Hekaba 518-628

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Talthybios:
Twice the tears you long to reap from me, my lady,
in pity for your daughter; for both now, by harsh comment,
you wet this eye, and before the grave where she was killed.
I was standing nearby the whole crowd of the Achaian army
in full before the tomb for the slaughter of your maiden;
the son of Achilleus took your daughter in his hand
and stood upon the peak of the mound, and I nearby;
and young men of the Achaians, picked out and gathered,
holding fast in their hands the leap of your calf,
followed after. Taking in his hand a filled goblet
all-golden, the son of Achilleus raises his hand
a libation for his dead father; he gives the sign to me
for silence from the Achaians and I herald it to the whole army.
And I stood in their midst and said this:
Silence, Achaians, let the whole host be silent,
silence, be still, and the crowd stood still.
And he said, O child of Peleus, O my father,
receive these my appeasing libations,
a draw of the dead; come to drink the dark,
unmixed blood of the maiden, which to you we make as offering
the army and I; be favourable to us,
release the sterns and mooring cables
of our ships and give us favourable winds away from Ilios
so we all may obtain a homeward journey and come to our native land.
Such he did say and the whole army prayed.
Then taking his gold-gilded sword at the hilt
he drew it from its scabbard, and to the youths from the army of Argeians
chosen, he beckoned to take the virgin girl.
And she, when she perceived this, she made this declaration:
Oh Argeians who laid waste my city,
I willingly die; let no man clasp my
flesh, for I shall yield my neck with a brave heart.
And I am free because I die free,
before the gods, when you have released me, kill me, for among the dead
I am disgraced, being royalty, to be called a slave.
The host rang with approval, and Lord Agamemnon
told the young men to release the virgin girl.
[ And they, just as soon as they heard the final word
of that man whose might was greatest, released her. ]
And when she heard the word of the master,
she took her robe from over her shoulder
and she tore it to the middle of her waist, around her navel,
she exposed her bosom, her breasts like those of the idols,
as beautiful, and lowering her knees to the earth
she spoke the most steadfast words of all:
Behold here, young man, if it is my breast
that you are zealous to strike, then strike, or if upon my neck
you must, here is my throat, well-turned.
And he both willing and unwilling, in pity for the maiden,
he cuts, with his iron, the channel of her breath;
her well-spring flowed out. And she, although dying,
had the wealth of foresight to fall with grace and dignity,
hiding what ought to be hidden from the eyes of men.
And when breath came to fatal slaughter,
Not one of the Argeians took to the same task;
but rather some of them upon the dead girl from their hands
did cast petals, and others filled the pyre
bringing trunks of pine-wood, and he who brought nothing
by those who brought were spoken of badly thus;
Do you stand by, villain, bearing for the girl
neither robe nor garment in your hands?
Would you give nothing to a heart so extraordinary,
whose spirit was best? Speaking thus concerning your
dead child, and you begot the finest child
of all women and are the most unfortunate, so I reckon.
Choros:
What fearsome calamity has burst for the children of Priamos
and for my city, this by force of the gods.
Hekaba:
Oh, my daughter, I know not upon which of my misfortunes I should look,
being so many; for if I cling to one,
it does not permit me this, but summons to my side thence again
some other sorrow, succeeding misfortune with misfortune.
And now I have not have power to obliterate my senses
so as not to lament your suffering;
but you bear away much, to have been declared to me
so noble. Is it not fearsome, at any rate, that if poor soil,
meets with a good season it bears a good crop,
but the prosperous, deprived of that which it needs to meet
gives poor fruit, whereas ever for men
the base is never other than bad,
and the noble noble, and not by plights
does he corrupt his nature, but rather, the prosperous man is ever so?
Does the parentage differ or the nurture?
To be sure a noble upbringing includes also
the instruction of the good; should someone learn this well,
he knows what is shameful, learning it by the bar of the good,
but my mind fires off these thoughts in vain;

You, go and indicate to the Argeians this,
that no one is to touch her, but rather shut the crowd away
from my child. In an immense campaign
an unbridled mob is a ungoverned sailor,
stronger than fire, an evil though doing no evil thing.

And you, my handmaid of old, take up again this vessel,
that was dipped in the sea and bore salt-water hither,
so that by her final bathing, my child,
a bride unwed, a maiden deflowered,
I would wash, and we lay her out—as she deserves? Impossible!—
I cannot! But as I am—for what shall become of me?—
having gathered arrainments from war-captives,
those around me of the quarters within
they dwell, should any, from her new masters
kept hidden, possess something stolen from her home.
Oh shapes of houses, oh once fortunate homes,
oh you who had the best and most beautiful, blessed with children,
Priamos, here I am, the aged mother of your children,
how we have come to nothing, the pride
of before robbed away. Once, to be sure, we were puffed up,
some of us in opulent houses,
others called worthy among the citizen body.
But these are nothing other than wishful thinking,
boasts of the tongue. The happiest man is that,
for whom each day meets no misfortune.

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2 Responses to Hekaba 518-628

  1. I don’t know if I have any way to relate to the act of being a willing sacrifice on an enemy’s tomb or to the applause of such an act. I search for a kind of reasonable distance from the plot; something like Euripides has the source material derived from an oral tradition, and has decided he’s not going to change it. What seems likely is that prisoners were human sacrifices to “honor” the dead of the warrior class, or to serve as slaves; dead slaves for dead masters. But to have Euripides heighten the act into something noble and virtuous is very strange very foreign. I think the question is intractable.

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