Euripides’ Herakles



Translated by R. Potter

Adapted by Mary Ebbott and Casey Dué


Introduction: Herakles is gone to the underworld, where he was sent by Eurystheus to drag to light the triple headed dog Cerberus. Lukos, king of Thebes, certain that the enterprise will prove fatal to the hero, seizes on his three sons, together with their mother Megara, and grandfather Amphitryon, in order to allay his fears of their popularity and influence by killing them.


[The scene is at Thebes, before the Palace of Herakles.]





Who among mortals does not know the one who shared his

bed with Zeus, the Argive Amphitryon? Alcaeus was his sire,

From Perseus sprung, and Herakles his son.

He held his seat in Thebes, where from the earth

Up rose the dragon race, of which race [genos] only a few 5

Mars spared: their great descendants in the city [polis]

Of Cadmus flourished: Creon, of their line,

Son of Menoikeus, was king of this land.

And Creon was father of Megara here

To her the sons of Thebes attuned their flutes 10

And wedding hymns, when to my house

The illustrious Herakles with festive joy

Led her his bride. But leaving Thebes, my residence,

And this Megara, and the alliance formed through her, my son desired

To fix his seat at Argus, and in the city walls [polis] 15

Raised by the Cyclops: exiled from there I fled, having killed

Electryon. To alleviate my misfortunes,

and wishing to inhabit his fatherland,

high rewards he offered to Eurystheus,

to civilize the earth, whether he was prompted by 20

the goads of Hera, or by necessity.

The other toils he achieved with hard labor ;

But for the last, to Hades’ dreary abode

Through the dark jaws of Taenarus he went,

To drag the triple-headed dog to light: from there he has not returned. 25

Yet in Thebes remains the story of times of old,

that Lukos once, wedded to Dirce,

held his awful reign over the seven towers of Thebes,

before the sons of Zeus, Amphion and his brother Zethus,

the so-called white colts, were monarchs [verb of turannos]

of the land. 30

His son, who bears his father’s name,

(no Theban, but coming from Euboea),

killed Creon, and having killed him now rules the land,

having fallen on this city when it was sick with strife [stasis].

We, to Creon's blood allied, because of this, it seems 35

draw our greatest miseries: for, while my son,

is in the innermost part of the earth below,

this king, the potent Lukos, wishes to destroy

the sons of Herakles, to slay his wife,

And, that by murder may be quenched, 40

Me too, a weak old man, (if somehow I can

be numbered among men); lest, when they become men

they should achieve vengeance [dikê], for their mother’s family.

I, (for my son left me in his house,

to guard his children when down the earth's 45

dark steep he took his way),

To save them from impending ruin, here

Sit, with their mother, at this altar, raised to Zeus, the high savior [sôter],

which my son erected as a generous monument

Of his victorious spear, when his strong arm subdued the Minyae. 50

Wanting all things, food and drink, and clothing,

We keep these seats in this sanctuary, on the bare uncovered ground

we make our beds; for our house closed shut

Against us, here we sit at a loss for safety [sôtêria].

Of my friends [philoi], I see some who were not such; 55

and they, who are indeed my true friends, are powerless to help.

Among men such is the influence of calamity

Which never may he know, whoever wished

Even the least good to me; it proves false friends [philoi].



O venerable man, who once destroyed the Taphian towers, 60

the leader of the famous Theban force,

what darkness hides the councils of the gods from mortal eyes!

To me no joy devolves from all my father's fortune:

who once was blessed with all the pride of wealth [olbos];

he once ruled, which inflamed the long spears 65

To rage against the bosom of the great;

He once had children : me he gave in marriage to your son,

to be the illustrious wife of Herakles.

These blessings in his death vanished at once;

now you, old man, and I are about to die; 70

and these too, the sons of Herakles, whom, beneath my wings

I preserve [sôzô] like the parent bird that puts her young under her.

These in turn question me, ‘O Mother, tell us,

Where on earth has our father gone?

What is he doing? when will he return?’ Helpless in their youth 75

they ask for their parent: to divert their minds, I speak

The words of comfort, and admiring see,

whenever the gates resound, their ready feet

start forward, to fall at their father’s knees.

But now what hope or means of safety [sôtêria] 80

do you deem easy, venerable man? for I look to you.

For neither from this land by secret flight can we escape;

each avenue is held by guards too strong for us;

nor in our friends [philoi] do we have hope in salvation [sôtêria]

if your thoughts suggest anything, 85

Propose it; let not instant death overtake us.



Daughter, it is no easy or slight task

To advise earnestly without ordeal [ponos]:

Since we are weak, let us just delay.



Have you need of more pain, or do you so love life? 90



I rejoice in heaven’s sweet light, and cherish hope.



And I: yet vain is hope, old man, where hope must fail.





In their delays ills [kaka] find a remedy.



The time in delay is painful, and afflicts me.



Some prosperous course may yet be opened, daughter, 95

for you and me to escape these present evils [kaka]:

My son, your husband, may perhaps yet return.

But remain calm, and from your children’s eyes

Dry those flowing tears; calm them with stories,

A soothing, but a wretched fallacy. 100

For even the sufferings of mortals waste away,

and the blasts of storms do not keep their strength always

The fortunate are not fortunate to the end [telos];

Everything changes and is different from before.

The best [aristos] man is the one who always 105

trusts in hope; the coward gives up.




Leaning on my staff I come, strophe

to the high roofed halls and the old-man’s home

Like the swan, foretelling ill

I come to pour the mournful songs. 110

Nothing except words [epea] is left me now;

A lifeless vision of the night I seem,

The phantom of a dream

Though these words tremble, yet friendly shall they flow.

Unhappy orphans, for you are without a father's guardian power 115

You poor old man, and you afflicted woman,

How is your heart with bitter anguish pained

For your lost husband is kept in Hades’ house!




Do not hurry my feeble frame, antistrophe

As up the craggy steep 120

Faintly and slowly on I creep

like the colt drawing the heavy cart:

And, as I go with infirm step,

gently lead this heavy burden;

Support me by the robe and by the hand; 125

I, an old man, will support an old man,

Just as a young man, when I grasped the youthful spear and shield;

I was there together in the toils [ponos] of my agemates

and brought no disgrace on my fatherland.



Behold these boys; how stern their brow, 130

Their father's spirit

flashing from their eyes;

They too his hapless fortune know,

As they his manly grace retain.

O Greece, if bereft of these, 135

what firm allies,

you will lose.

But, I see the monarch of this land,

Lukos, advancing to this house. He's here.





If I might ask the father and the wife 140

Of Herakles, (and of course I may, since

I am your master, find out what I want to know),

In what confiding do you seek to prolong your life?

What hope presents itself? Why do you expect not to die?

Do you think that from the realms of Hades, where he lies, 145

The sire of these will come? Thus you raise your grief,

Since you must die so unbecomingly&endash;

you, who many an empty boast has spread through Greece,

that Zeus once shared thy bed, and gave this strange son birth:

and you, who you are called the wife of the bravest [aristos] man! 150

Yet by your husband what illustrious deed has been achieved,

if he destroyed and slew the marsh-bred Hydra,

or Nemaean beast, which in his nets he caught,

saying he grasped it in his arms, and strangled it?

On this presume you to contend with me? Is it for this 155

the sons of Herakles ought not to die?

Who, with no merit, held the reputation of daring courage,

that with beasts he fought, in naught besides his prowess proved:

his left hand never knew to raise the shield;

Never came near the spear, but held the bow, 160

a coward's weapon, and was always ready for flight;

no proof of manhood, none of daring courage is the bow,

best shown by him, who, remaining steadfast, dares to face

the rapid spear and the furrowed wounds it cuts.

Think not, old man, what now I do takes rise from insolence, 165

but caution : well I know I slew

her father Creon, and possess his throne:

I therefore have no use for these boys to grow up,

and leave them to revenge [take dikê on] my deeds.



May Zeus protect his son, for that to Zeus 170

belongs: it shall be my part to refute with my words

his ignorance about you, Herakles; for never

will I bear to hear you defamed. And first

The charge of cowardice (shame on the tongue

That brought so vile a charge!) will I disprove, 175

And call the gods to witness. Let me ask

The thunder, and the flaming car of Zeus,

ascending in which he, in the giant sons

of Earth his winged arrows deep infixed,

And shared the glorious triumph of the gods. 180

To Pholoë go, O you basest [superlative of kakos] of kings,

and ask the four-hoofed monsters of the centaur race [genos],

What man they judge the bravest:

whom would they name, but my son?

Ask the Euboean Dirce, that nurtured you: 185

it would not sound your praise, for you have done

nothing noble [esthlon] to which your country might bear witness.

But wisdom's prime invention, the arrow-bearing quiver,

you blame: hear me now, and become wise [sophos]:

the man arrayed in arms is to his arms a slave, 190

and, if stationed near the weak-hearted,

through their cowardice he perishes;

or if he should break his spear, what has he to protect him

from the carnage, his valor thus disarmed?

But he who grasps the skilful-aiming bow 195

has in his hand the one best thing: even if he sends

a thousand arrows against the breast of others,

himself from death defends; and, his stand held distant,

pours his vengeance on his foes,

Who fall by unseen wounds, himself secure, 200

Nor to their arms exposed: for in the fight

This is especially wise [sophon], to annoy

The enemies, saving [sôzô] your own body.

These are my arguments, in refutation of yours

concerning the points you made. 205

But why do you wish to kill these boys?

What have they done to you? Yet I consider you wise [sophos]

in this one thing

that, being the coward [kakos] you are, you fear the offspring

of the brave [aristos]. Yet this on us is hard,

that we must die on account of your cowardice, 210

when you should suffer at the hands of us, your betters,

Were Zeus with righteous [dikaios] thought attentive to us.

If you wish to hold the scepter of this land,

Permit us to leave this country as exiles.

You should do nothing with violence [bia], or you shall

suffer violence [bia] 215

when the god shall change the direction of the winds.

O Theban land, (for on you as well

I will pour my just reproaches),

is this how you defend Herakles and his sons?

Yet he advanced alone against all the Minynae in arms, 220

And let the eye of Thebes see freedom.

Nor, Greece, do you deserve my praise, nor ever will I keep

silent at your baseness [superlative of kakos] to my son:

you should, in aid of these poor boys, come bringing

fire, spears, arms, in return for their father's toils 225

of clearing sea and land from its monsters.

But, O children, neither the state [polis] of Thebes,

Nor Greece will defend you. To me, a friend [philos] but a weak one,

you turn, but I am nothing but a sounding tongue:

For the strength I once had has left me, 230

trembling with age, my languid nerves without vigor.

If I now were young, and there were might in this body,

I would grasp the spear and stain those blond locks

with blood so that I might see you flee beyond

the bounds of the Atlantic, in fear of my lance. 235



Are not the good [agathoi], though slow to opprobrious words,

often provoked by wrongs to give them vent?



Speak against me whatever proud words you want,

My actions will be harsh to you in return for your words.

Go, woodsmen, some to Helicon, some to the valleys of Parnassus; 240

having gone there cut the trunks of oak,

and bear them to the city [polis];

pile them you each way this altar round, set them on fire,

And burn those wretches there; that they may know

Their Creon dead no longer rules in these realms, 245

but I am now the lord of Thebes.

And you, old men, who dare oppose me

and my will, do not groan for the sons of Herakles alone

but also for the ruin that will fall

On your own house; you will remember then 250

That you are slaves to my despotic power [turannis].



You, offspring of the earth, whom Mars of old

Sowed, when the dragon's furious jaws he bared,

Will not each raise the staff that his right hand

Supports, and dash it against this man’s bleeding head, 255

Who, not a Theban, over my land and people

Most basely [superlative of kakos] rules, alien though he be?

Yet never will you rejoice being despot over me,

nor will you possess what my hand earned with toil

Go back from where you came, commit your 260

outrage [hubris] there; while I live, never will you kill

The sons of Herakles; for not so far

lies he concealed beneath the earth that he forsakes his sons.

Since you hold sway here in this land, having destroyed it,

he who has helped it does not receive his worthy due. 265

Much I avail my friends [philoi] by all the zeal

I show the dead, when friends [philoi] are wanted most.

O my right hand, how you long to grasp the spear!

But the desire is lost in weakness.

Else I would stop you from calling me a slave 270

with glory [kleos] might we then inhabit this our Thebes,

in which you now delight. For the city [polis] does not think well

which shakes with base sedition [stasis] and ill counsels;

else it would not have acquired you as despot.



Old men, I praise [verb of ainos] you; for on account of

friends [philoi] 275

friends [philoi] must have a just [dikaia] resentment.

Yet in our cause let not your anger rise against your despots,

don’t suffer anything. And you, Amphitryon,

hear now my opinion, if I seem to speak anything worthwhile.

I love my children; how can I but love them, 280

Whom I brought forth, and cherished with fond care?

And to die I think is terrible; yet him,

who strives against necessity, I deem but ill advised.

But we, since we must die, we should not die

consumed by fire, letting our enemies [ekhthroi] laugh at us: 285

to me death is a better evil [kakon];

and to the honor of our house we owe much.

The glory [kleos] of the powerful spear is yours;

let not that glory be tarnished by your death through fear.

My well-famed [with good kleos] husband needs no witness 290

that he would not wish to save [sôzô] his sons,

if they gain a poor reputation from it. For the well-born

suffer from the disgrace of their children;

nor shall I refuse to emulate my noble husband.

See now how much I esteem your hope. 295

Do you think that from the realms below your son will come?

Who of the dead has come back again from Hades?

Or do you think that this one [Lukos] will relent to words?

Not at all. One must flee a boorish enemy [ekhthros]

to the wise, whose minds are trained well, we submit, 300

For there a modest [aidôs] gentleness we find.

My mind suggests, if we prevail to save

My sons by exile, what a wretched state

Is safety [sôtêria] with distressful poverty

Since from the face of such a guest [xenos] each friend [philos]

will turn, 305

nor longer than a single day behold him with a pleasant eye.

Then dare to die with us, since death awaits you anyway.

We call forth, old man, the nobleness of your soul,

He, who strives against the fortunes sent by the gods,


strives but to show his foolishness; 310

for the necessary ill will come; no one can stop it.



f, while my arm retained its vigorous force,

This insult [hubris] had been offered, I with ease would have repelled it;

But now I am nothing. It is yours then, Amphitryon, to look to it,

How best to drive back the impending ill. 315



Not abject fear, nor fond desire of life keeps me

from death, but I wish for my son

To save [sôzô] his sons&endash;it seems I am in love with the impossible.

See, the neck is ready for your sword,

kill me, hurl me from the rock: 320

Grant me one favor [kharis], lord, I beg you;

Kill me, and kill her, the wretched mother, first

so that we not behold the children’s death, the unhallowed sight;

nor, while their warm blood flows, hear them call on their mother,

and on me their father's father : for the rest, if you are eager 325

do it. We have no power to rescue us from death.



I am your suppliant too; to grace [kharis] add grace [kharis],

And merit thanks for both: permit me, king,

Opening the doors, which now are shut against us,

To array [verb of kosmos] my children in the dress of death; 330

giving them at least a scanty portion from their father's house.



Well, so be it. Attendants, open the house.

Go in, array [verb of kosmos] yourselves; I begrudge you not your robes.

When you are dressed with such attire [kosmos] as suits you,

I will come, and send you to the dark realms below. 335





Come then, my sons, let your unhappy steps

Attend your mother to your father's house over which others

have power and have seized his wealth; the name as yet remains with us.



In vain, O Zeus, did I share my wife with you.

In vain am I called together with you the father of this son; 340

You are less a friend [philos] than you seem to be.

Mortal as I am, in virtue [aretê] I surpass you, a mighty god;

for I have not betrayed the sons of Herakles.

Well did you know to come by stealth to my marriage-bed,

to invade a bed not yours, no leave obtained; 345

But you do not know to save [sôzô] your friends [philoi].

You are an ignorant god or you are by nature not just [dikaios].



The lament for Linos after the strophe

song for success Phoibos sings,

drawing his golden plectron 350

over the beautiful voiced seven string lyre [kithara].

But I sing of the one who went below the earth

Whether I call him the son of Zeus

Or child of Amphitryon

I wish to sing a crown of his 355

toils through eulogy,

the striving for excellence [aretê] of his labors [ponoi]

are a glory to the dead.

First the sacred forest of Zeus he cleared

And he slew the lion 360

When over his manly limbs the victor wore

The tawny beast’s shaggy hide,

Terrific with its yawning jaws upon his head.


Next with many a shaft winged antistrophe

from his fatal bow, he slew the savage 365

mountain band of Centaurs

and laid the bleeding monsters low,

The lovely rapids of Peneus knew him

and large stretches of uncultivated plains,

Pelion abodes and 370

neighboring Omole's deep caves;

pouring out from where with pine torches

in their hand, the Thessalian land

their cavalry tames.

The spotted hind, that reared with pride 375

the golden antlers of its head,

And wasted Oene’s groves,

he chased, he seized, he bound,

A trophy to the huntress goddess.


He yoked the mares of Diomedes to the car, strophe

And taught their mouths the iron bit to bear: 381

Unreined, and pawing in their gore-stained stalls

Greedy of human flesh for food,

And drank with savage joy their blood:

These steeds, the silver-flowing Hebrus passed, 385

He drove its farther bank beside,

Where to the ocean wave, with headlong haste,

laboring [ponos] for the tyrant [turannos] of Mycenae.

Near the Malian headlands

next to the waters of Anauros 390

He slew Cycnus, the xenos killer,

Piercing him with his shafts, in blood he lies,

And gives the avenged stranger rest.




To the rich gardens near the Hesperides, antistrophe

Where still the tuneful sisters pour the strain 395

He came. He plucked the ambrosial fruit that grew

shining on the boughs of gold.

In vain the watchful dragon wreathed around

His spires voluminous and vast;

The fiery-scaled guard he slew. 400

To the wide ocean's foaming gulfs he passed,

making them calm for mortals in ships.

Beneath the center of the skies,

he made his hands the foundation

going to Atlas’ home 405

And on his patient shoulders bears

The starry mansions of the gods.


Over the black Euxine's crashing waves

He sought the Amazonian cavalry,

In martial ranks arranged along the coast 410

at Maeotis, where many rivers meet.

Who of his friends [philoi], their country's pride,

Did not in arms arise, to attend their chief?

The golden robes, the girdle of the queen

were his dangerous quarry. 415

Greece took the illustrious spoils

of the barbarian girl, and

it is preserved [sôzô] in Mycenae.

The horrid Hydra's hundred heads,

Hell-hound of Lerna, armed with flames, 420

he cut off each one.

Coated with whose venom

His shafts killed the triple-bodied Geryon,

the herdsman of Erytheia.

He won prizes in many other races antistrophe

And glorious conquest crowned his brow; 426

But now, his last of toils [ponoi], he sailed to Hades’

realms below: Unhappy, from that mournful shore,

Never, ah! never to come back again.

Far from his house each faithless friend [philoi] is fled. 430

The boat of Charon his sons awaits,

along that godless, unjust [without dikê] road

from which one never return.

Your house looks to your hands,

though you are not here. 435

If I had the strength of my youth

and could shake my spear in battle

with my fellow Theban agemates,

I would stand forward and protect your sons

with courage, but youth and strength 440

are withered here and I have them no longer.



But I see them wearing

the robes of death,

the sons of the once great Herakles,

and his much-loved [philê] wife, 445

Leading her children coupled at her side

By the same chain of fate, and the old father of Herakles;

I am wretched,

I am not able to hold back the tears

pouring yet from my old eyes. 450





Come now: what priest, what butcher of the afflicted,

What bloody murderer of my wretched life [psukhê]

leads these ready victims to the home Hades?

Alas, my sons, ill-matched beneath the yoke,

The old, the young, the mothers, are we led to death. 455

O miserable fate, that awaits me and my sons,

whom never shall my eyes again behold!

I brought you forth, I nurtured you, to be insulted [hubris],

scorned and murdered by your foes [ekhthroi].

Alas, much have my hopes of glory failed me, 460

which I hope due to your father’s words.

To you [speaking to one of her sons], your father now gone

would have assigned Argos,

you would have had the seat of proud Eurystheus,

the rich and productive fields of Pelasgia,

throwing over your head the robe of the beast, 465

the lion’s skin, in which he himself was armed.

And you [another son] were to be leader of chariot-loving Thebes

enriched with your mother's realms

since you once persuaded your father to do so;

and in thy hand in jest he placed 470

his protective and cunningly wrought club.

On you [the third son] Oechalia's towers, subdued once

by his far-wounding bow, he promised to bestow:

thus his three sons with three empires [turannis].

your father would have lifted you up, planning

great things for your manhood. 475

And I for your brides chose

The most illustrious, and formed alliances at Athens,

at Sparta, and at Thebes, so that, anchored thus,

your honorable lives might bid defiance to each rising storm.

These hopes are vanished: fortune, ever changing in her course 480

now gives the Fates instead of brides to you;

to me, wretched me, I have tears for a nuptial bath;

your grandfather here prepares the wedding feast,

considering Hades your father-in-law: the alliance now is bitter.

Oh me! which shall I first, which last 485

Clasp to my bosom? which with fondness kiss,

And which embrace? Or, like the yellow-winged bee,

shall I collect the griefs of each, and bring them all

Into one store, and there condense the tear?

O thou most loved [most philos], if any voice is heard 490

among the dead in Hades, to you, Herakles, I speak,

Your father dies, your sons, and I too perish,

once by mortals called happy because of you:

hurry, come, aid us, and let your shade appear to me.

Your coming is enough, even if you come as a dream. 495

For they are evil [kakoi] who would slay your sons.



Perform whatever to the infernal powers is due, woman

I , O Zeus, stretching my hands to heaven,

I call you: if you intend to help these children,

defend them now; your aid soon will not avail them at all. 500

how often have I invoked you, but I labor [ponos] in vain.

Of necessity, then, it seems we must die.

O old men, brief are the affairs of life;

pass then its course in sweet tranquillity,

nor grieve yourselves from morning to night: 505

time knows not to preserve [sôzô] hope;

but, rushes on with its own concerns, and flies away

Look at me, conspicuous once among men,

and doer of well-known deeds; but in one day fortune

taken it from me, just like a feather in the breeze. 510

Neither great wealth [olbos], nor reputation is known to be

secure and lasting for anyone. Farewell, for now, my agemates,

you see your friend [philos] for the very last time.




O venerable man, do I spy my dearest [most philos] or what do I see?




I do not know, daughter; I am speechless. 515



Yes, it is he, who we had heard was held beneath the earth,

unless we see some dream in the clear light of day.

What am I saying? What sort of dream do I see so anxiously?

This is none other than your son, old man.

Come, children, hang upon your father's robes 520

Go to him, quickly go; don’t linger:

Not Zeus himself could be a better savior [sôtêr] for you.





I greet you, fair house! My pillared hearth, hail!

With pleasure, reascending to the light, I see you again.

Well, what may this mean? Before the house I see my sons, 525

their heads wrapped in the dress of death;

and, amid a crowd of men, my wife;

my father, too, in tears at some misfortune.

Near them will I stand and ask the cause.

Tell me, wife, what new affliction has befallen my house? 530



O most dear [most philos] of men! O light coming to your father

you have come, you are safe [sôzô], returning to your friends [philoi]

in their time of need.



What are you saying? Into what kind of disturbance have I come, father?



We are perishing. - Pardon me, old man,

If first I snatch the words that should be yours. 535

The female is more pitiful than the male,

and he was about to kill my children, and I was destroyed.





By Apollo, what sort of story begins like this?



Dead are my brothers, and my aged father.



How was this done? by whom? what hostile spear? 540



By Lukos, potent monarch of this land.



Opposed by the arms of all or was the land afflicted?



By faction [stasis]; now he holds power over the seven gates

of Thebes.



What terror reached you and my old father's age?



He intends to kill you father and me and your sons. 545



What? Did he fear the orphan weakness of my sons?



Lest at some time they should avenge Creon’s death.



But why this dress [kosmos], which suits the infernal powers?



We wear these coverings in preparation for our deaths.


Herakles: Should you by force [bia] have died? Wretched me! 550



We were bereft of friends [philoi]: we heard you were dead.



From what were your minds overwhelmed with this despair?



The heralds of Eurystheus brought these tidings.



Why then did you leave my house [oikos] and household gods?


Megara: We were forced [bia]; your father was dragged from

his bed. 555



Did not shame [aidôs] check such rude affront to age?



Shame [aidôs]? Lukos lives far from that goddess.



Were we so destitute of friends [philoi] while I was away?



Who is a friend [philos] to the unfortunate?



Are thus my battles with the Minyae slighted? 560



Misfortune, as I said, has no friend [philos].



Will you not cast these coverings of Hades from your heads,

and look upon the light, your eyes rejoicing with that

sweet exchange from the dark gloom below?

I (for this work requires my hands) 565

will first go and utterly destroy the house

of this new tyrant [turannos], ripping his unholy head

and hurl it to the hungry dogs as prey; however many Thebans

requite my good service with evil,

this victorious club shall punish; 570

those that fly, my winged shafts shall reach,

until all Ismenus is choked with the dead

and Dirce rolls her silver tide with blood discolored.

Whom should I protect more than my wife,

my father, and my sons? Farewell, my labors [ponoi]: 575

in vain I have I achieved them for others more than these;

yet I must die in their defense, since for their father

They were to die. Or shall we say it is good

that I met the Hydra in battle, and the lion

sent by Eurystheus, but to keep my sons from death 580

I will not labor ardently? Ah! may I then be called

The glorious-conquering Herakles no more.



Just [dikaia] it is for the father to guard his sons,

His aged father, and wedded wife.



It is for you, my son, to be a friend [philos] to friends [philoi] 585

and to hate your enemies [ekhthra]. But don’t act too hastily.



In what way do I act faster than I should, father?



The king has many allies who are poor,

but extolled as rich [olbios], and so appearing:

these have raised seditious tumults [stasis], and destroyed

the city [polis], 590

to plunder their neighbors; all their own wealth

wasted away in foul intemperance and sloth.

You were seen coming here: be cautious then,

lest by this band you perish in ambush.



I do not care if the whole city [polis] saw me. 595

But seeing a bird in an inauspicious place,

I knew some ordeal [ponos] had befallen my house,

and so my entrance was with studied secrecy.



Excellent! Go then, and address Hestia,

look upon your paternal home. 600

The tyrant soon will come with intent

to slay your wife, your sons, and to murder me.

For you waiting there, everything will come

With safety gained; but don’t arouse

The city [polis], son, till this deed be well achieved. 605



I will this, for you have spoken well. I will go in the house

After this tedious absence, having come up from the sunless courts

Of Hades’ queen below; and first I will salute

With reverent awe the gods beneath my roof.



Did you indeed to Hades’ house descend, son? 610



And dragged the triple-headed dog to light.





Subdued with a fight, or by the goddess given?





With a fight: I was lucky enough to see the mysteries.



And is the beast in Eurystheus' house?



Hermion in the grove of Chthonia holds him. 615



Knows not Eurystheus your return to light?



He knows it not: my zeal first led me here.



Why the delay in your stay under the earth?



To rescue Theseus from Hades, father.



Where is he? Has he gone to his native land? 620



To Athens he is gone, with joy escaped those gloomy shades.

But come, my sons, attend your father into his house.

You enter now with fairer expectations

than you left it. Take courage then,

no longer pour this stream of tears. 625

And you, my wife, gather your presence of mind [psukhê];

tremble no more, nor hang upon my robes;

I have no wings, nor will I flee my friends [philoi].

Ah, they hold me yet, still hanging upon my robes.

How close you came to death! 630

I will lead you, taking you in my hands

like a ship that tows little boats behind it. For I do not refuse

the care of my sons. This feeling is common to all mortals

Both the better off and those who have nothing love

their children: there may be differences in property; 635

some abound, some have want, but for their children all have


equal love.



Youth is dear [philon] to me strophe

But age lies on my head a burden

Heavier than all the rocks of Aetna,

over my eyes 640

a darkness conceals the light.

Not for the wealth [olbos]

of Asia's tyrant [turannos],

Not for a house full of gold,

Would I trade youth: 645

it is the best in prosperity [olbos],

but also beautiful in poverty.

This cumbrous, sad, funereal age

I hate: would that it would flow

out with the waves 650

and never come to the

homes and cities [polis] of mortals,

but let it by carried off always

on wings through the air!

If the gods were wise antistrophe

and understood men 656

they would bring a second youth,

as a visible mark on those who

display excellence [aretê],

and dying, would come 660

back to the light of the sun again

to run a double course

Not so the base: their youthful hour,

Once fled, should be recalled no more:

and in this way you might know the bad [kakoi] 665

from the good [agathoi] men

like stars appearing through clouds,

give the sailors their direction.

But now no distinctive mark is given

to the useful and to the base [kakoi]. 670

All are driven down one rolling age,

exalting wealth alone.

I will not leave off from the Graces [Kharites] strophe

mingled with the Muses,

the sweetest union. 675

May I not live without the Muses,

but may I always be garlanded.

Still as an old man I sing

the song of Memory [Mnêmê]

Still the victory song 680

of Herakles I sing,

as long as Bromios is a giver of wine

and the tortoise shell lyre of seven tones

and Libyan flute play the tune,

I shall not cease from 685

the Muses who made me dance!

The Delian maidens sing a paean antistrophe

around the temple's splendid gate

for the beautiful son of Leto

and the beautiful choruses whirl in dancing. 690

Paeans at your gates

I will sing like a swan

a gray-haired singer

with aging jaws,

for this is good for hymns. 695

Surpassing all in his excellence [aretê],

the noble son of Zeus,

with great toil has made

life tranquil for mortals

having destroyed the horrible beasts. 700





At length, Amphitryon, you have come out from the house.

Tedious the time you spend to array [kosmos] yourselves

In the dark robes and ornaments of death.

But hurry, call forth the children and the wife

Of Herakles to appear before the house: now I claim the terms, 705

That unreluctant you submit to die.



In my afflictions, king, you pursue me with rigorous speed,

and in death add insult [hubris] to wrong?

It is necessary for you, if you are in power, to be more moderate

in haste.

Since you impose a necessity that we die, 710

we must submit, and what seems best to you must be done.



Where is Megara? Where the children of Alcmene's son?



I think, if from the doors I guess aright.



What is it? What proof do you have of what you think?



She sits as a suppliant before her hallowed gods 715



As a suppliant she sits in vain to save [sôzô] her life.



And calls in vain her husband who has died.



He is not here and never will he come.



Never, unless some god restores him to us.



Go to her then, and lead her from the house. 720



Then I would be an accomplice to her murder.



Then I will, Since such is your thought,

I, who have no vain fears, will bring them forth,

the mother and the sons. You, my attendants, follow;

that, relieved from all our toils [ponos], with pleasure we may rest. 725





Go, then, if you must go! The rest, perhaps,

will be a care to someone else. Since you committed evil,

look for evil in return. Old men, for good

he goes, and rushes on the net

Staked round with swords, the all-evil [all kakos] thinking 730

to kill those inside. I will go, and see his corpse

fall: an enemy [ekhthros] dying holds some pleasure ,

When vengeance [dikê] catches up to him for his deeds.



A reversal of evils [kaka]! strophe

The once great king 735

turns his life back to Hades

O justice [dikê], and the

back-flowing river of the gods.

At last you have arrived where

with death you will pay the penalty [dikê] 740

for committing outrageous wrongs [hubris]

on your betters

Joy have thrown out tears,

he has come back, the lord of this land,

a thing which earlier I had no hope in my mind [phrên] 745

of experiencing [paskhô].

But, old men, let us see if

the matters inside the house

are happening as I want them to.


Lukos [within]

Ah me! Ah me!



The music arising inside the house antistrophe

is dear [philos] to my ears 751

Death is not far off: he cries, he cries,

The proud king groans, the prelude to his death.



O land of Thebes, I am destroyed by a trick.



Then die. Bear then this retribution, 755

punishment [dikê] for thy deeds.

What mortal man shall by lawlessness [no nomoi]

dare to violate the gods, and foolishly say that

they have no power?

Old men, the unholy man is no longer. 760

There is silence in the house: let us turn to dances [khoroi]

My friends [philoi] have succeeded as I hoped.

Let there be dances&endash; dances [khoroi] and feasts strophe

throughout the holy citadel of Thebes

There has been a change from tears, and 765

A change of fortune

bids the exulting song arise,

For low the mighty tyrant lies.

The our earlier king has come,

leaving the banks of Acheron 770

Hope has come beyond expectations!

The gods, the gods take care of antistrophe

the unjust [the not dikaios] and listen to the reverent.

Gold and good fortune

carry away mortals from their senses [phrên] 775

bringing along unjust [not dikê] power

No man dares to look at the change of time.

Having given up law [nomos]

in favor of lawlessness

he shatters the black chariot of prosperity [olbos]. 780




O Ismenus, come bearing crowns strophe

And, Thebes, through all seven-gated city

may festive dance and song resound

Hurry, lovely Dirce, from your silver spring:

and come, daughters of Asopus, 785

leaving your father's water; bring

the Nymphs as fellow singers for

the victorious contest [agôn] of Herakles.

O wooded rock of Pythia

and the homes of the Heliconian Muses 790

Give to my town

the joy-resounding song;

where the race [genos] of sown men appeared,

a band with shields of bronze,

whose children’s children 795

still inhabit this land

a blessed light to Thebes!

O marriage bed shared by two antistrophe

One a mortal, the other Zeus,

who came to the bed 800

of the bride descended from Perseus.

How true you marriage

already long ago, O Zeus,

appeared to be beyond all doubt.

Time has shown the brilliant 805

strength of Herakles.

Who has come out of the earth

leaving the dark home and Hades’ bedroom.

You are a better king [turannos] to me

than the baseness of that lord, 810

which now the contest of sword-bearing struggles [agones]

makes apparent to the beholder

if what is just [dikaion]

is still pleasing to the gods.





Ah me! Look! 815

Have we come to the same violence of fear,

old men, what sort of apparition do I see above the house?

Flee, flee, my friends;

to your slow steps add speed; get out of the way.

O lord Apollo, 820

Avert whatever ill this omen bodes.



Take heart, old men, beholding her,

Lyssa, the progeny of Night, and me, Iris, the servant of the gods.

No evil to the town [polis] do we bring,

but war against the house of one man, 825

whom fame reports the son of Zeus and your Alcmene.

While he was finishing his bitter struggles [athlos],

necessity protected [sôzô] him nor would his father

Zeus ever allow me, or Hera, to do him ill.

Since he has finished Eurystheus' mandates, 830

Hera wills that he bathe his hands afresh in blood,

his children's blood; and I assent.

Hurry, and relentlessly seize his heart,

unwedded daughter of black Night,

Drive madness on this man, and child-murdering 835

confusion in his mind [phrên]. Make his feet

leap and let him float in blood, until over the waves

Of Acheron he wafts that beauteous band

Of sons, which like a garland wreathe around him,

Slain by his hand : so let him know the rage of Hera, 840

and learn mine. The gods indeed will be nothing

and mortals considered great, if he does not pay this penalty [dikê].



Illustrious is my lineage, sprung from Night

My mother, and the blood of Ouranos;

And this my office, never to by admired by friends [philoi], 845

I have no joy coming to dear [philoi] mortals.

But I wish to warn you and Hera, before I see you

Rush headlong on this wrong, if you will obey my words.

This man, into whose house you send me, is not

unknown to fame [without sêma], either on earth or among the gods. 850

The earth untrod by human step, the monster-teeming sea,

he tamed, and he alone restored the honors of the gods,

which were by impious men trod under foot.

Thus I cannot advise you to plan these great evils.



Don’t you admonish the schemes of Hera and me. 855



I am directing you to the better path instead of the evil [kakos] one.



The wife of Zeus did not send you here to be balanced [sôphrôn].



I call you, Helios to witness, that I do what I wish not to do.

But if indeed the will of Hera I must execute and yours, with speed;

I will go: neither the vexed sea, that roars beneath its waves, 860

The rocking earthquake, or the thunder's rage and blasts of winds,

are like the violence which I drives into the breast of Herakles:

I will rend these solid walls, I will desolate his house,

but first I will slay his sons, and he that kills them shall not know

They are his sons that fall beneath his hands, until he leaves off

from my rage [lyssa]. 865

And see, now at the doors he shakes his locks, and rolls

In silence his distorted Gorgon eyes,

his breathing is not balanced [sôphrôn]: like a bull

Dreadful in the assault he roars, and calls the Stygian Furies,

he howls with noisy fury, like dogs rushing on the hunt. 870

I will dance you even more quickly and I will play the flute of terror.

But to Olympus, radiant Iris, speed your noble feet;

while I into this house of Herakles will hasten unseen.



Lament, O Thebes; cut down is

the flower of the city [polis], 875

the offspring of Zeus.

Unhappy Greece, mourn, for you have lost

the patron of mankind; he now dances to the flutes

of murderous frenzy [lyssa].

The Gorgon progeny of Night, Lyssa, 880

With mournful rage ascends her car,

With hissing serpents wreathes her horrid hair,

And glares pernicious lightening from her eyes.

Quickly the daimôn changes good fortune

Soon the children will breathe their last at the hands of their father. 885


Amphitryon: [within]

Oh horror!



Zeus, your offspring [genos] is now without offspring;

unjust [not dikê] retribution has spread out

flesh eating frenzy [lyssa] with evils [kaka].



[within] Oh roofs!



Now begins the dreadful dance without drums,

without the grace [kharis] of the thyrsus of Bromios. 890



[within] Oh house!



Blood will be poured for a libation

not the wine of Dionysus.



[within] Flee, children, get out!





Hostile, hostile is the song played on the flutes, 895

The chase is the hunt for children.

For Lyssa will not in vain

rave [bakkheuô] in this house.


Amphitryon [within]

Woe, woe.



Oh no, how I groan for the old man 900

his father, and the mother who gave birth

and brought up her children in vain.

Behold, behold,

The wild storm shakes the house, 905

the roof is falling in!



Ah, ah, what, child of Zeus, are you doing to the house?

Pallas, you are sending hellish ruin on the house

as you once did upon Enceladus.





O Thebans white with age&endash; 910



What is this shout that calls us?



Within the house are deeds that will not be forgotten.



will bring no other prophet [mantis]&endash;



The boys are dead.



Ah, let me weep their fate



Let your tears flow, there is much cause for tears.



Horrible murder, horrible the father's hands. 915



What we have suffered [paskhô] is beyond the power of words.



How was this mournful ruin [atê] of the sons,

this ruin [atê] from the father? Tell in what way

from the gods these furious evils [kaka]

rushed on the house. 920

How did destruction end her bloody work?



Before the altar of high Zeus the holy [hieros] rites

Were now prepared to purify the ground of the house

Where Herakles killed the tyrant and thrown his corpse.

His sons had formed a beauteous cluster round, 925

His father, and Megara: the basket was taken in a circle

around the altar, and we said nothing unholy.

Ready to bear the torch in his right hand, Alcmene's son,

and plunge it in the water basin, he stood

Silent: as long as he paused, his children's eyes 930

Were fixed upon him. But then he was no longer the same,

but wildly his distorted eyeballs glared,

Their nerves all bulged with blood,

and down his beard dropped foam:

then with a horrid laugh he cried, - 935

"Why, father, do I perform the sacrifice before I have slain Eurystheus,

twice to kindle this purifying flame, and twice the toil [ponos]?

These efforts could be a single labor for my hands.

Whenever I bring Eurystheus' head here,

in addition to those now dead, then I will purify my hands. 940

Now pour it on the ground, and cast each hallowed vase aside!

Who will bring me my bow? And who my other weapon?

I am going against Mycenae: I need to take

crowbars and picks: from their deep base I will heave

The well compacted ramparts, though by 945

Cyclopean hands built.’ Then issuing forth, he said

His car was there, though there he had no car;

He said he mounted, and, as if he lashed

His coursers forward, waved his hand; a sight

Ridiculous, yet dreadful. We stood there 950

Each darting a glance at the other, and one asks,

"Is our lord playing with is, or is he mad?"

Then he wandered up and down through the house:

stopping in the middle of the men’s quarters, he said it was

the town of Nisus, though he waked inside his house. 955

Then stretched along the pavement, as if there

the banquet was prepared: after some short stay, he continued on,

and the hall he called the wood-fringed Isthmus;

there, having stripped his body of clothes,

he wrested with nothing, and declared 960

He had obtained a glorious victory,

But over unreal foes. Then he shouted dreadful threats

Against Eurystheus, for he thought himself now at Mycenae.

But his father here touched his strong hand, and thus addressed him:

"O son, what are you suffering [paskhô]? What kind of journey 965

is this? Has not the blood of those, who you just now killed,

caused you this frenzy [bakkheuô]? But he, who thought

The father of Eurystheus, struck with fear, came as a suppliant to him,

thrust him off, and from his quiver draws his shafts

Prepared against his sons, thinking that he was slaying 970

those of Eurystheus; they, wild with fright,

Ran in different directions; one, to hide in the robes

Of his unhappy mother; one to the shade of a pillar;

the other flew under the altar, like a bird.

Their mother cries, "What are you doing? You are their father! 975

Are you killing your sons?" The elder man, the attendants cry aloud.

But he, as his son around the pillar winds,

With dreadful steps turns opposite to meet him,

And strikes him to the heart: backwards he fell,

And stained with his blood the marble column as he died. 980

And Herakles shouted with triumph and said this:

"One of Eurystheus' young lies here in death

By me, paying for his father's hatred [ekhthra]."

Then he stretched his bow against another son:

beneath the altar this one lay and hoped to lie concealed. 985

The unhappy boy sprang toward his father's knees,

preventing the blow and threw his arms around his neck,

and cried,


"O dearest [most philos] father, listen, do not kill me,

I am your, your child, you are not killing one of Eurystheus’."

But he grimly rolled his Gorgon-glaring eye. 990

And, as the boy pressed too close to let the arrow fly,

as one smites iron on the anvil, on his golden tresses

He dashed the fatal club, and crushed the bone.

Having destroyed the second son, he goes to add

the third victim to these two; but the unhappy mother 995

Had earlier taken the boy within the house,

And closed the doors. As though he stormed the walls

Raised by the Cyclops, he assaulted, rent,

And burst the shattered posts, then with one shaft

Transfixed his wife and son; from there 1000

he rushed to slay his elderly father:

but now an image came: Pallas, conspicuous

to the sight, her crested helm waved above her

against the breast of Herakles she hurled a stone,

which checked his murderous rage, and laid him 1005

Stretched, in a torpid slumber: on the ground

He fell against a pillar's shattered mass,

Crushed in the ruin of the house beneath

Its base; we helped his father bound him fast,

with cords and confined him to the pillar, closely chained, 1010

That, when his sleep leaves him, he may do

No farther deed of horror: there he lies,

Wretched, having slain his sons and wife,

Not in a blessed [eudaimôn] repose; I know of no mortal

who is more wretched in his ordeals [athlos]. 1015



There was a murder which Argolid rock held,

committed by the daughters of Danaus

famous yet unbelievable to Greece

but this surpasses and goes beyond the evils [kaka]

done then, this deed of the wretched son of Zeus. 1020

It is said that Procne killed her only child

sacrificing him to the Muses,

but you killed three children, O destructive one,

by begetting them you assisted the frenzied [lyssa] fates.


With what groaning or lament 1025

or song of the dead or dance of Hades

shall I mourn?

Alas, alas,

look, the great doors

of the high-gated house are opening. 1030

Oh my,

look, the wretched children lie

before the unhappy father,

sleeping a terrible sleep after the murder of his children.

The chains are around him, the supports 1035

bound with many knots

around the body of Herakles,

fixed to the column of the house.

Like some bird lamenting the fledgling labors of its young,

the aged father comes with slow feet 1040

following bitter steps he is here.






Hush, aged citizens of Thebes,

Be silent; will you not permit him, lulled to sleep,

to lose the memory of his evils [kaka]?



I groan for you with tears, old sir, 1045

and for your children and the one who had glorious victory.




Move farther away

Remove: no noise, no cry

that may disturb his deep repose,

and raise him from his bed. 1050



Ah, this slaughter&endash;



Ah, you are only hurting me more.




&endash;poured out, heaped up!



Will you not keep still in your lament, old men?

Or else he may burst his bonds, 1055

and rising in his rage destroy the city [polis],

destroy his father, and break down this house?




That cannot, cannot be.



Be silent: How he breathes will I observe.

Hush; let me listen. 1060



Is he sleeping?



Yes, he sleeps a ruinous sleep, who slew his children,

slew his wife, destroyed beneath his whizzing shafts.



Now wail.



I wail the ruin of his sons. 1065



And I, ah me! lament your son, old man.



Silence, I pray you, silence:

see, he stirs, he turns himself:

I will hide myself away,

and lie concealed in darkness. 1070



Be not afraid; night hangs upon the eyelids of your son.



Behold, behold: oppressed by all these ills [kaka],

It grieves me not to leave

the light of life.

But should he kill me, his father, 1075

on these ills [kaka] he would heap ills [kaka],

and to these Furies add a parent's blood.



Better for you to have died when rising in vengeance

for the murdered brothers of your wife,

you sacked the famous citadel of the Taphians. 1080



Flee, flee, my aged friends, far from the house,

get away: flee the raging man

who is now awake;

soon adding another murder on murder 1085

he will rave [bakkheuô] through the streets of Thebes.



Why with such fury is your hate, O Zeus, inflamed against

your son? Why have you brought him into a sea of troubles [kaka]?



Ah! I breathe, I see, what I should see,

the air, the earth, and these rays of the sun. 1090

As on tumultuous waves and tempests my mind [phrên]

whirls and heaves. My breath is hot,

Deep, and irregular, not right in its rhythm.

Look, why am I like a moored ship,

With cords around my youthful chest and arms, 1095

Why to this shattered pillar am I bound?

And I have corpses lying nearby.

My winged arrows are scattered on the ground, and my bow

which before would hang by my side

To guard [sôzô] me, by me they too were guarded [sôzô]. 1100

Have I returned to Hades, and measure back

The gloomy course appointed by Eurystheus?

But neither the rock of Sisyphus I see,

Nor Hades, nor the scepter of the daughter of Demeter.

I am astounded, and where I am I have no idea. 1105

Is any of my friends [philoi] near, or far off,

who will dispel this cloud that darkens over my senses?

For I know nothing clearly of what is usual.



My aged friends, shall I go near my ills [kaka]?



I will go with you, nor in misfortune forsake you. 1110



My father, why these tears? Why do you hide

your eyes? Why keep distant from your beloved [philos] son?



My son! for you are mine, even committing evil deeds.



What have I done, thus to cause your tears?



That, which even if a god should learn about, he would mourn. 1115





Your phrase is great, but speaks not what the cause.



You yourself see it, if now you are in command of your mind [phrên].



Say what new ill is marked upon my life.



If you are no longer a bacchant of Hades, I would tell you.



Oh no, distrust and darkness yet are in your words. 1120



I looking to see if your senses yet are sound.



I don’t remember [mnêmê] being frenzied [bakkheuô] in my mind [phrên].



My aged friends, shall I unbind my son?



And say who bound me and disgraced me so.



Know this much of your miseries [kaka]: let the rest go. 1125



I will be silent to learn what I wish to.



O Zeus, from Hera's seat do you see this?



Have we again suffered [paskhô] hostility from her?



Let the goddess be, and support your own ills.



I am ruined. What misfortune will you tell me? 1130



Look here, behold the bodies of your sons.



Ah me unhappy, what wretched sight is this?



Against your weak sons this war you waged.



Of what war do you speak? Who has destroyed them?



You, and your bow, and some cause [aitios] from the gods. 1135



What are you saying? Have I done this dreadfuldeed?



You were in a frenzy. You ask for terrible answers.



And am I also the murderer of my wife?



All are the actions of your hand alone.



Ah me! A cloud of sorrow hangs around me. 1140



And for this I groan over your fortune.



And in my frenzy I shattered my house?



Only one thing I know: in all things you are wretched.



Where did this ruin-working frenzy seize me?



There, at the altar's purifying flames. 1145



Wretch that I am, why should I spare my life [psukhê],

stained with the slaughter of my dear, dear [philos] sons?

Should I not rather cast me from the height of some steep rock,

or plunge my sword into my heart

to be the avenger [dikastês] of my children’s blood, 1150

or give this body to the flames, to purge away

The guilt that stains my hated life?

But to prevent my deadly purposes,

See, Theseus comes, my kinsman and my friend [philos].

I shall be seen; and stand as a detested child-murderer, 1155

in the sight of those guests [xenoi] he holds most dear [philos].

What shall I do? In what dark solitude conceal my evils [kaka]?

O had I wings, or could I sink beneath the sheltering earth!

But let me hide my head, close muffled in my robes.

For I am ashamed of these foul deeds [kaka]; 1160

nor, splattered with this guilty blood

do I wish to pollute [make kakos] the innocent.





I have come with others, those who on Asopus' banks

Their station hold, the armed youth of the Athenian land,

Bearing this allied spear to aid your son, reverend sir. 1165

For the report has come to the city [polis] of Erectheus

That having seized the scepter of this land,

Lukos with war assaults you: to repay

With grateful zeal what to my friend Herakles is due,

Who freed [sôzô] me from the realms below, I come, 1170

If I may do anything, or this confederate force may be of use.

Alas ! why is this ground thus covered with the dead?

Are my intentions thus frustrated? Have I, for these recent ills,

arrived too late? Who killed these boys?

Whose wife do I behold lying here? 1175

For children do not fight in battle lines with the spear,

But I have found some fresh calamity [kakon].



O lord of the olive bearing mount.



Why do you address me with this mournful voice?



We have suffered [paskhô] dreadful sufferings [pathos] at the hands

of the gods. 1180



What boys are these, over whom your sorrows flow?



My wretched son's: their father he;

his hands with their blood stained.



Turn your voice to happier words.



You command what I wish. 1185



O, you have told me dreadful things.



At once we are ruined, ruined.



What are you saying? What has he done?



By frenzy's potion whirled, drugged with the hundred-headed Hydra's




This is an ordeal [agôn] sent by Hera. But who is he, that sits

among the dead ?



This is my son, much laboring [ponos], 1190

who went with his giant-slaying spear to fight

on the Phlegraean plane along with the gods.



Ah, what mortal ever was born

to greater woe [with a bad daimôn]? 1195



You would never know any mortal man

more exercised in toils, more exposed to dangers.



But why does he hide his wretched head in his robes?



He feels shame [aidôs] to behold your face,

his friend, his relative, 1200

amid the blood of his slaughtered children.



I came to mourn with him: uncover him.



Remove, my son, this covering from your eyes;

Throw it aside, show your face to the sun.

A fellow struggler, a counterweight to your tears, is here. 1205

I beseech you, low at your knees I fall,

and grasp your hand and beard, a supplicant,

while down my aged cheek flow tears.

My son, restrain the wild lion's rage [thumos], 1210

Which impelled you to unholy, bloody deeds,

wishing to add evils [kaka] to evils, child.



Come now: to you, whose wretched seat

Is on the ground, I speak: show to your friends [philoi] your face. 1215

No darkness has a cloud so black,

Which can conceal the misery of your troubles [kaka].

Why do you wave your hand at me, to signify terror?

As though you words would bring pollution on me?

I’m not concerned about sharing in your misfortune, 1220

for once I had good fortune with you. Memory will recall

the time when from the gloomy dead your hand brought me

to the light.

I hate those who let the impression of a friend's [philos]

kind deeds [kharis] fade from their heart; and they, who wish to share

His prosperous gale, but will not sail with unfortunate friends [philoi]. 1225

Stand up, unveil your wretched head

And look upon us. Whoever of mortals is noble,

he bears the calamities sent by the gods and does not refuse.



Theseus, have you seen this agony [agôn] of my sons?



I heard, I saw the ills [kaka] you have pointed out to me. 1230



Why then have you unveiled me to the sun



Why not? Can mortal man pollute the gods?



Flee, unhappy man, my polluting guilt.



There is no stain of guilt for friends [philoi] from friends [philoi].



I thank you. I am not ashamed that I helped you once. 1235



And I, for being treated [paskhô] well, now pity you.



I am pitiable: I have slain my sons.



You, for your grace [kharis] in others' ills, I mourn.





Whom have you known with greater troubles?



Your vast misfortunes reach from earth to heaven. 1240



I therefore am prepared, and fixed to die.



And do you think your threats are a care to the daimones?



The gods regard not me, nor I the gods.



Hold your tongue; lest speaking great things you

suffer [paskhô] greater.



I now am full of troubles [kaka], and can contain no more. 1245



What will you do? Where does your rage transport you?



Dead, the very place from where I came, I go under the earth.



This is the language of an ordinary person.



You, being free from misfortunes free, cannot counsel me.



Does the much enduring Herakles say this? 1250



He had not suffered so much; there is a limit to endurance.



The benefactor, the great friend [philos] to mortals?



They do not at all avail me; Hera triumphs here.



Greece will not allow you to die so rashly.



Now hear me, so that I may refute with arguments 1255

All your advice: I will prove to you,

That neither now, nor in times past, has my life been any kind of life.

My father was one, who, having slain my mother's aged father,

With the pollution of that blood upon him,

Wedded Alcmene, and my birth from her I draw. 1260

When the foundations of a race [genos] are not well laid,

all that arises from it must be unfortunate.

Then Zeus, whoever Zeus may be, begot me, with the hate

of Hera ever hostile. (You, old man, don’t be grieved at my words,

for I consider you, not Zeus, my father.) 1265

While I was still at the breast, two hideous serpents,

sent by Hera to destroy me, rolled their spires

within my cradle. When my age advanced

To youth's fresh bloom, why should I speak of the toils

I then suffered? What lions, what dire forms 1270

of triple Typhons, or what giants, what of monstrous

banded in the Centaurs' war, did I not subdue?

The Hydra, rayed around with heads

still sprouting from the sword, I slew.

These, and a thousand other toils [ponoi] endured, 1275

to the dark regions of the dead I went,

to drag the three-headed dog to light, the one that guards

the gate of Hades, at the command of stern Eurystheus.

This last bloody labor [ponos] I dared (Wretch that I am!),

the murder of my sons; I have crowned my house with ills. 1280

I have come to this point of necessity, at my beloved [philos]

Thebes I cannot dwell. Where would I stay?

To what temple, what assembly of my friends

Can I go? My disaster [atê] is unapproachable.


Should I go to Argos? How, since I am banished from my


homeland? 1285

Should I seek refuge in another state [polis], then,

where malignant eyes would scowl on me when known,

and tongues goad me with bitter reproaches:

‘Is this not the son of Zeus, who once killed his sons

and wife?’ Then chase me out with curses on my head. 1290

And to the man, who once was called blessed,

mournful is the change; but to him, who has always

had it bad, grieves nothing, as though he were born to misfortune.

I think I have come to this point of misfortune:

The earth will cry aloud, forbidding me 1295

To touch her soil; and the sea will not let me pass,

Nor any spring from where rivers flow. Thus like Ixion's,

on the whirling wheel in chains, will be my state.

And this would be best [aristos], that no Greek might behold me,

With whom in better days I have been happy [olbios]. 1300

Why therefore should I live? What profit [kerdos] were it

To gain a useless and unholy life?

Let the proud wife of Zeus in triumph dance,

And shake the pavement of the Olympian house.

Her will she has accomplished: she has torn 1305

From his firm base the noblest man of Greece,

rending him to pieces. To such a goddess

who would pay his vows? That for a woman,

jealous of the bed of Zeus, has crushed the innocent [not aitios],

whose deeds were glorious, and benevolent to Greece? 1310



This ordeal [agôn] from none other daimôn proceeds

Than from the wife of Zeus. You perceive this well.

To counsel others is an easier task than to suffer [paskhô] evils:

yet none of mortal men escape unhurt by fortune,

nor do the gods, unless the stories of the singers are false. 1315

Have they not committed adultery, to which no law [nomos]

assents? Have they not bound with chains

Their fathers in pursuit of power [turannis]? Yet they hold

Their homes [oikoi] on Olympus, even thought they err [hamartanô].

What will you say, if you, a mortal born, too proudly 1320

should contend against adverse fortune, but not so the gods?

Retire from Thebes, in accordance with the law [nomos];

follow together with me to the towers of Pallas.

There your hands from this pollution will I cleanse,

and give you a home, and no small share of my wealth. 1325

What presents from my country I received for saving [sôzô]

their death-devoted youth by killing the Cretan bull,

these I will give to you. Through all the land to me

are hallowed fields allotted; these, for the rest of your life,

shall be called after your name by mortals; 1330

and when you die, going to the halls of Hades

With solemn rites and stately monuments

the whole Athenian city [polis] will honor you.

This beautiful crown of good fame [kleos] will my citizens win

from the Greeks, that they helped a noble [esthlos] man. 1335

And I will return this favor [kharis] to you for that

of my salvation [sôtêria]; for now you have need of friends [philoi],

[He has no need of friends [philoi] when the gods honor him

for the help of the god is enough for whatever he wishes.]



Ah me! all this is beside my ills [kaka]. 1340

I think not of the gods, as having committed

adultery, which is not right [themis], nor as oppressed with chains:

I have never thought this worthy, nor ever will

believe that one lords it over the others.

The god, who is indeed a god, needs nothing: 1345

These are the wretched stories of the bards.

I have considered, though oppressed with griefs [kaka],

whether I would be a coward by quitting life.

For whoever does not sustain misfortune,

Will not sustain the attack of human weapons. 1350

No; I will rise superior to my fate, and go to your city [polis];

for your bounteous gifts receive my thanks [kharis].

But I endured a thousand rugged toils [ponoi]

which I never refused, nor from my eyes,

ever dropped a tear; and never did I think 1355

That I should come to this, and pour my griefs out in tears.

But now, it seems, I must be a slave to fortune.

Well let it be so. You see my exile, old man;

you see my hands stained with my children's blood.

Give them a tomb and all the honors of the dead 1360

weeping over them (since the law [nomos] forbids me).

Recline them on their mother's breast, and give

This sad communion to her arms, which I unhappily

destroyed, not willingly. When you have hidden their bodies in the


Dwell in this city [polis]; wretched though you may be. 1365

Strengthen your soul [psukhê] to bear my miseries [kaka].

Alas, my sons! The author of your life, your father,

has destroyed you: not at all did you benefit from my honors

which my arms with toil acquired, the glory [good kleos]

of your father, that noblest of possessions. 1370

You, my pitiable wife, I likewise have destroyed,

ill recompense for your faithful keeping [sôzô] of my marital bed,

And all your long domestic vigilance:

For you my sorrows flow, and for my sons, and for myself:

how wretched are my deeds that rend me 1375

from my children and my wife! Mournful is this last

embrace. Where are my weapons, my mournful associates?

Should I bear them still or cast them from me? What shall I resolve?

If at my side they hang, will they not say,

"With us you killed your wife, your children; when you hold us 1380

your hold your children’s murderers." If I were to carry them yet,

what shall I answer? But stripped of my arms,

with which I have achieved great deeds throughout Greece,

will I die shamefully exposing myself to my enemies [ekhthroi]?

They must not then be left behind, but be wretchedly kept [sôzô]. 1385

I must ask one thing, Theseus: help me take

this monster dog of hell to Argos

lest, if I go alone, my sorrows for my sons overwhelm me.

O land of Cadmians, citizens of Thebes,

cut your hair, mourn together, go to the tomb 1390

of my sons. Speaking as one lament together all the dead,

and me: one ruin on us all is fallen,

Crushed by one cruel stroke of Hera's rage.



Rise up, wretched man; enough tears have flowed.



I cannot; torpid are my stiffened joints. 1395



Misfortunes cast the strongest to the ground.



Would that I were stone, insensible of evils [kaka]!



Stop: give your hand to your helping friend [philos].





But don’t let the blood defile your clothes.



Lose not a thought on that; I am not ashamed. 1400



Bereft of my sons, I have a son in you.



Put your arm around my neck, and I will guide your steps.


Herakles: A friendly [philion] pair, but one a complete wretch.

O reverend man, a friend [philos] like this man one must have.



Blessed in her sons is the land that gave him birth. 1405



Theseus, turn me back, that I may see my sons.



Is that dear sight a charm to ease your pain?



I wish it, leaning on my father's breast.



Lean here, my son: that wish is dear [phila] to me.



Do you thus have no memory [mnêmê] of your labors [ponoi]? 1410



All I have endured of hardship [kaka] is less than this.



If someone sees you acting like a woman, he would not praise you.



Do I live so abject in your eyes? I didn’t seem so before.



Very much so. Being sick, you are not the famous Herakles.



What sort of man were you when you were in

trouble [kaka] in the regions below the earth? 1415



I was the least of all men in courage.



Then how can you say that I am debased in my troubles [kaka]?



Let’s go.



Farewell, aged sir.



And to you, my son, farewell.



Entomb my children, as I told you.



And me, my son, who shall entomb me?



I will.



When will you come?



When you have buried my children. 1420



But how ?



I will have them brought from Thebes to Athens.

But my ill-starred sons lay in the earth:

for me, who on my house brought ruin with shame,

I will follow Theseus like a boat towed in his wake.

Unwise is he, who prefers wealth or power 1425

to the rich treasure of a good [agathos] friend [philos].



We go in pity and grief,

losing in you our greatest friend [philos].