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Phaedra

Phaedra
Women of Trozen, dwellers in this extreme forecourt to the land of Pelops, [375] I have pondered before now in other circumstances in the night's long watches how it is that the lives of mortals are in ruins. I think that it is not owing to the nature of their wits that they fare worse than they might, since many people possess good sense. Rather, one must look at it this way: [380] we know and understand what is noble but do not bring it to completion. Some fail from laziness, others because they give precedence to some other pleasure than being honorable. Life's pleasures are many, long leisurely talks—a pleasant evil— [385] and the sense of awe. Yet they are of two sorts,1 one pleasure being no bad thing, another a burden upon houses. If propriety were always clear, there would not be two things designated by the same letters. Since these are the views I happen to have arrived at beforehand, there is no drug could make me [390] pervert them and reverse my opinion.

I shall tell you also the road my thoughts took. When love wounded me, I considered how I might bear it most creditably. My starting point was this, to conceal my malady with silence. [395] For the tongue is not to be trusted: it knows well how to admonish the thoughts of others but gets from itself a great deal of trouble. My second intention was to bear this madness nobly, overcoming it by means of self-control. [400] But third, when with these means I was unable to master Aphrodite, I resolved on death, the best of plans, as no one shall deny. For just as I would not have my good deeds unknown, so may I not have a throng of witnesses to my shameful ones. [405] I knew that both the deed and the passionate longing for it were discreditable, knew besides that I was a woman, a thing all men hate. Damnation take the woman who first began to besmirch her marriage-bed [410] with other men! This contagion began for the female sex with the nobility. For when those of high position resolve on dishonorable acts, surely the lowly will regard them as noble. But I also hate women who are chaste in word but in secret possess an ignoble daring. [415] How, o Aphrodite, Lady of the Sea, how can these women look into the faces of their husbands? How do they not fear that the darkness, their accomplice, and the timbers of the house will break into speech?

1 Others take the subject here to be two kinds of ‘awe’ or ‘shame’. For a summary of other views and a defense of the translation above, see AJP 101 (1980) 287-303.

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