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SCENE I.— The outer court of the Temple at Delphi,
Enter the Delphian Priestess.
PRIESTESS. FIRST of the Deities, in this my prayer I worship Earth, the mother-prophetess : Dread Themis next, who took by right of birth Her mother's office (as tradition saith); Transferr’d it then to Phoebe; she in turn Gave it her grandson Phoebus, with the name From her derived, a birthday offering. So Phoebus left his native Delian crags, Sped o'er the seas, and touch'd at Pallas' town; Whose citizens to do him reverence Sent mighty pioneers, Hephæstus’ sons, Made the hills low, the stony places plain, Until he reach'd Parnassus' fruitful vale. Delphus the prince bade welcome to the God, And all the people paid him vassalage. Now therefore Phoebus, delegate inspired By Zeus his father, fourth upon the throne Sits, and interprets all his father's will. Next Pallas comes; and then the nymphs that dwell
Within the haunted grot of Corycum,
The haunted home of nymphs and nightingales,
Which Bacchus rules by conquest, since he wove
Meshes of death to snare its rebel king :
The founts of Pleistus, that Poseidon loves;
And last I worship Zeus, the lord of all. -
This done, I take my place upon the throne
Sacred to Prophecy; and pray the gods
To bless my entrance, as they ever bless it.
Draw near who may; Greeks first, then strangers all,
And let the God to each assign his rank
By lot determined: for I may not yield
Answers at random, but as He suggests.
[Exit, and re-enters in extreme agitation.
O horrible to tell ! O monstrous sight!
Back from the shrine I reel, with terror crazed,
Weak as an infant, clutching at support,
Such fears have paralysed these aged limbs.
[Pauses. It was an awful vision. Thus it fell : Advancing to the tripod, lo! I see A man accurst, upon the central stone Kneeling in suppliant posture : on his hands Were stains of blood, and in his right a sword, And in his left an olive's topmost spray, Deck'd with a fillet of white glistening wool. Thus far I mark’d, and can distinctly speak. In front of him, ye gods! a fearful troop Of sleeping beldames, perch'd upon the benches : Not women they, but Gorgons—Gorgons? NoFar uglier than Gorgons—I have seen Harpies in pictures, dragging off a feast, And such are these—harpies without their wings, Of hideous aspect, swart, unnatural.
Loudly they snore, and may not be approach’d,
So poisonous their breath ; while from their
Issues a dripping tide of filthy rheum:
And then their dress—it was not fit to wear,
Nor in God's temple, nor in haunts of men.
So foul a company I never knew;
And whatsoever country rear'd a brood
So pestilent, shall one day rue its pains.
I can no more—let great Apollo heed
The sequel ;-wisest of physicians he,
The Lord of prophets, and of miracles.-
Cleanser of temples ! purify thine own.-
SCENE II.-Interior of the Temple The FURIES are discovered
asleep on the seats : ORESTES on the Omphalus : APOLLO near him; and HERMES in the background.
Unhappy youth! I will not give thee up:
True to thy cause, a watchful sentinel,
Though far away, I'll still be near to thee,
And still do battle with thine enemies.
Look at these rabid creatures : mark how sleep
Hath overcast their senses, where they lie
A band of loathly and detested hags,
Ancient virginities, with whom nor god
Nor man nor beast will ever deign to mate;
For evil were they born, and in the womb
Of earth they dwell, ʼmid horrid Stygian caves,
Hated by mortals, damn'd by gods above.
Yet though they sleep, betake thee swift to flight,
And courage! thou hast many a weary mile
Of ground to tread in thy lone pilgrimage,
While they from continent to continent
Shall urge thee forward, and from sea to sea,
Across the wave-bound cities of the deep.
Faint not in spirit, brooding o'er the toil ;
But hie thee straight to Pallas' citadel,
And clasp her ancient image in thine arms :
There in good time, so thou despairest not,
I'll get thee judges and an advocate,
And find the means of thy deliverance.
'Twas my advice that wrought thy mother's death ;
And I will shield thee from the punishment.
Divine Apollo, thou dost know the right;
And since thou know'st it, deal aright with me;
And oh! be kind, as thou art powerful.
Remember! let not fear thy spirits quell.
Hermes, my brother, be it thine to watch, [to HERMES.
And be, as thou art call’d, the God of guidance,
Tending my suppliant: holy privilege,
To guard the weak, that Zeus hath granted thee,
And made thee bringer of good speed to men.
Exit ORESTES, conducted by HERMES.
Enter the GHOST OF CLYTEMNESTRA.
Sleep on there, ho! and pray what need of sleepers ?
So is it ever with you-woe is me !
I, that did murder, wander unanneal'd;
Departed spirits shun me like a plague,
Or else with foul reproaches torture me:
But no avenging deity is wroth
On my behalf, though I was foully slain.
You, too, neglect me, and betray my cause.
Your hearts, I trow, can see this bleeding breast :
Though slumber hath seal'd up the natural eyesight,
It brighteneth the vision of the mind,
And darkness maketh plain what daylight veils.
Ungrateful hags! full many a time and oft
Ye lapp'd your fill from my rich offerings,
When at the hour of midnight I stole forth
To heap my gifts upon your glowing altars,
And feed you with the incense that ye love.
O base return ! O vile forgetfulness !
Look where the murderer, laughing you to scorn,
Bursts from the bonds your hands have knit for him,
As bounds the hart from out the hunter's snare.
Hear it, ye Furies ! hear me plead my cause :
I make appeal to your eternal laws :
Oh! let not this an idle vision seem:
'Tis Clytemnestra calls you in a dream.
[The FURIES mutter in sleep.]
What! do ye mutter? Up, and to the chase :
He has found patrons and a resting-place.
[The FURIES mutter.]
Too much you sleep, and take no thought for me :
The slain is punish’d, but the slayer free.
[The FURIES groan.]
Dost groan? dost slumber ? Rise, and do thy will : Thou art not forward, save in working ill.
[The FURIES groan.]
When sleep and toil conspire to close the eyes,
Sapp'd of her might the fell she-dragon lies.