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Hermione to Orestes

I, UNHAPPY Hermione, address the man, lately my kinsman and spouse; now my kinsman only; for another possesses the name of husband. Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, impetuous as his sire, forcibly confines me here, contrary to honour and justice. I resisted with all the force which I could exert, that I might not be detained; nor was it in the power of female hands to do more. "What are you doing, grandson of Æacus?" exclaimed I: "think not that I am without an avenger: the maid whom you injure has a master of her own." But he, more deaf than the raging waves, dragged me by the hair into his hated palace, calling for aid upon the name of Orestes. What could I have suffered

more in the ruin of Lacedæmon, had a troop of barbarians led captive the Grecian dames? Triumphant Greece did not so harass unfortunate Andromache, when the wealth of Phrygia became the prey of devouring flames. But, Oh! Orestes, if you have any care or thought of me, assert with courage and resolution your undoubted right. Will you take up arms if any one should break in upon your sheepfolds, and yet be slow to free your wife from violence? Imitate the example of your father-in-law, who boldly reclaimed his ravished spouse, and thought the injury offered him in a woman a sufficient cause of war. Had Menelaus remained indolent in his deserted palace, my mother would have still continued the wife of Paris, as once she was. There is no necessity for a fleet, or powerful army; come only yourself. Not but that I deserve to be demanded back in this manner; nor is it any reproach to a husband, to have waged a furious war for the honor of his nuptial bed. Have we not the same grandfather, Atreus the son of Pelops? And, were you not

my spouse, you are still my kinsman. Both as your wife and kinswoman, I beg your aid; remember that you are under a double tie to this good office. I was given to you by our ancestor Tyndareus, considerable for his experience and years; and one who, as my grandfather, had the undoubted disposal of me. But my father, not knowing this, had given his promise to Æacides. Surely that of Tyndareus, as first in authority and time, ought to have the preference. When espoused to you, my flame was just and unexceptionable; but if I should be married to Pyrrhus, you will be injured in me. My father Menelaus will easily be brought to approve our love; he himself hath yielded to the winged arrows of the God. He will make such allowance for your love, as he took to himself in his. His attachment to my mother affords an example to excuse ourselves. You are to me, what my father was to Helen; and Pyrrhus acts the part of the Trojan guest of old. Let him boast, without ceasing, of the mighty acts of his father; you also can relate the glorious deeds of yours. The descendant of Tantalus commanded all the Grecian host, even Achilles himself. That Hero headed only a single troop; Agamemnon was general in

chief. You also glory in being of the race of Pelops and Tantalus; and, if you reckon farther, are the fifth in a direct line from the Father of the Gods. Nor are you destitute of courage; but you have borne arms in an invidious cause, constrained to engage in the just revenge of a father's death. Oh! how I wish that you had given proof of your valor in a less direful cause! yet was it not choice, but necessity. You yielded to the urgent call, and shed the blood of that villain Ægisthus, who had so cruelly murdered your father. But Pyrrhus censures it, and calls that praise-worthy revenge a crime; and even presumes to do it in my presence.

I am distracted; my cheeks, as well as my heart, glow with rage, and my breast is scorched with flames pent up. Shall any one dare to blame Orestes in Hermione's presence? I have indeed neither strength nor arms: but I may shed tears: tears assuage grief; tears flow from my eyes in floods. These alone I always can command, and these I always shed profusely: my neglected cheeks are watered by a continual stream. By this fate of our race, which reaches down even to the present age, we matrons of the house of Tantalus fall a sure prey to every ravisher. I need not mention the deceit of the swan, or how Jupiter lurked under the disguise of feathers. Hippodamia was conveyed by foreign wheels, to where the isthmus stretching to a great length divides two seas. Helen was restored to the Amyclæan brothers, Castor and Pollux, from an Attic city. Helen, conveyed beyond sea by an Idæan stranger, raised in arms the whole power of Greece to recover her. Scarcely do I remember the time; yet, young as I was, I remember it: all appeared full of grief; all discovered manifest tokens of anxiety and concern. My grandfather wept, as did also her sister and twin brothers: Leda called on the heavenly powers and her own Jove. I myself with tresses torn, which even yet are not long, complained in a mournful voice; Alas, mother, are you gone without me? have you left me behind? for Menelaus was absent. Lo I too, that I might not belie the race of Pelops, am made the prey of hated Neoptolemus. Oh that Achilles had escaped the arrows of Apollo! he would doubtless have condemned the insolence of his son. He neither approved formerly, nor now would have approved, that a forsaken husband should lament the rape of his spouse. What crime of mine has raised

the indignation of the Gods? Unhappy that I am! What ominous star obstructs my felicity? I was deprived of my mother in my earliest youth; my father was engaged in a foreign war; thus, though both were alive, I was destitute of both. I did not, O my mother, in my younger days fondle and flatter you with my prattling tongue; I caught you not round the neck with my infant arms, nor sat, a pleasing load, upon your knee. You had no care of my education, nor was I led by you to the nuptial bed. I came out to meet you at your return, and, to own the truth, I could not distinguish my mother's face. I only fancied you to be Helen, because you were the most beautiful; nor did you know, before a friend informed you, which was your daughter. My only good fortune was the having Orestes for my husband; and he too will be lost, unless he should maintain his right by arms. Pyrrhus hath obtained me from my victorious father; it is all I have gained

by the fall of Troy. When the sun in his resplendent chariot mounts the mid heaven, my misfortunes then suffer some remission; but, when night conceals me in my chambers, howling and heaving bitter groans, and I have thrown myself upon my mournful couch; instead of being closed by sleep, my eyes overflow with tears, and I shun my husband when I can, as I would an enemy. Oft rendered insensible by my misfortunes, and unmindful of the place and persons, I am apt to stretch over Pyrrhus my unwary hand. But as soon as I recollect my error, I start from the hated touch, and think my hands polluted. Oft, instead of Pyrrhus, the name of my Orestes escapes me, and I am glad to interpret the mistake as a good omen. I swear by our unhappy race and its almighty sire, who shakes the earth and seas and heaven by his nod; by the bones of your father, my uncle, which, bravely revenged by your hand, now rest in a peaceful urn: I will either prematurely die, and be extinguished in my early youth, or, as I am a descendant of Tantalus, be married to one of my own race.

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  • Commentary references to this page (4):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Electra, 1233
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.243
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.509
    • Charles Simmons, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Books XIII and XIV, 13.804
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