No meadows bud, joyous with verdant view, no ripened corn waves in the gentle breeze; not any grove has fruit-producing boughs; the barren desert of the abysmal fields lies all untilled, and the foul land lies torpid in endless sloth – sad end of things, the world’s last estate. The air hangs motionless and black night broods over a sluggish world. All things are with grief dishevelled, and worse than death itself is the abode of death.
 What of him who holds sway over the dark realm? Where sits he, governing his flitting tribes?
 There is a place in dark recess of Tartarus, which with a heavy pall dense mists enshroud. Hence flow from a single source two streams, unlike: one, a placid river (by this do the gods sear), with silent current bears on the sacred Styx; the other with mighty roar rushes fiercely on, rolling down rocks in its flood, Acheron, that cannot be recrossed. The royal hall of Dis stands opposite, girt by a double moat, and the huge house is hid by an o’ershadowing grove. Here in a spacious cavern the tyrant’s doors overhang; this is the road for spirits, this is the kingdom’s gate. A plain lies round about this where sits the god, where with haughty mien his awful majesty assorts the new-arriving souls. Lowering is his brow, yet such as wears the aspect of his brothers and his high race; his countenance is that of Jove, but Jove the thunderer; chief part of that realm’s grimness is its own lord, whose aspect whate’er is dreaded dreads.
 Is the report true that in the underworld justice, though tardy, is meted out, and that guilty souls who have forgot their crimes suffer due punishment? Who is that lord of truth, that arbiter of justice?
 Not one inquisitor alone sits on the high judgment-seat and allots his tardy sentences to trembling culprits. In yonder court they pass to Cretan Minos’ presence, in that to Rhadamanthus’, here the father of Thetis’ spouse gives audience. What each has done, he suffers; upon its author the crime comes back, and the guilty soul is crushed by its own form of guilt. I have seen bloody chiefs immured in prison; the insolent tyrant’s back torn by plebeian hands. He who reigns mildly and, though lord of life, keeps guiltless hands, who mercifully and without bloodshed rules his realm, checking his own spirit, he shall traverse long stretches of happy life and at last gain the skies, or else in bliss reach Elysium’s joyful land and sit in judgment there. Abstain from human blood, all ye who rule: with heavier punishment your sins are judged.
 Does any certain place enclose the guilty? and, as rumour has it, do sinners suffer cruel punishment in bonds unending?
 Ixion whirls, racked on a flying wheel; a huge stone rests on the neck of Sisyphus; in mid-stream an old man with parched lips catches at the waves; the water bathes his chin and, when at last it has given him, though oft deceived, a pledge of faith, the wave perishes at his lips; fruits mock his hunger. To the vulture Tityos gives never-ending feasts; the Danaïdes bear their brimming urns in vain; the impious Cadmeïds roam in their madness, and the ravenous bird torments Phineus at his board.
 Now tell my son’s famous struggle. Is it his willing uncle’s gift, or his spoil, he brings?
 A rock funereal o’erhangs the slothful shoals, where the waves are sluggish and the dull mere is numbed. This stream an old man tends, clad in foul garb and to the sight abhorrent, and ferries over the quaking shades. His beard hangs down unkempt; a knot ties his robe’s misshapen folds; haggard his sunken cheeks; himself his own boatman, with a long pole he directs his craft. Now, having discharged his load, he is turning his boat towards the bank, seeking the ghosts again; Alcides demands passage, while the crowd draws back. Fierce Charon cries: “Whither in such haste, bold man? Halt there thy hastening steps.” Brooking no delay, Alcmena’s son o’erpowers the ferryman with his own pole and climbs aboard. The craft, ample for whole nations, sinks low beneath one man; as he takes his seat the o’erweighted boat with rocking sides drinks in Lethe on either hand. Then the monsters he had conquered are in a panic, the fierce Centaurs and the Lapithae whom too much wine had inflamed to war; and, seeking the farthest fens of the Stygian swamp, Lerna’s labour plunges deep his fertile heads.
 Next after this there appears the palace of greedy Dis. Here the savage Stygian dog frightens the shades; tossing back and forth his triple heads, with huge bayings he guards the realm. Around his head, foul with corruption, serpents lap, his shaggy man bristles with vipers, and in his twisted tail a long snake hisses. His rage matches his shape. Soon as he feels the stir of feet he raises his head, rough with darting snakes, and with ears erect catches at the onsped sound, wont as he is to hear even the shades. When the son of Jove stood closer, within his cave the dog crouches hesitant and feels a touch of fear. Then suddenly, with deep bayings, he terrifies the silent places; the snakes hiss threateningly along all his shoulders. The clamour of his dreadful voice, issuing from triple throats, fills even the blessed shades with dread. Then from his left arm the hero looses the fierce-grinning jaws, thrusts out before him the Cleonaean head and, beneath that huge shield crouching, plies his mighty club with victorious right hand. Now here, now there, with unremitting blows he whirls it, redoubling the strokes. At last the dog, vanquished ceases his threatenings and, spent with struggle, lowers all his heads and yields all wardship of his cavern. Both rulers shiver on their throne, and bid lead the dog away. Me also they give as boon to Alcides’ prayer.
 Then, stroking the monster’s sullen necks, he binds him with chains of adamant. Forgetful of himself, the watchful guardian of the dusky realm droops his ears, trembling and willing to be led, owns his master, and with muzzle lowered follows after, beating both his sides with snaky tail. But when he came to the Taenarian borders, and the strange gleam of unknown light smote on his eyes, though conquered he regained his courage and in frenzy shook his ponderous chains. Almost he bore his conqueror away, back dragging him, forward bent, and forced him to give ground. Then even to my aid Alcides looked, and with our twofold strength we drew the dog along, mad with rage and attempting fruitless war, and brought him out to earth. But when he saw the bright light of day and viewed the clear spaces of the shining sky, black night rose over him and he turned his gaze to ground, closed tight his eyes and shut out the hated light; backward he turned his face and with all his necks sought the earth; then in the shadow of Hercules he hid his head. – But see, a dense throng comes on, glad shouting, with laurel wreaths upon their brows and chanting the well-won praises of great Hercules.
 Eurystheus, brought to the light by birth untimely, had bidden thee explore the world’s foundations; this only was lacking to thy tale of labours, to despoil the king of the third estate. Thou wast bold to enter blind approach, where a way leads to the far-off shades, a gloomy way and fearsome with dark woods, but crowded with vast accompanying throngs.
 Great as the host that moves through citystreets, eager to see the spectacle in some new theatre; great as that which pours to the Elean Thunderer, when the fifth summer has brought back the sacred games; great as the throng which (when the time comes again for night to lengthen and the balanced Scales, yearning for quiet slumber, check Phoebus’ car) surges to Ceres’ secret rites, and the initiates of Attica, quitting their homes, swiftly hasten to celebrate their night – so great is the throng that is led through the silent plains. Some go slow with age, sad and sated with long life; some still can run, being of happier age – maidens, not yet in wedlock joined, youths with locks still unshorn, and babes that have but lately learned the name of “mother.” To these last alone, that they be not afraid, ‘tis given to lessen night’s gloom by torches borne ahead; the rest move sadly through the dark. O ye dead, what thoughts are yours when, light now banished, each has sorrowing felt his head o’erwhelmed ‘neath all the earth? There are thick chaos, loathsome murk, night’s baleful hue, the lethargy of a silent world and empty clouds.
 Late may old age bear us thither! None comes too late unto that land, whence never, when once come, can he return. Why does it please us to hasten cruel fate? For all this throng which wanders up and down the earth’s vast spaces shall go to the world of shades and shall set sail on Cocytus’ lifeless stream. For thee, O Death, all things are growing; all that the setting sun, all that the rising, sees – oh, spare thou those who are sure to come – for thee are we all preparing. Though thou be slow, we hasten of ourselves; the hour which first gave life is plucking it away.
 Thebes’ joyful day is here. Lay hold on the altars, ye suppliants; slay the fat victims; let husbands and wives together start up the festal dance; let the tillers of the fertile field lay by the yoke and rest.
 Peace reigns by the hand of Hercules from the land of dawn to the evening star, and where the sun, holding mid-heaven, gives to shapes no shadows. Whatever land is washed by Tethys’ far-reaching circuit Alcides’ toil has conquered. He has crossed the streams of Tartarus, subdued the gods of the underworld, and has returned. And now no fear remains; naught lies beyond the underworld.
 Now, priest, bedeck thy bristling hair with his well-loved poplar.
[Enter HERCULES, fresh from the slaying of LYCUS.]
 Felled by my conquering hand, Lycus face down has smitten the earth. Next, whoever had been the tyrant’s comrade lies low, the comrade also of his punishment. And now as victor will I bring offerings to my father and to the heavenly gods, slay victims, and honour the altars with due sacrifice.
 Thee, thee, O ally and helper of my toils, I pray, O warlike Pallas, on whose left arm the targe with its petrifying face sends forth fierce threats; may he, too, be near, the tamer of Lycurgus and the ruddy sea, who bears a spear-point hidden beneath his vine-wreathed staff; and ye, twin deities, Phoebus and Phoebus’ sister, the sister more ready with her arrows, Phoebus with his lyre; and whatever brother of mine dwells in the sky – but not a brother from my stepdame born.
 [To his attendants.] Hither drive fat herds; whatever the fields of Indians produce, whatever fragrant thing the Arabs gather from their trees, heap on the altars; let the rich smoke roll on high. Let wreaths of poplar bedeck our hair; but thee, O Theseus, an olive-branch, with thy own race’s leaves, shall crown. The Thunderer shall my hand adore; do thou invoke the founders of our city, the wooded caves of savage Zethus, Dirce of far-famed water, and the Tyrian house-gods of our pilgrim king. Heap incense on the flames.
 O son, first purify thy hands, dripping with thy slaughtered foeman’s blood.
 Would that I could pour out to the gods the blood of the man I hate; no more pleasing stream had stained the altars; no greater, richer victim can be sacrificed to Jove than an unrighteous king.
 Pray that thy father end thy toils, that at least rest and repose be given to the weary.
 Myself will I frame prayers worthy of Jupiter and me: May heaven abide in its own place, and earth and sea; may the eternal stars hold on their way unhindered; may deep peace brood upon the nations; may the harmless country’s toil employ all iron, and may swords lie hid; may no raging tempest stir up the sea, no fires leap forth from angered Jove, no river, fed by winter’s snows, sweep away the uptorn fields. Let poisons cease to be. Let no destructive herb swell with harmful juice. May savage and cruel tyrants rule no more. If earth is still to produce any wickedness, let her make haste, and if she is preparing any monster, let it be mine.
[The madness planned by JUNO beings to come upon him.]
 But what is this? Shadows have begirt midday. Phoebus fares with darkened face though there be no cloud. Who puts the day to flight and drives it back to dawn? Whence does an unfamiliar night rear its black head? Whence do so many stars fill the sky though it is day? See where the lion, my first toil, glows in no small part of heaven, is all hot with rage, and makes ready his fangs. Forthwith he will seize some star; threatening he stands with gaping jaws, and breathes forth fires, and shakes the mane upon his flaming neck; whatever stars sickly autumn and cold winter with its frozen tracts bring back, with one bound will he o’erleap, and attack and crush the neck of the vernal Bull.
 What sudden ill is this? Why, my son, dost turn thy keen eyes now here, now there, and look upon an unreal sky with troubled gaze?
 The earth has been subdued, the swollen seas are at rest, the infernal realms have felt my onset; heaven is as yet untried, a task worthy of Alcides. To the lofty regions of the universe on high let me make my way, let me seek the skies; the stars are my father’s promise. And what if he should not keep his word? Earth has not room for Hercules, and at length restores him unto heaven. See, the whole company of the gods of their own will summons me, and opens wide the door of heaven, with one alone forbidding. And wilt thou unbar the sky and take me in? Or shall I carry off the doors of stubborn heaven? Dost even doubt my power? I’ll free Saturn from his bonds, and against my unfilial father’s lawless sway I’ll loose my grandsire. Let the Titans prepare war, with me to lead their rage; rocks, woods and all, will I bring, and with my right hand I’ll snatch up ridges full of Centaurs. Now with twin mountains I’ll construct a pathway to the realms above; Chiron shall see his own Pelion ‘neath Ossa, and Olympus, set as third in order, shall reach clean to heaven – or else I’ll hurl it there!
 Have done with these horrible imaginings: Repress the mad fury of thy proud heart, no longer sane.
 What’s this? The baleful Giants are taking arms. Tityos has escaped the shades and, with breast all torn and empty, has almost reached the sky. Cithaeron is tottering, lofty Pellene quakes, and Tempe’s beauty fades. Here one Giant has seized Pindus’ peak, there one has seized Oete, while horribly Mimas rages. Fiery Erinys cracks her brandished scourge, and closer, closer yet, holds out before my face brands burnt on funeral pyres. Cruel Tisiphone, her head with snakes encircled, since the dog was stolen away has blocked the empty gate with her outstretched torch.
[He catches sight of his children.]
 But look! here lurk the children of the king, my enemy, the abominable spawn of Lycus; to your detested father this hand forthwith shall send you. Let my bowstring discharge swift arrows – so it is meet that the shafts of Hercules should fly.
 To what deed is his blind fury driven? He has bent his huge bow, the tips drawn close together; he has opened his quiver; shrilly sings the shaft, discharged with force – it has struck the neck full in the middle and sped out past the wound.
 The rest of the brood will I rout out and all their hiding-places. Why delay? A greater struggle awaits me at Mycenae, that there, by these hands overthrown, the Cyclopean rocks may fall.
[He begins to tear at the doors of the shrine in which his remaining sons have taken refuge.]
 Let the doors fly, one here, one there, the barriers cast down and burst the posts asunder; let the smitten roof reel. The whole palace is alight; I see hiding there the son of a cursed sire.
[He seizes the child and drags him from the scene.]
[Standing where he can see what is going on within the palace.]
 See how he stretches out coaxing hands to his father’s knees, and with piteous voice begs – oh impious crime, grim and horrid sight! With his right hand he has caught the pleading child, and, madly whirling him again and yet again, has hurled him; his head crashed loudly against the stones; the room is drenched with scattered brains. But Megara, poor woman, sheltering her little son within her bosom, flees like a mad creature from her hiding-place.
[Behind the scene to MEGARA, also behind the scene.]
 Though thou run and hide in the Thunderer’s bosom, everywhence shall this hand seek thee and hale thee forth.
 [To MEGARA.] Wither dost thou flee, poor child? What flight of what hiding-place dost thou seek? There is no place safe from Hercules enraged. Embrace him, rather, and essay to calm him with soothing prayers.
THE VOICE OF MEGARA
 Husband, spare me now, I beg. See, I am Megara. This is thy son, with thine own looks and bearing. See, how he stretches out his hands.
THE VOICE OF HERCULES
 I have caught my stepdame. Come, pay me thy debt, and free o’ermastered Jove from a degrading yoke. But before the mother let this little monster perish.
THE VOICE OF MEGARA
 What wouldst thou, madman? Thine own blood wilt thou shed?
 Stricken with terror of his sire’s blazing eyes, the child died ere he felt the blow; fear snatched his life away. Against his wife now he poises his heavy club – her bones are crushed, her head is gone from her mangled body, gone utterly.
 [To himself.] Darest thou abide this sight, O too stubborn age? If thou art weary of grief, death thou hast ready; expose they breast to those shafts, or turn against it that club smeared with our children’s gore. [Calling to HERCULES.] Make away with thy pretended sire, this blot upon thy name, lest he make discord midst thy praise.
 Why, old man, dost wantonly challenge death? Whither wouldst go, senseless? Flee and securely hide thee, and save the hands of Hercules from the crime left.
 ‘Tis well; the shameless king’s house is utterly destroyed. To thee, wife of almighty Jove, have I slaughtered this devoted flock; vows worthy of thee have I paid right joyfully, and Argos shall give still other victims.
 Not yet hast thou made full atonement, son; complete the sacrifice. See, a victim stands before the altar; with bent neck he awaits the stroke. I offer myself to death, I run to meet it, I follow after it; smite – but what is this? The glance of his eyes wanders, and faintness dulls his vision. Do I see the hands of Hercules a-tremble? His eyelids fall in slumber, and his tired neck sinks beneath his drooping head; now his knees give way and his whole body goes crashing to the ground, like an ash-tree felled in the woods, or a falling mass of rock that will give a breakwater to the sea.
 [To HERCULES.] Livest thou still, or has that same madness given thee to death which sent thy kindred to their doom? [He examines the prostrate body.] He sleeps; his chest heaves with measured breathing. Let him have time for rest, that deep slumber may break the force of his madness and relive his troubled heart. Ye slaves, remove his weapons, lest in rage he seek them yet again.
 Let heaven mourn, and the great father of high heaven, and fertile earth, and wandering waves of the restless main; and thou above all, who ever the lands and stretches of the sea dost shed thy rays, and dispellest night with comely face, O glowing Sun; equally with thee hath Alcides seen the lands of thy setting and thy rising, and hath known both thy dwellings.
 O free his soul from such monstrous ills, free him, ye gods, and turn to better things his darkened spirit. And do thou, O Sleep, vanquisher of woes, rest of the soul, the better part of human life, thou winged son of thy mother Astraea, sluggish brother of cruel Death, thou who dost mingle false with true, sure yet gloomy guide to what shall be; O thou, who art peace after wanderings, haven of life, day’s respite and night’s comrade, who comest alike to king and slave, who doest compel the human race, trembling at death, to prepare for unending night – sweetly and gently soothe his weary spirit; hold him fast bound in heavy stupor; let slumber chain his untamed limbs, and leave not his savage breast until his former mind regain its course.
 See, prone on the ground, he revolves in his fierce heart his savage dreams; not yet has the baleful power of so great woe been overcome; wont to recline his weary head on his heavy club, he feels for its ponderous trunk with empty hand, tossing his arms in fruitless movement. Not yet has he dispelled all his surging madness, but as the waves, stirred up by a mighty wind, still keep their long, tumultuous roll, and still are swollen though the wind has ceased, [so does his former rage still rack the hero.] Banish the mad passions of thy soul; let the hero’s piety and manly courage come again. Or rather, let his mind still be stirred by uncontrolled emotion; let his blind error go on the way it has begun; madness alone can now make thee innocent. Next best to guiltless hands is ignorance of guilt.
 Now let Hercules’ breast resound beneath the blows of his palms; let those arms that were wont to upbear the universe be smitten by his victorious hands; let the heavens hear his mighty groans, let the queen of the dark world hear, and fierce Cerberus, crouching in his lowest cave, his necks still bound with chains; let Chaos re-echo the outcries of his grief, and the spreading waves of the broad deep, and mid-air which no less had felt thy shafts; the breast beset by so great ills must by no light blow be smitten; with one lamentation three kingdoms must resound. And thou, brave reed, which hung so long as ornament and weapon from his neck, and thou, heavy quiver, lay savage blows on his untamed back; let the stout oak club mangle his strong shoulders with its hard knots bruise his breast; let his weapons make lament for his mighty woes.
 Go ye, ill-fated brood, ye boys, along the gloomy way of your father’s famous task, not destined to be partakers of his praise by taking bloody vengeance on savage kings; never taught in Argive wrestling school to ply the limbs, brave with boxing-glove and brave with hand, never yet taught to wound the maned lion with well-hurled javelin, but yet already bold to poise and throw with steady hand the slender Scythian dart, and shoot the deer that seek safety in flight – go to the haven of the Styx, go, harmless shades whom on the very threshold of life your sire’s mad crime o’ercame; go, go to the presence of the angered kings.
[Waking up in his right mind.]
 What place is this? What region, what quarter of the world? Where am I? Beneath the sun’s rising or beneath the wheeling course of the frozen Bear? Is this the boundary set to Ocean’s stream by that farthest land on the western sea? What air is this I breathe? What soil lies beneath my weary frame? Surely I have returned to earth –
[His eyes fall on his murdered children.]
 How is it that I see bloody corpses lying before my house? Is my mind not yet free from infernal phantoms? Even after my return do troops of ghastly things still throng before my eyes? With shame I confess it – I am afraid; something, some great calamity my heart forebodes. Where art thou, father? Where is my wife, so proud of her brood of sons? Why is my left shoulder bare of the lion’s spoil? Whither has it gone, that shield of mine, at once a soft couch, too, for the sleep of Hercules? Where are my shafts? my bow? Who ahs been able to steal away my arms while I still live? Who has gained so great spoils of me, and has not shuddered at even a sleeping Hercules? Glad would I be to see my conqueror, glad. Come forth, thou brave hero, whom my sire, leaving heaven, has begotten, a later son, at whose begetting night stood still, longer than at mine –
[He recognizes his dead wife and children.]
 What horror do I see? My sons, with bloody murder destroyed, lie here, my wife lies slain. What Lycus holds sway now? Who ahs dared perpetrate such outrages in Thebes, though Hercules has returned? Whoever dwellest by Ismenus’ stream, on Attic plains, in the kingdom of Dardanian Pelops, lapped by two seas, come to my aid, tell me the doer of this cruel murder. On all let mine anger sweep; my foeman is he who points not out the foe. Vanquisher of Alcides, hidest thou? Come out; whether thou dost seek vengeance for the savage horses of the bloody Thracian or for Geryon’s flock, or the Libyan heroes, I am ready for the fray. Here I stand defenceless, e’en though with my own arms thou shouldst assail me armourless.
 Why does Theseus avoid my eyes, why does my father? Why do they hide their faces? Postpone your tears. Who ahs given my loved ones to death, all of them at once, tell me – why, father art thou silent? But do thou tell, Theseus! Nay, Theseus, tell me by thy loyalty! – They both in silence turn away and hide their faces as if in shame, while tears steal down their cheeks. In woes so great what room is there for shame? Has the ruthless lord of Argos, has the hostile band of dying Lycus, in ruin so vast overwhelmed me? O father, by the glory of my deeds, I pray thee, and by thy sacred name always next hallowed in my sight, speak out! who has overthrown my house? To whom have I fallen prey?
 In silence, as they may, let troubles pass.
 And I be unavenged?
 Oft vengeance has brought bane.
 Has any e’er borne such woes supinely?
 Yes, he who greater woes has feared.
 But than these, father, can aught still greater of heavier be feared?
 How small the part of thy calamity is that thou knowest!
 Have pity, father; see, I stretch out suppliant hands. What? from my hands he started back – here lurks the sin. Whence this blood? What of that shaft, still dripping with the blood of boys? It has been dipped in Hydra’s gore – ah, now my own weapons do I recognize. No need to ask the hand that used them! Who could have bent the bow or what hand drawn the string which scarce yields to me? I turn to you again; father, is this my deed? Silent still – ‘tis mine.
 Truly the woe is thine; the crime thy stepdame’s. This mischance is free from sin.
 Now from every quarter of the sky, O father, thunder in thy wrath; though thou hast forgotten me, with tardy hand at least avenge thy grandsons. Let the starry heavens resound, and the skies dart lightnings from pole to pole; let the Caspian crags claim my fettered body, and let the ravenous bird – Why are Prometheus’ crags unoccupied? Why, the bare, steep side of Caucasus which, on its lofty summit, feeds beasts and birds of prey? Let those clashing rocks which confine the Scythian sea stretch my fettered hands apart this way and that o’er the deep, and, when with recurrent change they come together and when, as the crags rush from either side, the rocks force up to heaven the interposing flood, may I lie there the mountains’ tortured curb. Nay, I will build me a huge pile of logs and burn my body spattered with impious gore. Thus, thus must I do – to the nether gods will I give back Hercules.
 His heart, not yet eased of frenzy’s tumult, ahs shifted its wrath’s aim and now, sure sign of madness, he rages against himself.
 Ye dire abodes of fiends, prison-house of the dead, ye regions set apart for the guilty throng, if any place of banishment lies hidden away beneath hell itself, unknown to Cerberus and me, hide me there, O earth; to the remotest bounds of Tartarus will I go and there abide. O heart too fierce! Who can weep worthily for you, my children, scattered through all my house? This face, hardened with woe, has forgotten how to weep. Give my bow here, give me my arrows, here give me my huge club.
[He bends the corpses and addresses each in turn.]
 For thee will I break my shafts, for thee, poor boy, will I rend my bow; but to thy shades my heavy club shall burn; my quiver itself, full of Lerna’s darts, shall go with thee to the pyre. So let my arms pay the penalty. You, too, with my weapons will I burn, O cursed, O stepdame’s hands.
 What man anywhere hath laid on error the name of guilt?
 Oft hath great error held the place of guilt.
 Now must thou be Hercules; bear thou this weight of trouble.
 Shame, quenched by madness, has not so far gone from me that with unhallowed presence I should scare all peoples. Arms, Theseus, my arms! I pray you quickly give back what you have stolen. If my mind is sane give back to my hands their weapons; if madness still remains, fly, O my father; I shall find a path to death.
 By the holy ties of birth, by the right of both my names, whether thou dost call me foster-father or true sire, by these grey hairs, which pious sons revere, spare thyself, I pray, to my lonely age and to my weary years. Sole prop of my fallen house, sole light of my woe-darkened life, save thyself for me. No enjoyment of thee, no fruit of thy toils has fallen to my lot; but always have I had to fear either the stormy seas or monsters; every cruel king that rages in all the world with guilt on his hands or altars is cause of dread to me; always do I, thy father, yearn for the joy of touch and sight of thee, my ever-absent son.
 Why I should longer stay my soul in the light of day, and linger here, there is no cause; all that was dear to me I’ve lost: reason, arms, honour, wife, children, strength – and madness too! No power could purge a tainted spirit; by death must sin be healed.
 Thou’lt slay thy father.
 Lest I do so, I’ll die.
 Before thy father’s eyes?
 I have taught him to look on impious deeds.
 Nay, rather think upon thy deeds glorious to all, and seek from thyself pardon for one sin.
 Shall he give remission to himself who to none other gave it? As for my glorious deeds, at others’ hest I did them; this alone is mine. Help me, father; whether love move thee, or my sad fate, or the tarnished glory of my manhood. Bring me my weapons; by my right hand let fate be vanquished.
 Enough thy father’s prayers have power to move, but let my weeping move thee, too. Up! and with thy wonted force break through adversity. Now get back thy courage which was ne’er unequal to any hardship; now must thou greatly play the man – forbid Hercules to rage!
 If I keep to life, I have wrought wrong; if I die, have borne it. I am in haste to purge the earth. Long since a monstrous form, impious, savage, inexorable, wild, has stalked before my eyes; come, hand, grapple with this task greater than the last of all thy labours. Coward, dost thou shrink, brave against boys alone and trembling mothers? My arms, I say! Unless they are given me, either I will cut down all the woods of Thracian Pindus and Bacchus’ groves and Cithaeron’s ridges, and along with my own body I will burn them up; or else all the dwellings of Thebes with their households and their masters, the temples with all their gods, I will pull down upon myself and lie buried ‘neath a city’s wreck; and if, hurled on my shoulders, the walls shall fall with too light a weight, and if, buried beneath the seven gates, I be not crushed enough, then all the mass which lies at the centre of the universe and separates gods from men will I overthrow upon my head.
 I return thine arms.
 The words are worthy the sire of Hercules. See, slain by this shaft fell my boy.
 ‘Twas Juno shot the arrow by thy hand.
 ‘Tis I who shall use it now.
 Oh, how my woeful heart trembles with fear and smites on my anxious breast!
 The shaft is notched.
 Ah, now wilt thou sin of thine own will and knowledge.
 Speak out; what wouldst have me do?
 I make no prayer; for me woe is assured – thou alone canst preserve my son to me, but not even thou canst snatch him from me. I have passed my greatest fear; wretched thou canst not make me, but blest, thou canst. Decide, then, as thou wilt decide, but know that in so doing thy cause and fame stand at hazard and doubtful issue; either thou livest or slayest me. This flitting soul, weary with age and no less with woe weary, I hold upon my very lips. So grudgingly does any man grant his father life? [He seizes a sword and sets its point to his breast.] I will brook no more delay; with the fatal steel thrust home will I pierce my breast; here, here shall lie the crime of a sane Hercules.
 Now hold, father, hold, recall thy hand! Strong soul of mine, yield, do a father’s will; add this task also to Hercules’ toils – and live! Theseus, lift thou from the ground my father’s fainting limbs. My hands defiled shrink from that pious touch.
 But this hand I clasp joyfully; by its help I’ll walk and, holding it close to my aching heart, banish my griefs.
 Whither shall I flee? Where shall I hide me, or in what land bury me? What Tanaïs, what Nile, what Tigris, raging with Persian torrents, what warlike Rhine, or Tagus, turbid with the golden sands of Spain, can cleanse this hand? Though cold Maeotis should pour its northern sea upon me, though the whole ocean should stream along my hands, still will the deep stains cling. To what countries, man of sin, wilt thou betake thee? The rising or the setting sun wilt seek? Know in every land, I have lost place for exile. The world shrinks from my presence, the stars, moving askance, turn away their courses; Titan himself looked upon Cerberus with kindlier face. O faithful friend, Theseus, seek a hiding-place for me, remote, obscure; since, though witness of others’ sins, thou dost ever love the sinners, grant me now grace and recompense for favours past. Take me back, I pray thee, and restore me to the nether shades; put me in thy stead, loaded with thy chains; that place will hide me – but it, too, knows me!
 My land awaits thee. There Gradivus once cleansed his hands from blood and gave them back to war; thee, Alcides, does that land call, land which can free the immortals from their stains.
1. In Greek mythology the constellations which the poet names all have their place in the sky as the result of some amorous intrigue of Jupiter.
2. The Bull.
3. The reference would be more naturally to the Hyades as bringers of stormy weather; but nevertheless the Pleiades are evidently meant, since three of these had been beloved of Jove.
6. i.e. by the lion’s skin, which he used as a shield, and by the hydra’s poisonous gall in which he dipped his arrow-points.
7. In Roman custom spolia opima were gained when a king met an opposing king in battle, conquered, and despoiled him. In this case the “spoil” was Cerberus; the “king,” Pluto, brother of Jupiter.
8. i.e. than it had on Atlas’ shoulders.
10. The Nemean lion and other monsters were supposed to have fallen from the moon.
11. The poet has mixed two conceptions of the constellations: (1) the Great Bear and Arctophylax, the “bear-keeper”; (2) the “Wain” and the “Ox-driver” (Boötes).
12. Phoebe, the moon-goddess.
13. Philomela, the nightingale, forced to be the mistress of Thracian Tereus.
14. The Parcae.
15. Hercules chased the hind a year before he caught her.
17. The hundred towns of Crete.
19. This was not one of the twelve labours ordered by Eurystheus.
20. The Straits of Gibraltar.
21. The golden apples of the Hesperides.
22. Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons.
25. i.e. they who sprang from Cadmus’ sowing of the dragon’s teeth.
27. The Peneus river, a passage for which Hercules is said to have forced between Olympus and Ossa.
29. Hercules was once wrecked off the African coast and made his way on foot to the shore.
30. The reference is to Oedipus.
31. Eteocles and Polynices.
33. Cadmus was changed into a serpent.
34. The scene of the battle between the giants and the gods. Hercules fought on the side of the gods.
35. As was Hercules to Eurystheus.
36. The reference is to Apollo’s year of servitude to Admetus.
41. A supposed quotation from Fortune’s decree.
42. These were nomadic tribes.
43. Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons.
44. The Styx.
45. Pluto. The reference is to the combat of Hercules against Pluto in defence of the Pylians.
46. i.e. between life and death.
47. It is impossible to reproduce in translation the obvious pun in Eurydicen iuridici.
48. i.e. the upper and lower hemispheres.
49. i.e. Lycus.
50. To Amphitryon.
53. Aeacus, father of Peleus.
55. The harpy.
56. The Hydra.
57. i.e. of the Nemean lion, so called from Cleonae, near Nemea, in Argolis.
58. Pluto and Proserpina.
59. i.e. Olympian. The reference is to the Olympic games, celebrated in honour of Zeus.
60. i.e. with the divine afflatus. Compare Virgil’s description of the Sibyl, Aeneid vi. 48: non comptae mansere comae.
62. Which Bacchus crossed when he conquered India.
63. Addressed to Amphitryon.
65. i.e. to destroy, as he had destroyed so many other earth-born monsters.
66. i.e. Jove has promised to deify his son. This is one of the chief themes in Hercules Oetaeus.
67. Jove with his two brothers had driven their father, Saturn, from the throne.
68. He imagines that Megara is Juno, and now he will pay off old scores both in his own and Jove’s interests.
69. Eurystheus was lord of Argos.
70. Perhaps because dreams are generally evil.
71. The poet wavers in his conception of the person addressed throughout this passage (1092-1121).
72. i.e. the lords of death, angry because Hercules had defied them.
74. e.g. Antaeus, Busiris.
76. i.e. of father.
77. i.e. next to that of Jove, real father of Hercules. The play on the words nomen and numen cannot be reproduced in English.
78. To which Prometheus had been bound, and from which Hercules released him.
79. The Symplegades.
80. Mars [for the murder of Hallirhothius].
81. If Athens could cleanse Mars from blood-guiltiness, she could do the same for Hercules.