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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2015
Copyright © 2015 Sovereign Classic
HYLLUS, son of HERACLES and DEIANEIRA
LICHAS, the herald of HERACLES
AN OLD MAN
CHORUS OF TRACHINIAN MAIDENS
At Trachis, before the house of HERACLES. Enter DEIANEIRA from the house, accompanied by the NURSE.
DEIANEIRA There is a saying among men, put forth of old, that thou canst not rightly judge whether a mortal’s lot is good or evil, ere he die. But I, even before I have passed to the world of death, know well that my life is sorrowful and bitter; I, who in the house of my father Oeneus, while yet I dwelt at Pleuron, had such fear of bridals as never vexed any maiden of Aetolia. For my wooer was a river-god, Achelous, who in three shapes was ever asking me from my sire,- coming now as a bull in bodily form, now as serpent with sheeny coils, now with trunk of man and front of ox, while from a shaggy beard the streams of fountain-water flowed abroad. With the fear of such a suitor before mine eyes, I was always praying in my wretchedness that I might die, or ever I should come near to such a bed. But at last, to my joy, came the glorious son of Zeus and Alcmena; who dosed with him in combat, and delivered me. How the fight was waged, I cannot clearly tell, I know not; if there be any one who watched that sight without terror, such might speak: I, as I sat there, was distraught with dread, lest beauty should bring me sorrow at the last. But finally the Zeus of battles ordained well,- if well indeed it be: for since I have been joined to Heracles as his chosen bride, fear after fear hath haunted me on his account; one night brings a trouble, and the next night, in turn, drives it out. And then children were born to us; whom he has seen only as the husbandman sees his distant field, which he visits at seedtime, and once again at harvest. Such was the life that kept him journeying to and fro, in the service of a certain master. But now, when he hath risen above those trials,- now it is that my anguish is sorest. Ever since he slew the valiant Iphitus, we have been dwelling here in Trachis, exiles from our home, and the guests of stranger; but where he is, no one knows; I only know that he is gone, and hath pierced my heart with cruel pangs for him. I am almost sure that some evil hath befallen him; it is no short space that hath passed, but ten long months, and then five more,- and still no message from him. Yes, there has been some dread mischance;- witness that tablet which he left with me ere he went forth: oft do I pray to the gods that I may not have received it for my sorrow.
NURSE Deianeira, my mistress, many a time have I marked thy bitter tears and lamentations, as thou bewailedst the going forth of Heracles; but now,- if it be meet to school the free-born with the counsels of a slave, and if I must say what behoves thee,- why, when thou art so rich in sons, dost thou send no one of them to seek thy lord;- Hyllus, before all, who might well go on that errand, if he cared that there should be tidings of his father’s welfare? Lo! there he comes, speeding towards the house with timely step; if, then, thou deemest that I speak in season, thou canst use at once my counsel, and the man. (HYLLUS comes in from the side.)
DEIANEIRA My child, my son, wise words may fall, it seems, from humble lips; this woman is a slave, but hath spoken in the spirit of the free.
HYLLUS How, mother? Tell me, if it may be told.
DEIANEIRA It brings thee shame, she saith, that, when thy father hath been so long a stranger, thou hast not sought to learn where he is.
HYLLUS Nay, I know,- if rumour can be trusted.
DEIANEIRA And in what region, my child, doth rumour place him?
HYLLUS Last year, they say, through all the months, he toiled as bondman to Lydian woman.
DEIANEIRA If he bore that, then no tidings can surprise.
HYLLUS Well, he has been delivered from that, as I hear.
DEIANEIRA Where, then, is he reported to be now,- alive or dead?
HYLLUS He is waging or planning a war, they say, upon Euboea, the realm of Eurytus.
DEIANEIRA Knowest thou, my son, that he hath left with me sure oracles touching that land?
HYLLUS What are they, mother? I know not whereof thou speakest.
DEIANEIRA That either he shall meet his death, or, having achieved this task, shall have rest thenceforth, for all his days to come. So, my child, when his fate is thus trembling in the scale, wilt thou not go to succour him? For we are saved, if he find safety, or we perish with him.
HYLLUS Ay, I will go, my mother; and, had I known the import of these prophecies, I had been there long since; but, as it was, my father’s wonted fortune suffered me not to feel fear for him, or to be anxious overmuch. Now that I have the knowledge, I will spare no pains to learn the whole truth in this matter.
DEIANEIRA Go, then, my son; be the seeker ne’er so late, he is rewarded if he learn tidings of joy. (HYLLUS departs as the CHORUS OF TRACHINIAN MAIDENS enters. They are free-born young women of Trachis who are friends and confidantes of DEIANEIRA. She remains during their opening choral song.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
Thou whom Night brings forth at the moment when she is despoiled of her starry crown, and lays to rest in thy splendour, tell me, pray thee, O Sun-god, tell me where abides Alcmena’s son? Thou glorious lord of flashing light, say, is he threading the straits of the sea, or hath he found an abode on either continent? Speak, thou who seest as none else can see!
For Deianeira, as I hear, hath ever an aching heart; she, the battle-prize of old, is now like some bird lorn of its mate; she can never lull her yearning, nor stay her tears; haunted by a sleepless fear for her absent lord, she pines on her anxious, widowed couch, miserable in her foreboding of mischance.
As one may see billow after billow driven over the wide deep by the tireless south-wind or the north, so the trouble of his life, stormy as the Cretan sea, now whirls back the son of Cadmus, now lifts him to honour. But some god ever saves him from the house of death, and suffers him not to fail.