(SCENE:-Before the temple of THETIS in Thessaly. ANDROMACHE, dressed as a suppliant, is clinging to the altar in front of the temple. The palace of Achilles is nearby.)
ANDROMACHE O CITY of Thebes, glory of Asia, whence on a day I came to Priam's princely home with many a rich and costly thing in my dower, affianced unto Hector to be the mother of his children, I Andromache, envied name in days of yore, but now of all women that have been or yet shall be the most unfortunate; for I have lived to see my husband Hector slain by Achilles, and the babe Astyanax, whom I bore my lord, hurled from the towering battlements, when the Hellenes sacked our Trojan home; and I myself am come to Hellas as a slave, though I was esteemed a daughter of a race most free, given to Neoptolemus that island-prince, and set apart for him as his special prize from the spoils of Troy. And here I dwell upon the boundaries of Phthia and Pharsalia's town, where Thetis erst, the goddess of the sea, abode with Peleus apart from the world, avoiding the throng of men; wherefore the folk of Thessaly call it the sacred place of Thetis, in honour of the goddess's marriage. Here dwells the son of Achilles and suffers Peleus still to rule Pharsalia, not wishing to assume the sceptre while the old man lives. Within these halls have borne a boy to the son of Achilles, my master. Now aforetime for all my misery I ever had a hope to lead me on, that, if my child were safe, I might find some help and protection from my woes; but since my lord in scorn of his bondmaid's charms hath wedded that Spartan Hermione, I am tormented by her most cruelly; for she saith that I by secret enchantment am making her barren and distasteful to her husband, and that I design to take her place in this house, ousting her the rightful mistress by force; whereas I at first submitted against my will and now have resigned my place; be almighty Zeus my witness that it was not of my own free will I became her rival! But I cannot convince her, and she longs to kill me, and her father Menelaus is an accomplice in this. E'en now is he within, arrived from Sparta for this very purpose, while I in terror am come to take up position here in the shrine of Thetis adjoining the house, if haply it may save me from death; for Peleus and his descendants hold it in honour as symbol of his marriage with the Nereid. My only son am I secretly conveying to a neighbour's house in fear for his life. For his sire stands not by my side to lend his aid and cannot avail his child at all, being absent in the land of Delphi, where he is offering recompense to Loxias for the madness he committed, when on a day he went to Pytho and demanded of Phoebus satisfaction for his father's death, if haply his prayer might avert those past sins and win for him the god's goodwill hereafter. (The MAID OF ANDROMACHE enters.) MAID Mistress mine, be sure I do not hesitate to call thee by that name, seeing that I thought it thy right in thine own house also, when we dwelt in Troy-land; as I was ever thy friend and thy husband's while yet he was alive, so now have I come with strange tidings, in terror lest any of our masters learn hereof but still out of pity for thee; for Menelaus and his daughter are forming dire plots against thee, whereof thou must beware. ANDROMACHE Ah! kind companion of my bondage, for such thou art to her, who, erst thy queen, is now sunk in misery; what are they doing? What new schemes are they devising in their eagerness to take away my wretched life? MAID Alas! poor lady, they intend to slay thy son, whom thou hast privily conveyed from out the house. ANDROMACHE Ah me! Has she heard that my babe was put out of her reach? Who told her? Woe is me! how utterly undone! MAID I know not, but thus much of their schemes I heard myself; and Menelaus has left the house to fetch him. ANDROMACHE Then am I lost; ah, my child! those vultures twain will take and slay thee; while he who is called thy father lingers still in Delphi. MAID True, for had he been here thou wouldst not have fared so hardly, am sure; but, as it is, thou art friendless. ANDROMACHE Have no tidings come that Peleus may arrive? MAID He is too old to help thee if he came. ANDROMACHE And yet I sent for him more than once. MAID Surely thou dost not suppose that any of thy messengers heed thee? ANDROMACHE Why should they? Wilt thou then go for me? MAID How shall I explain my long absence from the house? ANDROMACHE Thou art a woman; thou canst invent a hundred ways. MAID There is a risk, for Hermione keeps no careless guard. ANDROMACHE Dost look to that? Thou art disowning thy friends in distress. MAID Not so; never taunt me with that. I will go, for of a truth a woman and a slave is not of much account, e'en if aught befall me. (The MAID withdraws.) ANDROMACHE Go then, while I will tell to heaven the lengthy tale of lamentation, mourning, and weeping, that has ever been my hard lot; for 'tis woman's way to delight in present misfortunes even to keeping them always on her tongue and lips. But I have many reasons, not merely one for tears,-my city's fall, my Hector's death, the hardness of the lot to which I am bound, since I fell on slavery's evil days undeservedly. 'Tis never right to call a son of man happy, till thou hast seen his end, to judge from the way he passes it how he will descend to that other world. (She begins to chant.) 'Twas no bride Paris took with him to the towers of Ilium, but curse to his bed when he brought Helen to her bower. For her sake, Troy, did eager warriors, sailing from Hellas in a thousand ships, capture and make thee a prey to fire and sword; and the son of sea-born Thetis mounted on his chariot dragged my husband Hector round the walls, ah woe is me! while I was hurried from my chamber to the beach, with slavery's hateful pall upon me. And many tear I shed as I left my city, my bridal bower, and my husband in the dust. Woe, woe is me! why should I prolong my life, to serve Hermione? Her cruelty it is that drives me hither to the image of the goddess to throw my suppliant arms about it, melting to tears as doth a spring that gushes from the rock. (The CHORUS OF PHTHIAN WOMEN enters.) CHORUS (singing)
Lady, thus keeping thy weary station without pause upon the floor of Thetis' shrine, Phthian though I am, to thee a daughter of Asia I come, to see if I can devise some remedy for these perplexing troubles, which have involved thee and Hermione in fell discord, because to thy sorrow thou sharest with her the love of Achilles' son.
Recognize thy position, weigh the present evil into the which thou art come. Thou art a Trojan captive; thy rival is thy mistress, a true-born daughter of Sparta. Leave then this home of sacrifice, the shrine of our sea-goddess. How can it avail thee to waste thy comeliness and disfigure it by weeping by reason of a mistress's harsh usage? Might will prevail against thee; why vainly toil in thy feebleness?
Come, quit the bright sanctuary of the Nereid divine. Recognize that thou art in bondage on a foreign soil, in a strange city, where thou seest none of all thy friends, luckless lady, cast on evil days.
Yea, I did pity thee most truly, Trojan dame, when thou camest to this house; but from fear of my mistress I hold my peace, albeit I sympathize with thee, lest she, whom Zeus's daughter bore, discover my good will toward thee.
(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