(HERMIONE enters, in complete royal regalia.)
HERMIONE With a crown of golden workmanship upon my head and about my body this embroidered robe am I come hither; no presents these I wear from the palace of Achilles or Peleus, but gifts my father Menelaus gave me together with a sumptuous dower from Sparta in Laconia, to insure me freedom of speech. Such is my answer to you (to the CHORUS); but as for thee, slave and captive, thou wouldst fain oust me and secure this palace for thyself, and thanks to thy enchantment I am hated by my husband; thou it is that hast made my womb barren and cheated my hopes; for Asia's daughters have clever heads for such villainy; yet will I check thee therefrom, nor shall this temple of the Nereid avail thee aught, no! neither its altar or shrine, but thou shalt die. But if or god or man should haply wish to save thee, thou must atone for thy proud thoughts of happier days now past by humbling thyself and crouching prostrate at my knees, by sweeping out my halls, and by learning, as thou sprinklest water from a golden ewer, where thou now art. Here is no Hector, no Priam with his gold, but a city of Hellas. Yet thou, miserable woman, hast gone so far in wantonness that thou canst lay thee down with the son of the very man that slew thy husband, and bear children to the murderer. Such is all the race of barbarians; father and daughter, mother and son, sister and brother mate together; the nearest and dearest stain their path with each other's blood, and no law restrains such horrors. Bring not these crimes amongst us, for here we count it shame that one man should have the control of two wives, and men are content to turn to one lawful love, that is, all who care to live an honourable life. LEADER OF THE CHORUS Women are by nature somewhat jealous, and do ever show the keenest hate to rivals in their love. ANDROMACHE Ah! well-a-day! Youth is a bane to mortals, in every case, that is, where a man embraces injustice in his early days. Now I am afraid that my being a slave will prevent thee listening to me in spite of many a just plea, or if I win my case, I fear I may be damaged on this very ground, for the high and mighty cannot brook refuting arguments from their inferiors; still I will not be convicted of betraying my own cause. Tell me, proud young wife, what assurance can make me confident of wresting from thee thy lawful lord? Is it that Laconia's capital yields to Phrygia? is it that my fortune outstrips thine? or that in me thou seest a free woman? Am I so elated by my youth, my full healthy figure, the extent of my city, the number of my friends that I wish to supplant thee in thy home? Is my purpose to take thy place and rear myself a race of slaves, mere appendages to my misery? or, supposing thou bear no children, will any one endure that sons of mine should rule o'er Phthia? Ah no! there is the love that Hellas bears me, both for Hector's sake and for my own humble rank forsooth, that never knew a queen's estate in Troy. 'Tis not my sorcery that makes thy husband hate thee, nay, but thy own failure to prove thyself his help-meet. Herein lies love's only charm; 'tis not beauty, lady, but virtuous acts that win our husbands' hearts. And though it gall thee to be told so, albeit thy city in Laconia is no doubt mighty fact, yet thou findest no place for his Scyros, displaying wealth 'midst poverty and setting Menelaus above Achilles: and that is what alienates thy lord. Take heed; for a woman, though bestowed upon worthless husband, must be with him content, and ne'er advance presumptuous claims. Suppose thou hadst wedded a prince of Thrace, the land of flood and melting snow, where one lord shares his affections with a host of wives, wouldst thou have slain them? If so, thou wouldst have set a stigma of insatiate lust on all our sex. A shameful charge! And yet herein we suffer more than men, though we make a good stand against it. Ah! my dear lord Hector, for thy sake would I e'en brook a rival, if ever Cypris led thee astray, and oft in days gone by I held thy bastard babes to my own breast, to spare thee any cause for grief. By this course I bound my husband to me by virtue's chains, whereas thou wilt never so much as let the drops of dew from heaven above settle on thy lord, in thy jealous fear. Oh! seek not to surpass thy mother in hankering after men, for 'tis well that all wise children should avoid the habits of such evil mothers. LEADER Mistress mine, be persuaded to come to terms with her, as far as readily comes within thy power. HERMIONE Why this haughty tone, this bandying of words, as if, forsooth, thou, not I, wert the virtuous wife? ANDROMACHE Thy present claims at any rate give thee small title thereto. HERMIONE Woman, may my bosom never harbour such ideas as thine! ANDROMACHE Thou art young to speak on such a theme as this. HERMIONE As for thee, thou dost not speak thereof, but, as thou canst, dost put it into action against me. ANDROMACHE Canst thou not conceal thy pangs of jealousy? HERMIONE What! doth not every woman put this first of all? ANDROMACHE Yes, if her experiences are happy; otherwise, there is no honour in speaking of them. HERMIONE Barbarians' laws are not a standard for our city. ANDROMACHE Alike in Asia and in Hellas infamy attends base actions. HERMIONE Clever, clever quibbler! yet die thou must and shalt. ANDROMACHE Dost see the image of Thetis with her eye upon thee? HERMIONE A bitter foe to thy country because of the death of Achilles. ANDROMACHE 'Twas not I that slew him, but Helen that mother of thine. HERMIONE Pray, is it thy intention to probe my wounds yet deeper? ANDROMACHE Behold, I am dumb, my lips are closed. HERMIONE Tell me that which was my only reason for coming hither. ANDROMACHE No! all I tell thee is, thou hast less wisdom than thou needest. HERMIONE Wilt thou leave these hallowed precincts of the sea-goddess? ANDROMACHE Yes, if I am not to die for it; otherwise, I never will. HERMIONE Since that is thy resolve, I shall not even wait my lord's return. ANDROMACHE Nor yet will I, at any rate ere that, surrender to thee. HERMIONE I will bring fire to bear on thee, and pay no heed to thy entreaties. ANDROMACHE Kindle thy blaze then; the gods will witness it. HERMIONE And make thy flesh to writhe by cruel wounds. ANDROMACHE Begin thy butchery, stain the altar of the goddess with blood, for she will visit thy iniquity. HERMIONE Barbarian creature, hardened in impudence, wilt thou brave death itself? Still will I find speedy means to make these quit this seat of thy free will; such a bait have I to lure thee with. But I will hide my meaning, which the event itself shall soon declare. Yes, keep thy seat, for I will make thee rise, though molten lead is holding thee there, before Achilles' son, thy trusted champion, arrive. (HERMIONE departs.) ANDROMACHE
My trusted champion, yes! how strange it is, that though some god hath devised cures for mortals against the venom of reptiles, no man ever yet hath discovered aught to cure a woman's venom, which is far worse than viper's sting or scorching flame; so terrible a curse are we to mankind. CHORUS (singing)
Ah! what sorrows did the son of Zeus and Maia herald, in the day he came to Ida's glen, guiding that fair young trio of goddesses, all girded for the fray in bitter rivalry about their beauty, to the shepherd's fold where dwelt the youthful herdsman all alone by the hearth of his lonely hut.
Soon as they reached the wooded glen, in gushing mountain springs they bathed their dazzling skin, then sought the son of Priam, comparing their rival charms in more than rancorous phrase. But Cypris won the day by her deceitful promises, sweet-sounding words, but fraught with ruthless overthrow to Phrygia's hapless town and Ilium's towers.
Would God his mother had smitten him a cruel death-blow on the head before he made his home on Ida's slopes, in the hour Cassandra, standing by the holy bay-tree, cried out, "Slay him, for he will bring most grievous bane on Priam's town." To every prince she went, to every elder sued for the babe's destruction.
Ah! had they listened, Ilium's daughters neer had felt the yoke of slavery, and thou, lady, hadst been established in the royal palace; and Hellas had been freed of all the anguish she suffered during those ten long years her sons went wandering, spear in hand, around the walls of Troy; brides had never been left desolate, nor hoary fathers childless.
(MENELAUS and his retinue enter. He is leading MOLOSSUS by the hand.)