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Telemachus, and you two, equally faithful in my affairs, enough of talking, since my hand itches to do its work. Now there is work for youy hands and your intelligence. I know they are many. But at my bidding Telemachus has removed all the weapons, and scarcely a dagger remains for the Suitors. They are pent up, the walls of solid rock are blocking their escape. Bars lock the doors, and see that all the exits are shut, so that as long as I am alive no living man can escape. Eumaeus, you hold the blocked threshold leading to the garden. And you guard the back door, Philaetius. Our care will be the entrance to the dining hall itself, the route most travelled. First we shall shoot the Suitors with arrows from above. Let this man beat a drum outside, so that the uproar will not reach the palace or rouse the city. When the bugle signals you, open wide the doors and rush in together. We shall kill them as they are hemmed in, unarmed and wounded. I pray that Minerva favor our great enterprise. [Enter the Suitors: Pisander, Eurymachus, Polybus, Ctesippus, Liocritus, Agelaus, Amphinomus, and the others, accompanied by Phemius, Telemachus, and Medon.] While they are making their ascent, instrumental music is played offstage.
UL. The arrow lately shot from my hands was harmless and shot in fun. But I am making ready to strike another target, that nobody has hit before. May Apollo favor such a great effort and guide my hand! [He shoots and kills Antinous.]
PIS. Alas, the sorry deed! Who, evil thing, are you who kills by employing your bow during a feast? Is this your idea of a joke? A swift death is ready for you. For you have murdered the leader of all the youths whom this island produces. Soon the vultures will have you for dinner.
UL. Didn’t you wicked dogs imagine I would return from Troy, you who have long vexed our home, desiring my wife in my lifetime, violently debauching my serving women, making frequent attempts on Telemachus by your treachery? Did you want to divide up my goods, did you attempt to wrest the scepter from my line? Wasn’t the power of the gods and reverence for them, or shame before men, or dread of my return able to restrain you? Did you think all these evils would disappear without punishment being exacted? Therefore your destruction is deservedly at hand.
EURY. If you are truly Ulysses come home, I confess these things are all true which you say, we Suitors have done evil. But Antinous was responsible for these crimes, and he lies dead. For your arrow struck him in the throat as he was about to take a drink. He scarcely yearned after your wife, so much as he desired your kingdom. He first dragged all us Suitors here by his trickery. I beg you, let him alone suffice for atonement. Father of our nation, spare such a band of princes, the flower of the land, spare your noblemen, and spare our fathers. It will be fitting for such a great-hearted man to put a limit on your resentment, and to be able to put a limit on the impulse of an agitated mind. Let this glory add to your triumph. Lo, each of us will repay you for our feasting. We shall add a great amount of coin besides. You fix the price for our misdeeds.
UL. Eurymachus, not even if each of you were to amass all his paternal goods, all that he ever owned, would I restrain my hands from this killing. Do you dictate limits for your enemy? Should my anger over my violated marriage and kingdom restrain its fury? Now it is reasonable for me to rage all the more. If one man’s killing could sate my outrage, it would have sought none at all. Even if all these young men fall, their number would not pay for all their crimes. The one thing that pleases me is that nobody will avoid this evil.
SUITORS Alas, we are dying.
POLY. Somebody break down the doors.
AMPH. Alas, we are kept here, the door is barred.
LIOC. Put tables in the way of the arrows.
SUITORS We are being shot. Arms, arms, citizens! Who will give us poor fellows arms?
AGE. May a man about to die say a few words?
UL. Let him, Telemachus. My resentment, don’t rush headlong. Abate a moment, there’s plenty of time. This one night will affirm my marriage.
AGE. Great lord of the Danaans, what kind of praise will there be for you in giving unarmed youths over to a pitiful death? We are like sheep in a fold, savaged by a wolf. But let us take up weapons too. Let us die fighting, at least let these men meet an honorable death. We distinguished youths are dying like beasts. I am not speaking for myself, as I am struck in the chest with an arrow and am about to die. So continue with your deed, cruel man, continue, a deed such as posterity will never cease talking about, which no later age will approve, and that all posterity will believe to be yours, you nocturnal soldier, you artist at deceit.
UL. Agelaus, what high praise is there to be hoped for in these evils save that which usually comes from the infliction of punishment? Every means of killing a robber is just, nor would an honorable death be fitting for your dishonorable life.
SUITORS Alas, we are being killed, slaughtered! Alas, the evil!
AMPH. Great Ulysses, I beg you be fair to me. Who accuses me of having committed any crime or debauchery? Rather, I was responsible for seeing that others accomplished no such acts — nearly all of whom your bow has pierced. I beg you remember my father Nisus, my great kindness to you and your friendly disposition towards me. Cease the onrush of your revenge. Am I, guilty of no wrong, to die among these people? Will there be no just reward for my merits?
UL. Amphinomus, even though I may think you innocent of wrongdoing, you will not convince me that you hoped for my return, so that I will believe that in your prayers you did not covet my wife. You wanted to pluck the grapes from off my vine, you wanted to beget your own children on my wife, my consort was pleasing to you. So die, Amphinomus, nor should you desert your friends in death. Die, rascal.
SUITORS Alas, we are being killed, slaughtered! Alas, the evil!
PHEM. Lord of the Cephallenians, have mercy on me. Surely your heart will grieve hereafter, if you kill a singer in indiscriminate slaughter, a singer whom, with no human teacher, was taught by the god to sing all manner of songs for the gods and for famous lords. Spare the sacred things, so that I may sing for your, as for the god. And Telemachus will inform you that the Suitors compelled me, unworthy of no man’s table, to sing so much for them.
TEL. Great-hearted father, hold your hand. Surely you shouldn’t wound Phemius. Nor should you harm Medon, to whom I was dear in my boyhood, unless perchance he already lies transfixed.
MED. I am alive, master. Spare me, I pray, Until now I have hidden under this bench, fearful. I beg you, restrain your father lest he inflict death on me.
UL. Have confidence, men, since my Telemachus wants it so. But consider you owe your lives to my son, so that all posterity may know that gratitude awaits good men, and punishment the wicked. But now, Telemachus, enough of marksmanship. Let us finally attack.
TEL. Then let the drum beat in the meantime, and I’ll give the prearranged signal with a trumpet. When the signal has been given they come down and enter the dining hall by the rear door, doing their work with swords. There is a terrific commotion and the drum beats so that decorum may be preserved. When the killing is over, the doors open to reveal the massacre. The suitors lie transfixed with bloodied hands and faces, the tables overturned and blood-smeared. With swords dripping gore, they lead out Melanthius, bound.
UL. Jupiter, father of gods and men, you, Minerva, and all you company of gods who dwell in heaven, plentiful victims will fall before your alters because I have exacted vengeance on my enemies, and am now looking at my kingdom. Thus let him receive punishment, whoever makes an attempt on another man’s wife while that man lives. Oh, the sight! Oh, bridal chamber! Oh, famous wedding! I rejoice to see the blood-spattered banquet, the tables running with gore. But, Melanthius, what dire frenzy seized you, what ingratitude drove you so mad that you undertook all those crimes against your master’s household? Can you pay for your evils by a simple death? Is it enough to die? Swineherd, I am handing him over to you for torture. Hack off the rascal’s lips, nose, and ears, give this monstrous man’s gobbets to the dogs to eat, and skin him alive. Let him finally give finally give up his guilty ghost, tortured in all the ways your anger suggests. But you, Philaetius, hang the twelve serving women corrupted by the Suitors. At my instruction Euryclea has locked them up. Then let Phemius strike his gentle lyre and let the entire household feign renewed joy, lest the slightest suspicion of this killing reach the city. Let us go into the women’s quarters, which now are mine. [Exeunt all but Medon and Phemius.]
MED. Phemius, son of Terpes, how near we came to seeing the halls of the Stygian kingdom, how close we both came to a sad end! Your lyre and my loyalty gave us nourishing life, and Telemachus gave it to the both of us. Danger and rescue have made us comrades. If you still have your wits, if your voice still sounds, if the image of death, still hovering before your eyes, has not completely extinguished the sacred warmth of your heart with chill dread, then I beg you to give us a song, something polished and noble, testifying to your deep and grateful mind.
THE HYMN OF PHEMIUS
Muse, where you sweeping me, full of frenzy? What new thing am I devising? Now I sing nothing mortal, nothing of the common sort, played with a humble plectrum.
Into what retired spot, what glade am I being drawn? With what voice, with what lyre, with what harp should I sing of great Phoebus, mighty with his plants and his javelin?
How close I came to seeing Pluto’s hall and the dark realms of gloomy Proserpina, if Phoebus had not warded off the threatening arrows of the Dulichian’s bow!
Hail, child of Leto, guardian of Mercury-men. Give us a noble song on your lyre, welcome at feasts, welcome to the gods above and below.
You make rivers cease their flow, you tame wild beasts, and bend the rocks. Under your guidance, Orpheus charmed Cerberus and brought back Eurydice from the terrible Underworld.
It is entirely your accomplishment that I am breathing. You give me a great name, you inspire in me a poet’s divine possession. Thanks to you I am hailed as the instrument of Argolic Thalia.
MED. An outstanding song, Phemius, and a sweet lyre! But look, they are bringing out the girls for hanging. Let us relieve our eyes of such a terrible sight. (They exit into the palace. Enter Philaetius and two servants leading out Melantho, a noose tied around her neck.)
PHIL. But you, Melantho, should have guarded against this killing beforehand, nor ought you to have besmirched yourself with wrongdoing, or our chaste household with shame. The road of forgiveness is now closed, and your entreaties come too late, now that revenge is pressing. You were first in wrongdoing, so the first punishment is reserved for you. Eleven others will follow in your steps.
MEL. Philaetius, I beg you grant me a brief delay, while in my misery I have my fill of grieving, while I lament my fate with my final plaints.
PHIL. Would that I could take pity on you. But what I can do is grant you a delay and a time for tears, for an evil is diminished by weeping.
MEL. Oh worst kind of death, worse than death itself! Will the shameful noose end my life? Has Eurymachus sent me this necklace? This nuptial knot? Oh, the evil of beauty! Oh, blind youth! Bah, impudent Venus! And you too, savage Cupid. You have brought such a death upon me. But why should I curse you? My desire, my madness drove me on. Each of us is destroyed by his own vices and evil ways. As a body is accompanied by its shadow, so is wrongdoing by retribution. And why, Eurymachus, should Melantho hang for you? Alas for Melantho. Eurymachus, your darling does hang for you. Look to your girdles, virgins. Once it is loosened, nobody can refasten it, nobody will recompense you for the damage. Bah, girls, how much does fleeting, miserable, hateful pleasure cost us? Desire never remains in the place it began, but Venus, excited, rushes forth headlong, always increasing.
PHIL. Your grief is endless. Make an end to your lament.
MEL. Grant just a small delay, while my tongue gives voice to my soul’s final utterance. Little soul, pale, timorous, bare little thing, what places will you soon inhabit? You will scarcely give yourself to play, as before, flitting, restless, charming, you will not wear soft clothing, nor taste of the feast with your mouth, you will not drink the sweet wine. No Eurymachus will give you furtive kisses. The harp will not lull you to sleep, you will not joyously dance to the lyre. Farewell forever, guest and faithful companion.
PHIL. There’s no end to your weeping. Break it off, for this same fate awaits the other eleven. [Exeunt. Enter Euryclea and Penelope.]
EUR. Queen, rejoice always and come with me, to see with your own eyes the husband you have prayed to see for so many years. Ulysses has come home after so much wandering, my lady, your husband has indeed come home.
PEN. What god has suddenly made you foolish, Euryclea my nurse, although you were clever in the past? With difficulty the gods make a sane person foolish, they are more accustomed to render a fool sound of mind. Your mind is unhinged. Why disturb my spirit with grief by reminding me of all those things? And besides, you have awakened me from a sweet sleep. A more pleasant slumber has never fallen over my eyes since the time my Ulysses departed for Troy. No other serving woman would ever have done that with impunity. But your old age and well-tried loyalty require my forgiveness.
EUR. Lady, I am not deceiving you, nor wilfully doing you an injury, but rather am telling you the truth. I tell you, your husband has returned. And he is our guest, the last you’d expect. Telemachus has recognized his father a while back, but prudently kept silence up to now, until Ulysses could butcher all the evil Suitors while they were dining, and now they are strewn about the hall in death.
PEN. Where did you learn these things?
EUR. Telemachus told me.
PEN. And how did Telemachus find them out?
EUR. He bravely assisted his father.
PEN. Perhaps some god afflicted these people in the hall out of pity for us. But come, nurse, tell me now, I pray (and banish any thought of joking), has Ulysses returned? Certainly the guest of whom you speak is welcome to me, but I don’t believe he is my husband, whom I imagine is miserably lying far from Ithaca.
EUR. Ah, why do you always think your husband to be dead? No, he lives and governs his house, and soon he will be here, when he has washed his hands. And see here, I’ll give you a sure sign. When at your bidding I was washing his feet, with my hands I touched the scar of the wound he once received from a boar. Out of my mind with grief and joy at once, I tearfully said, “Indeed you are my king, my master Ulysses, for this mark betrays you.” But he took me strongly by the throat and, bending nearer, said, “Euryclea, why are you trying to ruin me? Are you now trying to destroy with your wickedness the man you once nursed at your breast? Behold, after all my sufferings I have returned home. Since you have recognized me, I beg that you keep silence a little while, lest I be betrayed to anyone. If I can manage to visit death on the Suitors, you will always live with me in this house.” And he told me much more, which I often wanted to repeat to you, lady, except that he bound me by my sacred oath.
PEN. I can neither believe you nor disbelieve. So shall I see my sweet husband again? Shall I see Ulysses? My poor mind is incredulous.
EUR. If I am misleading you, lady, condemn me to an evil death, I condemn myself, destroy this guilty head. Rejoice, lady, and after so many delays fulfil your hopes of seeing each other again.
PEN. Then let us go, so that I may see my son and him too, indeed, whom you tell me is my husband. But, dear nurse, I am a-tremble in all my limbs and tortured of spirit, wondering in what poor way I can gaze at my husband, if indeed he is my husband. ([Enter Telemachus and Ulysses.] Penelope is amazed at the sight of Ulysses.)
TEL. My stubborn mother, and again I say my stubborn mother, why stand apart from my beloved father? Why not embrace your husband? No other wife would be so hard-hearted as to stand apart from a husband who, after so many various sufferings, returned to his paternal hearth in the twentieth year. Surely your disposition is harder than stone.
PEN. My son, my mind is suddenly stupefied in amazement, so that I can neither be suspicious nor speak a word to him. But if my Ulysses has truly returned here, let some secret tokens convince me.
UL. Cruel woman, will you finally cease being difficult to a husband who has come home after such a long time? Is this how you receive him when he arrives? Did I cut down all the Suitors with steel so that I, your husband, might become a suitor? Put aside this hardness towards your husband, this hardness inbred in you above all others.
PEN. Forgive me, whoever you are. It is not reasonable for you to despise or suspect me immediately. For women, hasty trust is often harmful, and snares are often being set for a woman’s chastity, which she must guard against with an unsoftened mind. It ought not to displease you if I, who have not seen my husband for twenty years now, and who have resisted the entire crew of princelings of these islands, as well as the youth of Ithaca, should not instantly place my trust in my guest. So let some token of recognition untie this knot, one unknown to everyone else, such as would prove you to be my true husband.
UL. Prudently said, as befits Ulysses’ famous wife! So, lest a further delay detain us, what about that bed which I built and polished with my own hand, decorated with purple and gold, inlaid with ivory, which no mortal has ever seen with his eyes save for we two
and Actoris, the wakeful maid who guarded our chamber door? Does this bed stand fast in its place? Penelope, do these facts fail to reveal that I am your husband?
PEN. Sweetest husband, alas, when have you come home? What slow fates, what storm-clouded seas kept you an exile from your paternal soil, what misfortunes made you a wanderer? After a long time have I reached the longed-for shore? Am I, Penelope, holding my husband, returned to me after many years? Is this sight cheating my hopes, or am I seeing the truth? Am I, Penelope, holding my husband? Forgive me that I was so foolish as not to love you as soon as I saw you. In my unhappiness I was afraid of trickery. I acknowledge that you are Ulysses. Now I relax the harshness of my mind, you tame my heart.
TEL. As gladly as shipwrecked men, their poor ship smashed by waves and winds, tread the sweet land, either of them rejoices at the sight of the other, he because he has regained his famous wife, she because she is looking on her husband after suffering so many sorrows.
UL. My distinguished wife, is there any limit to our weeping? Any to our speaking? Small joy is eager, but great joy is amazed and, not controlling itself, is speechless. Assuredly, our destruction was the gods’ desire. But I think we that now we are a source of amazement to them, as we have attained the threshold of old age with shared hope, so that we can almost be seen to be elderly. But many feasts remain for us, and much for our bed. And a more serious storm awaits us from the Suitors’ fathers, our ship has not yet put into port. Come, Telemachus, contrive a remedy for this ill. [Exeunt omnes.]
You could thrice retrace our Dulichian lord’s wanderings over the sea, you could thrice surpass Nestor’s years, but you could never find one equal to Penelope in constancy. Such a chaste woman is a rare thing. But her sinning was was minimal. What age of the world, more excessive and shorter-lived than that of Paris, will produce many women similar to Helen? Such an unchaste woman is a common thing. See how many young noblemen shed their blood pitifully for one good wife. See how they burned down the walls of Phrygian Pergamum for one bad wife. Therefore, if either a good one or a bad can work harm, I pray that the god free us from either evil.
The glory of Penelope will live on after her death; great in her enduring name, may she outlive the years of ancient Nestor. You will find more women equal to Penelope. A chaste woman is a common thing. Now may you see women living piously, for our age has produced women unlike Helen, one stolen by Phrygian Paris. A disgraceful woman is a rare thing. The Dulichian lord’s fury killed the young noblemen, not his excellent wife. Not Helen’s beauty, but the madness of Paris brought down Priam’s Ilium. And so if neither a good wife or a bad is harmful, I pray that God bless us with both these good things.
Thrice-great writer and trumpet of the Trojan war, both pain and delight for that famous king of Macedon, there was a contention between the seven cities that claimed your birth so that posterity would gape, but your concern was to bestow fame on others, and to conceal your own nationality and name. You saw more keenly than Socrates himself what is just and unjust, right and wrong. We thank you for your kindness, which provided us with all the material for building our own house: timber, cement, the best of stone. If our edifice were built of your material, in good repair and well-roofed on every side, it would easily ward off any rain of criticism. But now it is falling apart. For who could equal the immortal old man? Who could put Seneca’s buskin on the son of Maeon? It was scarcely my intention, nor was it within my power, to seek such praise with a chorus. And so I taught proud iambics how to hop along at a novel step, to set aside their usual disdain, and abandon their turgid diction. For who would hope to obtain the second place after you, Seneca, or even the third? Feebler by a long step, posterity follows in his wake, venerating him on bended knee.
But whatever kind of thing it may have been, we have produced this animal, endowed with the short lifespan of a single evening, relying on the warm reception which usually greets our troupe. Now I would ask your hands to give an audience’s applause to the Dulichian lord who has returned home, and to Penelope, except that a higher praise for a living example of chastity requires your applause. For, just as Ithaca yields to England in honor, and the Suitors to kings, and as much as true virginity surpasses nuptial torches and chastity enduring for twenty years, to the same degree our Elisa leaves Penelope behind. Nothing better flourishes in this wide world, the sun sees nothing similar, or even second, to her. Is there nothing more miraculous than that a girl, mighty in resources and a famous kingdom, preeminent in the sweetness of youth and the goodness of her beauty, wooed by the entreaties of kings and the prayers of lords, escorted by droves of princes, surrounded by courtly splendor, should always remain a virgin, more unsullied than Phoebus’ sister? But nevertheless she has remained a virgin, persevering exceedingly, to whom Vesta must yield her place of honor, and the Graces, and that goddess mighty in armor. Under her shadow we enjoy the profound leisure of peace and life. And now she created the conditions under which you have witnessed this play, and we pray she shall long continue to create them. This is our one cause for sorrow and regret, that a Homer is lacking for her high virtue, although what Homer could adequately extol her? So give your applause to this Elisa, as you should.