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MESS. Oh happy Fates, peaceful, memorable, the very best! Lucky, fair, and prosperous! Oh kindly gods, gentle and benign! Oh day of days, oh our tranquil lot!
CHOR. Pray, what news do you bring? Is the boar slain?
MESS. He is slain, the huge thing is laid low.
CHOR. Who was responsible for his killing? If you have the time and the will, tell us how each thing in turn was done.
MESS. There is a forest growing thick with beams of oak and beech trees rising up to the sky, filled with mountain ash, overlooking a deep valley from its mountain ridge. No iron has harmed it, no hand has tended it, but its broad clearings offer access. After the bold band of youths had gathered here, part of them kept their dogs under leash. But the dogs could tolerate no delay, and struggled to free themselves of restraint. Unleashed, they followed the forest paths with their noses, eager and knowing. Another part of the band set out heavy nets, while others examined fresh hoofprints. Everyone was eager to play his part in the killing. In the midst of the forest extends a valley in a deep ravine, by which the rainwater is wont to drain off the mountain ridges. Willows grow at the very bottom of this gorge, together with rushes, sedge, osier, and slender reeds. this was the dread home and lurking-place for the boar, the huge boar, terrible, bristling, and fierce. No greater bull than this boar roams your pastures, Epirus, and your Sicilian bull is usually smaller. His eyes blazed, bloodshot, darting fire, his brow was frightful with wrinkles. His neck bristled with its shaggy mane, like an anvil or hard steel. His bristles, like spears, stood threatening in a palisade, and white froth dripped over his muscles, drooling from his maw as loudly he grunted. The menace of his tusks equalled that of Indian elephants, and from his mouth he belched mixed thunder and lightning. Goaded from his cave, thus by nature and such in size, he came raging into the midst of his enemies, sowing ruin, and the grove was flattened by such a massive beast. Suddenly the dogs set up a great yowling, there was a clamor of men, trumpets, and birds. The boar came rushing, and as each one chanced to stand in his way he despatched the harassing dogs with his double blow. The shaft first launched by Echion’s hand was in vain, and struck a glancing blow in a maple trunk. The next cast would have stuck in the animal’s back, if it had not been thrown with excessive force. It carried too far, and Jason was the thrower. The bristly one blazed with anger, belching fire. As when a huge rock is shot by a catapult, aimed at high battlements, thus the boar attacked the youth, with full force. Nestor would perhaps have been felled by his great onrush, but he leaned on his planted spear, vaulted high into the branches of a nearby tree, and peered down on his enemy from this lofty perch. But the boar, whetting his tusks on an oak tree, gravely gashed the the thigh of Orithya’s son with his snout. The twin sons of Tyndarus, scions of an indomitable family, skilled at the javelin, would have wounded the boar if he had not cunningly entered the dense brush were no spear could travel. Telamon dashed after the raging boar and, incautious in his movement, tripped on a tree-root and fell. While Peleus was raising him up, Atalanta bent her her bow and shot a swift arrow, but it only grazed the animal behind his ear and dyed his bristles with a trickle of blood. The whole band blushed and their embarrassment lent them strength. The men raised their spirits with a shout. A thick barrage of spears went flying in disorder, and the number of missiles ruined their aim. Who can relate everything, all the perils, all the youths’ bold deeds, all the dogs killed? But Meleager’s virtue was first and foremost. In his ardor, how often did he put himself in the boar’s way? How often did he risk his life by fighting at close quarters? Now no lesser fortune proved unequal to such great endeavors, but favorably aided his hand. He throws two spears, of which one plants in the back, the other in the chest. Now, as the boar issues threats, whirls himself in a circle, and pours forth a froth of flesh blood, complaining of his wound, Meleager presses home his attack by planting a spear in the beast’s shoulder. After the manner of hunters, the whole company rejoiced with a shout and now everyone wanted to shake the victor’s hand. Everybody stood about, admiring the terrible pig barely stretched out over much ground, scarcely thinking it safe to touch it. Thus it lay with its fierce face, thus its eyes glared, thus it was threatening with its great snout. Each man dyed his spears in its blood. This is the sequence of the fight, this is the order of the slaughter. I hasten to the palace. [Exit, enter the hunters.]
HUNTERS, MELEAGER, ATALANTA, PLEXIPPUS, TOXEUS
They sing on the stage. [As they enter, Meleager is carrying the boar’s hide and head.]
Citizens, celebrate a public holiday, the gnashing boar is dead. See the bloody spoil of its savage head and hide. Give victims to the altars, incense to the fire. Let all Calydon merrily celebrate a proud triumph.
Oh, let our farmers keep a happy holiday, let the earth, now safe, bear long-bearded crops on its cornstalks. Let the laden vine produce bursting grape-clusters on its shoots. Let all Calydon merrily celebrate a proud triumph.
Let a throng of herdsmen celebrate with dancing, let young and old wear garlands. Now no plague threatens our cattle, let them graze at pasture without harm. Let all Calydon merrily celebrate a proud triumph.
MEL. Noble Theseus, and you, famous partners in such great efforts, what gifts should I think able to repay such great deeds? Surely the gods, and your own courage, have given us splendid things, and our resources are scarcely adequate to repay you fully. However, what rich tokens of thanks I have I shall offer to the gods, and my father and all Calydon will give even greater. Meanwhile, Atalanta, according to our pact, accept these proofs of my authority and of my disposition, emblems of your high virtue, and let a share of my glory be imparted to you. [He gives her the head and hide.]
AT. High-minded Meleager, what can I say? I do not know which to admire more, your brave spirit and famous handiwork in battle, or that you are generous. I esteem them both. What gift can I give equal in worth to yours? What fitting words can I utter? But you will forgive a maiden’s bashfulness, if I should find words scarcely equal to your gesture. I shall say just this: if I seek the forest, I shall remember you there, if I pass through the mountains, I shall fill them with your praises, mindful of such a great act of favor. Wherever I shall dwell, no day will find me forgetful of your kindness, none will find me ungrateful.
PLEX. [Aside.] What’s happening, Toxeus? Is she snatching this badge of honor from the men? Must we seek our homeland dishonored? Out of all of us, will she alone go home in triumph, carrying the boar’s trophy through the cities of Aetolia in her vainglorious hand?
TOX. [Aside.] Plexippus, may the god always refuse me a homecoming if I permit us to be branded with such shame. [Aloud.] Come, woman, put down those manly honors. You have bewitched this fellow with your beauty, but I beg you not to overestimate it, thinking that it enchants everyone. The donor of this gift is love-smitten to excess.
MEL. My Thestian uncles, what insanity has invaded your minds? Is it wrong to have deserved the spoils? Or was it such a crime for me to have given them to whom I wished? Why are these empty threats being hurled, with so much frowning? Why look at me with such a bloodthirsty, truculent stare?
PLEX. Is it proper for such an outstanding gift thus to be bestowed? Is this the outcome of the terror we experienced in the face of such danger? Will each of us take back this infamy to our ancestral hearths? Is this brand of shame to be reported to posterity, that a woman carried off victory’s palm?
MEL. And I suppose it is proper that out of this entire band only my jealous uncles wish to get their hands on the prize won by their nephew? Will such a misdeed redound to your glory? But let her carry off the spoils. She is deserving because she was first to wound the boar, and she is the equal of us men in courage, breeding, deeds, and the ability of her hand.
TOX. Are this hide, rough with bristles, and this head, fierce with its ivory tusks, suitable for a woman’s hand?
MEL. Were jealousy or unjust rage suitable for you?
PLEX. Great-spirited chagrin provoked out legitimate outrage.
MEL. But the grounds for my giving were more legitimate.
TOX. Of a gift given badly?
MEL. Better for it to be stolen?
PLEX. We are complaining about injustice.
MEL. Does justice approve of thieves?
TOX. What are the grounds for this justice of yours?
MEL. The strength of my good right hand.
PLEX. What about our justice?
MEL. It is full of contention, and you are swollen with jealousy.
TOX. Virtue is yours alone?
MEL. I admit that Atalanta helped me.
PLEX. Oh yes, she helped you greatly.
MEL. The sons of Thestius were both less useful.
TOX. Was the boar laid low by your strength alone? What about the band of princes?
MEL. Did he fall by your strength?
PLEX. How love’s ardor has taken away your wits!
MEL. Rather, how madness has destroyed yours! But what am I doing that I must justify to you? It is enough that I be pleased. This has pleased me, and now it pleases me utterly. These things are mine, I have them, and such remains my will.
TOX. Oh, the shame, the impudent madness of his mind! Proud son of Oeneus, do you now strive to make a public display of your folly? Will our blood and station play the slave to your whim? Has all our effort thus gone for naught?
MEL. For my part, I was able to still your words and subdue you fellows, bold for evil, but my wrath will impose a bridle on itself. My hand will observe the moderation you two have failed to place on your tongues.
PLEX. You were able to subdue us? You? Whom? One against two? A nephew against his uncles? You ought to know I am a man of peace. I wish to test the hand and patience of this tamer of ours. [To Atalanta.] You, put down the boar’s spoils, nor look to the man who gave you the gift. He will not help you. Put them down, or you will pay the penalty by my steel. (Meleager suddenly stabs them both in the side with a dagger.)
MEL. Both of you thieves of my honor, learn the difference between my hand and your tongue, between action and threats. Thus let die whoever swells with black envy. [To Atalanta.] Take back the spoils, twice bestowed by the gods.
AT. Meleager, may the gods recompense you with just rewards for your kindnesses. But how I would wish they were less bloody!
MEL. As a fugitive, what place should I seek? Where might I remove myself from my mother’s bloodthirsty gaze? What words should I contrive? With what appearance should I endure the heavy threats of a beloved sister, about the killing of her brothers? With what countenance, with what art should I conceal this murder, my crime? And see, my mother makes her happy way here. Woe is me, let the bodies lying here in the open be covered. (He throws away the dagger, dripping blood. [Someone conceals the bodies with a cloak. Enter Althaea.])
ALTH. What things worthy of your courage can I offer, indomitable band of youths? It is a pleasure to see your victorious hands. As soon as rumor of the killing and of your victory reached my ears, I took the road so I might congratulate you. My Oeneus joyously awaits your return with its happy outcome. [She sees the covered corpses.] But what’s this? What do you mean? Why avert your face, son, and cry? What’s the cause of your weeping? Is this how you receive someone who comes to meet you? Why does the entire band remain silent with glum looks? Tell me, brothers. Toxeus, are you silent too? Plexippus, are you mute? What new evil has occurred? Come forward, brothers, will nobody answer? As a sister, I call to my brothers. What is this thing? I am calling my brothers. Where are you, brothers? Show yourselves. Meleager, where are my brothers? He’s silent and mournful, he groans. I beg you. Theseus, by the glory of your achievements, tell me the cause of this grief. Why are my brothers hiding? Once I receive them back, no harsh thing can happen.
THES. Queen, great glory of the Aetolian race, why ask me for an explanation of this misfortune? Great sorrow often hates the man who reports a death. But truly, since these evils will not disappear if we keep them silent so that you will never learn of them, and although I would prefer that you would make someone else the one to inform you of your sorrow, I beg that you calmly hear my unwilling words.
ALTH. Your mind is even more hesitant than your speech. Tell me, where are they? My duty to them admits no delay.
THES. Both of them are slain, and lie among the dead.
ALTH. What foul deed strikes my ears? Both are dead? Theseus, I detest what you say.
THES. [Uncovering the corpses.] Behold, let this sight give you sure proof.
ALTH. In my misery, what shall I say, what wails shall I utter? What words suffice for this slaughter? I see their lolling heads, limp hands, faces pallid in death, their grimaces. Is it thus that I, your sister, see you returning? Is this the triumph? Is this the promised festive day, sad, evil, and hateful? Cruel men, is this what became of my care? Gods, is this how my manifold hopes returned to me? Lift your head, Plexippus; lift yours, Toxeus. See, your sister kisses and embraces you. But, alas, the entire day is vainly squandered on lamentation. Let the murderer be found. The messenger told me they were safe when the boar was killed. Put off your groaning, tell me who committed the murder. Was it by deceit or by the sword? By accident or predestined? Why do they look at each other? Are you delaying? My anger rages against the lot of you. Theseus, why is Meleager avoiding my eyes? Why does he hang his head? You tell me, Castor, but on your oath. You tell me, Pollux, Perithous. Inform me, Peleus, Leucippus, Telamon, Nestor, Eurythion, Lelex, Acastus, Phoenix, and you, industrious Laertes. Or someone else. Does my grief not move you? See, each man groans inwardly. What’s this? Why keep silent. Should these evils go away, if kept quiet? Surely it is foolish to conceal what will quickly come to light.
MEL. Ask me, me. I am present, who killed your brothers. I call men and the gods, the forests and beasts, to witness that my hand did such an act unwillingly, and I myself was the first to shudder at the example of this murder. Have pity, mother.
ALTH. Great ruler of heaven, how sluggishly you hear of this crime! Father, did you see this and not take vengeance, devising a worthy punishment? Has the forked missile not yet left your hand? Are you still hesitating, unjust one? Earth, why not break asunder and yawn, and you, ruler of the Styx, snatch this sinner to the nethermost caverns of Tartarus, inflicting a deserved punishment. Oh, the crime! Oh, the sin!
MEL. Have pity, mother. You have a son confessing his guilt for the murder. Nor let it be my salvation to confess my guilt. Let my hands endure chains, let me be pent up in the chill cavern of a dark dungeon, I refuse nothing as long as I am allowed to plead my case. When I am done, ordain whatever punishment you desire.
ALTH. Oh, the impudent man! What defense can be offered fit for such a deed?
MEL. Let my plea nevertheless be said, which, although it cannot remove my guilt, may lessen the offense. Have pity. I only ask that you hear my defense.
ALTH. Have pity? In my wretchedness I can scarcely restrain my hands, lest I fly at your hair, your face. You don’t beg forgiveness? My grief is scarcely under control, don’t arouse it. Cease interrupting me, ingrate. Atalanta, tell me the murder’s cause.
AT. Consort of Oeneus, born of Thestius’ noble stock, first I beg that you control your aroused mind and hear my words with a calm heart. I shall tell you how the matter occurred. The sorrow is yours, but the guilt lay with your brothers, and no guilt attached to this deed. After the bristly one died by your son’s bravery, the victor wanted me to bear off his reward, the proud trophy of the hide, a cause for envy. Your brothers begrudged this gesture and fierce threats were exchanged by both sides. They stole my gift and his right to bestow it. Queen, there you have the murder’s true cause.
ALTH. Now, now, Jupiter, is the time for you to thunder in heaven, enveloping the universe. Cyclopes, provide your weapons. Nor be over-careful where your cast your lightning, at her or at him. Whichever falls will die justly, in their case your hand cannot err. Surely this deed isn’t lacking in evil, Atalanta? For this wicked judge absolves the accused of guilt. You are the source of this great evil. You are its grounds, although he committed the murder.
THES. Ah, I pray you restrain this flood within your heart, master your anger. Although your son’s entreaties ought to suffice, I beg you be moved by our weeping. What I ask, so do we all. They ask your forgiveness as the reward for his great accomplishments. Control the swollen onrush of your inflamed mind.
ALTH. Leave off, Theseus, I reject any form of entreaty. The situation does not call for mourning, there is need for wrath, for whatever is severer than wrath — and what is so severe that it matches this impious crime? But I shall be avenged, I say I shall be avenged, and my trustworthiness will confirm what I say. I am ashamed to look at the face and hands of this butcher. You bold man, can you still bear to linger in public? Won’t you flee my sight? Servants, remove these bodies quickly. [Exeunt omnes.]
CHORUS Alas, why did the gods and the Fates, always savage, decide to give Envy to mistress Virtue as a handmaiden? Our shadow no more dogs our steps than gnawing jealousy clings to him who does great deeds. Sharp arrows more quickly strike the broad target, the larger shields receive more frequent blows, waves beat against the tall cliffs. Thus virtue is target and prey for envy. Lightning strikes mountains, jealousy attacks the summits. Monsters who require subjugation are not such a cause for fear as are men of ill will. They are not conquered by brave deeds. As virtue grows they grumble the more, no teeth know how to be sparing. Virtue would turn her back on this monster in flight, unless glory was her fair reward. This stimulates her languid limbs, this makes her scorn the sharp biting.
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