Hekaba 1187-1251

Agamemnon, it is not ever customary among men
for the tongue to have the better of matters:
if one performs a good service, he must speak a good word,
if base, however, the words must be unsound,
and he should never be able to speak well on injustice.
There are clever men, then, who make a science of this,1
but they cannot be clever to the very end,
they come to a bad end: no one has ever escaped.

Thus is your part for my prelude:
I move on to this man and I will respond to his argument:
you who claim that you removed a two-fold toil from the Achaians
and by will of Agamemnon, you killed my child.
But, you villain, never marked as friend
may the barbarian race to the Hellenes be,
nor would he be able. And zealous for what favour
were you so willing? Which? Did you intend a marriage alliance?
Or have a bond of kinship? Or did you have any reason?
Or were they likely to cut down the growth of your land,
when they sailed back? Whom do you expect to persuade of this?
The gold, if you were willing to speak the truth,
is what killed my son, and your profit.

Now, explain this: how, when Troia
was prosperous, and the city yet had towers all around it,
and Priamos lived, and the spear of Hector bloomed,
why not then, if indeed in this you wished to curry
favour, since you had the boy and nourished him in your home,
why not kill him then, or go to the Argeians, bringing him alive?
But only now that we are no longer in the light—
the town signals it with smoke—at the hands of her enemies,
then you killed the guest who had come to your hearth.

Furthermore, now hear how you reveal your evils.
You would, if indeed you were a friend to these Achaians,
have the gold which you say is not thine but his here,
bearing it to give to these men, who toil and for a great length
of time are exiled from the land of their fathers;
but you do not now nor ever dare from your hand
to deliver it, you wait, keeping it yet in yout home.
Nay, more! Had you nourished as you were supposed to nourish the child,
had you kept mine safe, you would have had noble repute;
for amidst misfortunes are noble men most clearly shown
as friends; the profitable, furthermore, has friends in every case.
Were you in want of wealth, and he were fortunate,
my son would have arisen as a great store of riches for you;
but now you do not have that man as a friend for your cause,
and the profit of his gold is gone, and your children too,
and you yourself fare thus. To you I say,
dear Agamemnon, if you defend this man, you would show your evil;
for he is not pious nor trustworthy to whom he should be,
nor holy, nor just, nor does he treat well his guest;
and we would say that you yourself rejoice in misfortunes,
being a man of that sort . . . but I do not rebuke my masters.
Alas, alas; for mortals how a deserving matter
ever yields a base for deserving words.
It is a burden for me to judge the evils of others,
nevertheless there is compulsion: for this too bears disgrace,
to thrust away this matter taken up in my hands.
And to me, so that you may know, you seem neither for my sake
nor for that of the Achaians to have killed the man, your guest,
but rather so as to have the gold in your house.
You argue what is profitable for yourself, since you are amidst mistfortunes.
Perhaps among you people to kill guest is an easy thing:
but for us, the Hellenes, this is disgraceful.
How, should I judge you not unjust, would I myself escape censure?
I could not. But rather, since things not noble
you did dare to do, suffer then things not kind.

1. I took the translation “make a science of” from E.P. Coleridge’s 1938 translation. I couldn’t think of anything more apt and succinct. The word is ἠκριβωκότες, from ἀκριβόω, which means, “to make exact or accurate; to investigate accurately, to understand thoroughly.”

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