A monologue from the play by Euripides
TRANSLATED BY GILBERT MURRAY
|NOTE: This translation of The Bacchae was published in 1904. It is now a public domain work and may be performed without royalties.
- MESSENGER: We climbed beyond the utmost habitings
- Of Theban shepherds, passed Asopus' springs,
- And struck into the land of rock on dim
- Cithaeron -- Pentheus, and, attending him,
- I, and the Stranger who should guide our way.
- Then first in a green dell we stopped, and lay,
- Lips dumb and feet unmoving, warily
- Watching, to be unseen and yet to see.
- A narrow glen it was, by crags o'ertowered,
- Torn through by tossing waters, and there lowered
- A shadow of great pines over it. And there
- The Maenad maidens sate; in toil they were,
- Busily glad. Some with an ivy chain
- Tricked a worn wand to toss its locks again;
- Some, wild in joyance, like young steeds set free,
- Made answering songs of mystic melody.
- But my poor master saw not the great band
- Before him. "Stranger," cried he, "where we stand
- Mine eyes can reach not these false saints of thine.
- Mount we the bank, or some high-shouldered pine,
- And I shall see their follies clear!" At that
- There came a marvel. For the Stranger straight
- Touched a great pine-tree's high and heavenward crown,
- And lower, lower, lower, urged it down
- To the herbless floor. Round like a bending bow,
- Or slow wheel's rim a joiner forces to,
- So in those hands that tough and mountain stem
- Bowed slow -- oh, strength not mortal dwelt in them!--
- To the very earth. And there he sat the King,
- And slowly, lest it cast him in its spring,
- Let back the young and straining tree, till high
- It towered again amid the towering sky;
- And Pentheus in the branches! Well, I ween,
- He saw the Maenads then, and well was seen!
- For scarce was he aloft, when suddenly
- There was no Stranger any more with me,
- But out of Heaven a Voice -- oh, what voice else? --
- 'Twas He that called! "Behold, O damsels,
- I bring ye him who turneth to despite
- Both me and ye, and darkeneth my great Light.
- 'Tis yours to avenge!" So spake he, and there came
- 'Twixt earth and sky a pillar of high flame.
- And silence took the air, and no leaf stirred
- In all the forest dell. Thou hadst not heard
- In that vast silence any wild thing's cry.
- And up they sprang; but with bewildered eye,
- Agaze and listening, scarce yet hearing true.
- Then came the Voice again. And when they knew
- Their God's clear call, old Cadmus' royal brood,
- Up, like wild pigeons startled in a wood,
- On flying feet they came, his mother blind,
- Agave, and her sisters, and behind
- All the wild crowd, more deeply maddened then,
- Through the angry rocks and torrent-tossing glen,
- Until they spied him in the dark pine-tree:
- Then climbed a crag hard by and furiously
- Some sought to stone him, some their wands would fling
- Lance-wise aloft, in cruel targeting.
- But none could strike. The height o'ertopped their rage,
- And there he clung, unscathed, as in a cage
- Caught. And of all their strife no end was found.
- Then, "Hither," cried Agave; "stand we round
- And grip the stem, my Wild Ones, till we take
- This climbing cat-o'-the-mount! He shall not make
- A tale of God's high dances!" Out then shone
- Arm upon arm, past count, and closed upon
- The pine, and gripped; and the ground gave, and down
- It reeled. And that high sitter from the crown
- Of the green pine-top, with a shrieking cry
- Fell, as his mind grew clear, and there hard by
- Was horror visible. 'Twas his mother stood
- O'er him, first priestess of those rites of blood.
- He tore the coif, and from his head away
- Flung it, that she might know him, and not slay
- To her own misery. He touched the wild
- Cheek, crying: "Mother, it is I, thy child,
- Thy Pentheus, born thee in Echion's hall!
- Have mercy, Mother! Let it not befall
- Through sin of mine, that thou should'st slay thy son!"
- But she, with lips a-foam and eyes that run
- Like leaping fire, with thoughts that ne'er should be
- On earth, possessed by Bacchios utterly,
- Stays not nor hears. Round his left arm she put
- Both hands, set hard against his side her foot,
- Drew . . . and the shoulder severed! -- Not by might
- Of arm, but easily, as the God made light
- Her hand's essay. And at the other side
- Was Ino rending; and the torn flesh cried,
- And on Autonie pressed, and all the crowd
- Of ravening arms. Yea, all the air was loud
- With groans that faded into sobbing breath,
- Dim shrieks, and joy, and triumph-cries of death.
- And here was borne a severed arm, and there
- A hunter's booted foot; white bones lay bare
- With rending; and swift hands ensanguinèd
- Tossed as in sport the flesh of Pentheus dead.
- His body lies afar. The precipice
- Hath part, and parts in many an interstice
- Lurk of the tangled woodland -- no light quest
- To find. And, ah, the head! Of all the rest,
- His mother hath it, pierced upon a wand,
- As one might pierce a lion's, and through the land,
- Leaving her sisters in their dancing place,
- Bears it on high! Yea, to these walls her face
- Was set, exulting in her deed of blood,
- Calling upon her Bromios, her God,
- Her Comrade, Fellow-Render of the Prey,
- Her All-Victorious, to whom this day
- She bears in triumph . . . her own broken heart!
- For me, after that sight, I will depart
- Before Agave comes. -- Oh, to fulfill
- God's laws, and have no thought beyond His will,
- Is man's best treasure. Aye, and wisdom true,
- Methinks, for things of dust to cleave unto!