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HERMIONE ORESTAE

Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helena, was, in the absence of her father, who had engaged in the Trojan war, betrothed to Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, by Tyndareus, her grandfather by the mother's side; to whom Menelaus had committed the care of his family in his absence. Menelaus, in the mean time, ignorant of what had been done by Tyndareus, had promised his daughter to Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, who, by virtue of this, claimed her at his return from Troy, and carried her away by force. But Hermione, averse to an union with Pyrrhus, and passionately fond of Orestes, admonishes him by a messenger, that she might easily be recovered out of the hands of Pyrrhus. Orestes readily took the hint. Having revenged his father's death, by killing Aegisthus and his mother, he slew Pyrrhus in the temple of Apollo, and brought back his Hermione.

Homer Od. 4.12-14, Pausanias 1.33.8, and Apollodorus 3.11.1 mention Hermione. Euripides gives a somewhat different version in his Orestes, though Orestes and Hermione do end up betrothed (cf. 1653-1655).

Alloquor. Almost all manuscripts agree in rejecting this first couplet as spurious, which is the reason of its being omitted in some editions.

[2] Fratrem; 'my cousin:' so the ancients were wont to speak. Orestes was son to Agamemnon, the brother of Menelaus, the father of Hermione.

Alter; Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, to whom she had been promised by her father, before his return from Troy.

[3] Animosus imagine patris; viz. bold and courageous, as his father Achilles had been. Thus Virgil says, “Instat vi patria Pyrrhus.

[5] Ne non. The negative ne is, in this passage, incorrectly put for the affirmative ut, which would not suit the measure.

[7] aeacide; Pyrrhus is so called from his great-grandfather; for aeacus, the son of Jupiter, was the father of Peleus, of whom Achilles was the son.

[9] Nomen Orestae. Hermione here uses great artifice to move Orestes. She not only loved him, but had the boldness to own it before Pyrrhus, and to declare that she depended upon him for redress.

[13] Andromachen. Andromache was the wife of Hector; who, falling to the share of Pyrrhus, after the overthrow of Troy, was by him carried captive into Epirus, and given in marriage to Helenus, one of the sons of Priam, on whom he bestowed a part of his kingdom. It is with reason, therefore, that Hermione complains, that even Andromache met with better usage than she received.

Achaïa. Greece. This was the name of a particular region of Peloponnesus; was sometimes used for the whole peninsula; and is often taken for Greece in general, as in the present verse.

[16] Iniice; a law term; for iniicere manus signified To recover forcibly one's right, without recourse to authority.

[27] Quid, quòd. She is here using her best arguments, to persuade Orestes to attempt her rescue. Among others, she urges him from the motive of consanguinity; for they were both of the same race. Pelops, the son of Tantalus, was father to Atreus, Plisthenes, and Thyestes. Plisthenes begot Agamemnon and Menelaus. Agamemnon was the father of Orestes, and Menelaus of Hermione. Thyestes begot Aegisthus, who, having seduced Clytemnestra, while her husband Agamemnon was engaged in the Trojan war, did, upon his return, in conjunction with the adulteress, cruelly murder him.

[31] Tyndareus; the father of Helen, who was mother to Hermione.

[41] Tu mihi, quod matri pater, es. The meaning is; As my father was lawful husband to my mother Helen, so are you to me; and as Paris was no lawful husband to my mother, but a ravisher, so Pyrrhus acts the same part to me, in detaining me thus unjustly from Orestes, my true and only spouse.

[45] Tantalides; Agamemnon, the great-grandson of Tantalus. He was chosen generalissimo of the Grecian troops at the Trojan war, and, of consequence, had authority over Achilles himself, in whose actions and bravery Pyrrhus gloried so much.

[46] Hic. Achilles was no more than one of those leaders who were under the command of Agamemnon, captain-general over all the kings.

[49] Arma invidiosa; as if she had said, Tametsi laudes tuae non praedicentur, non ideo tamen virtute cares: sed infeliciter arma tulisti invidiosa. 'Though your virtues are not publicly known, you are not therefore destitute of such; but have unhappily taken up arms in an ungrateful cause.' She speaks thus, because he had killed his mother Clytemuestra, in revenge of his father, whom she had murdered in conjunction with his kinsman Aegisthus. But Hermione industriously dissembles this horrid revenge, and mentions only Aegisthus, who had seduced Clytemnestra.

[50] Induit illa pater. This is undoubtedly the true reading; though some editions have patrem. Thus we find,

Induit arma tibi genitor patriaeque tuusque.

Pater, in this place, signifies the same as Pietas erga patrem; paternal piety; a just resentment of the death of a father.

[52] This implies an excuse of the deed, as what was not voluntary, but the effect of necessity and constraint.

[55] Laudemque in crimina vertit; that is, 'He endeavours to blacken an action, which, examined with candor, must turn to your praise; as you were solely guided in it by filial piety.'

[56] Et tamen. 'He yet dares to look me in the face.' We must suppose this to be said in indignation; either at the confidence of Pyrrhus, in reproaching, to her face, the man whom he knew she loved; or the tameness of Orestes, in thus quietly leaving her to the insults of a rival. I have chosen to follow the former sense, as more natural, and agreeable to the tenor of the words.

[57] Rumpor. I am pierced with grief, because unable to revenge the injury offered either to you, or myself.

[59] Quicquamne. Some editions have quisquamne. The sense, in either way, is the same. Hermione indignantly complains of the boldness of Pyrrhus, who could speak reproachfully of Orestes in her presence.

[63] Has solas habeo semper, semperque, &c. Nothing can be more affecting than this part of her letter. 'Tears are now my only refuge; these are always at command, and these I shed in great abundance.' The thought is also natural and just. Women, when other methods of anger and revenge fail, usually have recourse to tears.

[67] Non ego. This is a kind of rhetorical artifice, to tell a thing by the manner of declining it. She here touches upon the story of Leda, her grandmother by the mother's side. Jupiter enjoyed her in the shape of a swan. Upon this, Leda had two eggs: from one came Pollux and Helen, from the other Castor and Clytemnestra.

[69] Isthmos. An isthmus is, properly, a narrow space between two seas. This is the isthmus of Corinth, near which lived oenomaus, king of Elis and Pisa, and father to Hippodamia. She being solicited in marriage by mans, who admired her great beauty, her father proposed this law to the suitors, that they should contend with her in a chariot race. If they should be overcome, they must lose their lives; but whoever proved victorious was to have her for the prize.

[70] Peregrinis rotis; 'in the car of Pelops,' who obtained the victory by corrupting Myrtilus, the charioteer of oenomaus, and had Hippodamia for a reward, according to the engagement of her father.

Hippodamia. Commentators are at a loss to account how Leda and Hippodamia can with any propriety be introduced among those whom a little before she calls Matres Tantalides. But this difficulty may be easily obviated. Hippodamia is so called, because she was wife to Pelops the son of Tantalus, and a mother to his race; Leda for a like reason.

[71] Castori Amyclaeo; Castor was the son of Jupiter, or rather of Tyndareus, and brother to Helen and Pollux. He is here called Amyclaeus, from Amyclae, a city of Laconia, the place of his birth.

[72] Mopsopiâ urbe; a Mopsopian or Attic city; for Attica, as Strabo informs us, was called Mopsopia from one of its kings. The urbs Mopsopia must be understood of Aphidna, where Theseus carried her, after he had stolen her away.

Taeuaris soror; Helen, so called from a promontory in Peloponnesus. Some think that instead of Taenaris we ought to read Tyndaris, from Tyndareus.

[77] Flebat arus, Phoebeque soror. Several editions have Flebat avus, flebatque soror; but Heinsius, from Euripides, prefers the other, being supported by the authority of some manuscripts of the best note.

[82] Neoptolemo. She means Pyrrhus, who obtained this surname at the Trojan war.

[83] Apollinis arcus. The brave and heroic spirit of Achilles would have highly blamed an action so base; and had he been alive, he would probably have done her justice. She mentions the arrows of Apollo, not from supposing that Achilles was actually slain by that God, but because he fell in the temple of Apollo by the hand of Paris, who wounded him with a javelin, in the heel, in which part alone he was capable of being hurt.

Dardana qui Paridis direxti tela manusque
Corpus in aeacidae.

[85] Nec quondam placuit, &c. For Achilles, when Briseis was unjustly taken from him by Agamemnon, carried his resentment so far, that he refused tojoin with his countrymen in prosecuting the Trojan war, and actually withdrew his troops from the Grecian camp, to which he could not be prevailed upon to return, till Briseis was restored, and full reparation made for the injury offered to him. Hermione, by this, artfully intimates to Orestes, that he ought to imitate the example of Achilles, and act with the same firmness and resolution.

[88] Quod mihi vae miserae. Some editions have Quodve mihi miserae; and both readings may be supported by plausible pretences. However, the former seems to have the better claim to reception, as it comes nearer to Ovid's usual way of expressing himself. Thus, in the Epistle of Briseis, the heroine says, “Hic mihi vae miserae concutit ossa metus.

And Cydippe exclaims, “At mihi vae miserae torrentur febribus artus.

[91] Non tibi. She here complains that she was deprived of all those pleasures, which others are accustomed to enjoy in infancy, when they give pleasure to their parents, and are in return caressed by them.

[101] Pars haec una mihi. Hermione, after giving a detail of her disasters, observes, that there was one point in which she accounted herself happy, and that was the being espoused to Orestes; and yet even here, as if the Fates had decreed that her life should be uniform, she was like to meet with strong opposition; nor could Orestes in any other way maintain his right to her, but by the sword.

[104] Munus et hoc nobis. Copies very much vary in their manner of reading this line. In some we read, “Et minus ah nobis diruta Troja fuit.

'Better had it been for me, if Troy had not been destroyed.' This sense is pertinent, and agreeable to Ovid's manner; for we find a complaint of much the same kind in the Epistle of Penelope to Ulysses.

[105] Cùm tamen. She here mentions the nature of her grief, which, though such as to lie heavy upon her at all times, yet was most sensible during the night. For then she wept incessantly, the images of her distress being renewed, and affecting her more strongly.

[112] Scyria membra. This is spoken in a way of contempt; for Pyrrhus was begotten in the isle of Scyros, while Achilles lurked in female apparel among the daughters of Lycomedes, that he might avoid going to the Trojan war, whence it was said he would never return.

[117] Per genus infelix. That family was remarkable for rapes, blood, and slaughter; insomuch, that the writers of tragedy very frequently took their subjects from it.

[122] Tantalidae; that is, Of you, Orestes, who are also of the race of Tantalus. Hermione obtained her wish; for Orestes, having slain Pyrrhus in the temple of Apollo, was married to her, and had a son by her.

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hide References (6 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (6):
    • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library, 3.11.1
    • Euripides, Orestes, 1654
    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.12
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.33.8
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.57
    • Ovid, Ars Amatoria, 1
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