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Herald
An auspicious day one should not mar with a tale of misfortune—the honor due to the gods keeps them apart.1When a messenger with gloomy countenance reports to a people dire disaster of its army's rout— [640] one common wound inflicted on the State, while from many a home many a victim is devoted to death by the two-handled whip beloved of Ares, destruction double-armed, a gory pair—when, I say, he is packed with woes like this, [645] he should sing the triumph-song of the Avenging Spirits.

But when one comes with glad news of deliverance to a city rejoicing in its happiness—how shall I mix fair with foul in telling of the storm, not unprovoked by the gods' wrath, that broke upon the Achaeans? [650] For fire and sea, beforehand bitterest of foes, swore alliance and as proof destroyed the unhappy Argive army. In the night-time arose the mischief from the cruel swells. Beneath blasts from Thrace ship dashed against ship; [655] and they, gored violently by the furious hurricane and rush of pelting rain, were swept out of sight by the whirling gust of an evil shepherd.2But when the radiant light of the sun rose we beheld the Aegean flowering with corpses [660] of Achaean men and wreckage of ships. Ourselves, however, and our ship, its hull unshattered, some power, divine not human, preserved by stealth or intercession, laying hand upon its helm; and Savior Fortune chose to sit aboard our craft [665] so that it should neither take in the swelling surf at anchorage nor drive upon a rock-bound coast. Then, having escaped death upon the deep, in the clear bright day, scarce crediting our fortune, we brooded in anxious thought over our late mischance, [670] our fleet distressed and sorely buffeted. So now, if any of them still draw the breath of life, they speak of us as lost—and why should they not? We think the same of them. But may all turn out for the best! For Menelaus, indeed; [675] first and foremost expect him to return. At least if some beam of the sun finds him alive and well, by the design of Zeus, who has not yet decided utterly to destroy the race, there is some hope that he will come home again. [680] Hearing so much, be assured that you hear the truth.Exit

1 To the Olympian gods belong tales of good, to the Erinyes (l. 645) belong tales of misfortune. Some interpret the passage to mean that the honour due to the gods is to be kept apart from pollution through the recital of ills.

2 The “evil shepherd” is the storm that drives the ships, like sheep, from their course.

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hide References (3 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Ajax, 218
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Electra, 92
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