First, I give in my prayer precedence to her of the gods
first of oracles, Gaia; and after her Themis,
who sits second only to her mother
as prophet, so the goes the tale, and in the third
allotment, as she wishes, and forced by none,
is seated another Titan, child of Chthon,
Phoebe; she who gave as a birthday gift
to Phoebus, the name of Phoebe he possesses as a by-name.
He left the Delian pool, the rocky isle,
he harboured at the ship-frequented headland of Pallas,
to this earth he came, this seat at Parnassus;
and they escorted him and paid great tribute,
those road-building children of Hephaestus did, the earth
untamed their work made civilized.
And once he arrived the people honoured him exceedingly
as did Delphus, the lord, steersman of the land;
and Zeus inspired him with craft in his heart,
seated him as fourth oracle on these thrones;
and he is the mouthpiece of Zeus, Loxias of the father.
I begin by invoking those gods in my prayers.
Pallas before the temple is given first place in words.
I worship the Nymphs, there at the Coryca rock,
the cave, bird-haunted, abode of spirits.
And the boisterous one1 occupies the land, I am not forgetful,
and from this spot the god marshalled his Bacchae,
and stiched to Pentheus his doom, in the manner of a hare.
The running waters of the Pleistus and the might of Poseiden,
I invoke them, and highest Zeus, fulfiller of oaths,
thereafter I sit as oracle on the thrones.
And now may they grant me to get the very best
of all former entrances, by far; and if some from the Hellenes,
let them come, received by lottery, as is custom,
for I prophesy however god leads me.
The Pythia enters and then returns.
Terrors to tell, terrors to see with my eyes,
have sent me back from the home of the Loxias,
such that I do not have strength nor do I keep my stature erect;
I rush on my hands, not on swift-footed legs.
For an old woman who fears is nothing, like a child, really.
I moved slowly toward the inner chamber, hung with many weaths;
I saw upon its sacred navel a man abominable to god,
he had the bearing of a supplicant seeking purification, blood
dripped from his hands, a bloody sword
he held, and the shoot of an olive tree held high,
cautiously crowned with a very long strand of fleece,
a lock of wool; for in that, at least, I can speak clearly.
But before this man a weird band
of women slumbered, lying hidden on the couches.
Not women, in fact, but I call them Gorgons,
but then again I do not liken them to Gorgonic forms.
Once before I beheld such ladies, painted, bearing away
the feast of Phineus; but these seemed
wingless, and black, in every way disgusting;
they were snoring with putrid breath,
from their eyes they shed dreadful tears;
their ornament was not before statues of gods
righteous to bring nor into the dwellings of men.
The race of this company is nowhere seen
nor any land which boasts that it nourishes
this tribe with impunity, without grieving the toil afterward.
And now, henceforth, for the master of this house
let this be his concern, mighty Loxias himself.
He is the healing oracle and prophet
and for others, the cleanser of houses.
Lord Appollo, you know that I’ve done no wrong:
And since you know this, learn also not to neglect.
Your power to do well is your surety.
Indeed, I shall not betray you: to the very end as a guardian for you
I have stood nearby but also when I stand further afield,
to your enemies I shall not be kind.
And now you see these mad ones captured:
they have fallen to slumber, these spat-upon maidens,
old women, ancient children, with whom none of the gods
hold intercourse, nor ever any man or beast.
Only by virtue of evils were they even born, since that evil
darkness do they inhabit, Tartarus under the earth,
hated by men and the gods Olympian.
Nevertheless, take flight, do not be faint-hearted.
for they will drive you through the length of the mainland
going ever over the well-travelled earth
beyond the sea and the island cities.
But do not grow weary tending to this
toil: go to the city of Pallas,
sit and take in bent arm her ancient wooden idol.
And there we shall have words charming
the judges of these matters and we shall find contrivances
so as to release you from these labours in the whole:
for I did persuade you to kill the living body of your mother.
Be reminded, do not let panic conquer your senses.
And you, blood and brother of a common father,
good Hermes, guard him: and being named truly,
be his conveyance, shepherd this man, my
supplicant—indeed Zeus reveres this reverence of outlaws—
incited to mortals with well-conducted fortune.
1. Dionysus. He doesn’t really belong among the gods named, but the play was performed at a festival dedicated to Dionysus.