Hekaba 626-849

Hekaba, Why do you delay to come for covering your child
in the grave, the very reason for which Talthybios announced to me
that none of the Argeians were to touch your maiden?
We therefore do not permit, nor do we touch:
but you, you act at such leisure that I stand amazed.
I have come to send you off: for hence the
deed has been well-performed—if anything of this can be nobly done.

Oh my! What man do I see here upon the stage,
a dead man of Troians? For not an Argeian do the garments
enshrouding his frame proclaim him to me.
A wretch, for speaking of you I speak of myself,
Hekaba, what shall I do? Which? Shall I fall to my knees
before Agamemnon here, or shall I bear my misfortune in silence?
Why, with your back turned toward my face
do you weep, what has been done that you do not speak? Who is this?
But if, considering me a slave and hostile,
he should thrust me from his knees, I would add to my pain.
I am no prophet by nature, and so since I hear nothing,
I would enquire into the way of your thoughts.
Or do I reckon as full of ill-will
too much the heart of this man, when he is not hostile at all?
If indeed you would that I know nothing of these things,
you have come to the same; for I would hear nothing.
But I would not be able to take any revenge without him
for my children. What is there to think about?
I must be bold, whether I get it or not.—
Agamemnon, I approach you as suppliant on my knees,
by your beard and your prosperous right hand…
Seeking what need? Surely not to have your life made
free? For you this is easily done.
Indeed not; but to take vengeance on the wicked,
I would be willing to be a slave my entire life.
Well then, for what reason would you call on us for succour?
Not for any reason of which you might suppose, my lord.
You see the corpse here, for whom I shed tears?
I see it: but of what follows I have no understanding.
Once I gave birth to this one and bore him under my girdle.
Is this then one of your children, oh enduring woman?
Not one of the dead sons of Priamos under Ilios.
What others did you birth than those, my lady?
This son, profitless so it seems likely, whom you look upon.
Where did he happen to be when his city was being destroyed?
His father sent him away, dreading lest he die.
Whither from those there did he separate this alone of his children?
To this land, the very place where he was found dead.
To the man Polymestor, who rules this land here?
Here he was sent, guardian of most hateful gold.
And he died at whose hands, meeting what fate?
By who else? His Threkian host destroyed him.
The wretch; did he indeed lust to take the gold?
He was the sort, once he knew the disaster of the Phrygians.
And where did you find him? Or, who brought you the corpse?
She did here, happening upon him at the shore of the sea.
Was she seeking him, or working at some other toil?
She had left to bring bathing water from the sea for Polyxena.
Once he killed him, as seems likely, his host threw him out.
To be adrift the sea, once he had thus cut through his flesh.
Oh unwearying lady, ye of immeasurable toils.
I have been destroyed, Agamemnon, I have nothing left of misfortunes.
Alas, alack, has any woman begotten such misfortune?
There is not, unless you were to speak of Fortune herself.
But on what account I fall around your knees
do hear. If it seems to you that I suffer as sanctioned by god,
I would acquiesce; but if opposite, become for me
a man of vengeance upon this most unholy host,
who neither those below the earth nor those above
did fear, and has done a most unholy deed,
though he many times shared a table in common with me,
and had hospitalities at the first rank of my friends,
he got as much as he wanted—. But with forethought
he killed: and not even of a tomb, since he wished to kill,
did he deem my son worthy, but cast him to the sea.

Well then, we are slaves and equally without power;
but the gods have power and stronger than those is
Natural Law: for by custom we believe in the gods
and we live, marking the boundaries of the just and unjust;
he who has recourse to you, should he be utterly destroyed,
and if they do not pay the penalty, those who do their guests
kill, or dare to take away the holy things of the gods,
then there is nothing fair of those among men.
And so holding this as disgraceful, have some regard for me,
feel some pity for us, and like an artist standing back,
behold me, and closely observe how many misfortunes I have.
Once I was ruler, but now thy slave,
once blessed with children, now both old and childless,
without a city, desolate, most wretched of mortals…

Alas, I am wretched, whither do your feet slip away from me?
It befits me, then, to do nothing: wretched as I am.
Indeed, why other lessons do we mortals
labour upon, as we must, and seek everything,
but Persuasion, the sole master for men,
we earnestly pursue to no greater extent,
giving wages to learn, so that it might be possible
to persuade what someone might wish and at the same time to get it?
How then could anyone still hope to act nobly?
For those who were my sons are no longer mine,
and my daughter is taken at spearpoint for disgraces. I am undone:
I see this, the smoke mounting over my city.

Well then—this is equally an argument in vain,
to put forward Kupris1; but nevertheless it shall be said:
my child sleeps at your side
the prophetess, whom the Phrygians call Kasandra.
Where indeed shall you show those happy affections, my lord,
or for the sake of most beloved embraces
in your bed, what shall my child have, and I on her behalf?
From darkness, and especially from nightly
spells of love comes the greatest grace for mortals.
Now listen: do you see the dead man here?
Should you act nobly, your marriage-bond
you would serve. My argument yet lacks a single thing.
Would that a voice would come to my arms
and hands and hair and the step of my feet
either by the craft of Daidalos or one of the gods,
so that they all together would have hold of your knees
lamenting, enjoining upon you manifold arguments.
Oh master, oh greatest Hellenic light,
be persuaded, make your hand for an old woman
an avenger, even if she is nothing, even so.
For it is the way of a good man to serve justice
and for evil men to ever do harm at all times.

It is frightful for mortals how everything clashes together,
and customs separate necessities,
making friends into worst enemies
and hated those we formerly considered most kind.

1. Kupris (Cypris) is another name for Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Hekaba will appeal to Agamemnon’s love for Kasandra.

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