HECUBA TRANSFORMEDThe conqueror, Ulysses, now set sail,
for Lemnos, country of Hypsipyle,
and for the land of Thoas, famed afar,
those regions infamous in olden days,
where women slew their husbands. So he went
that he might capture and bring back with him
the arrows of brave Hercules. When these
were given back to the Greeks, their lord with them,
a final hand at last prevailed to end
that long fought war. Both Troy and Priam fell,
and Priam's wretched wife lost all she had,
until at last she lost her human form.
Her savage barkings frightened foreign lands,
where the long Hellespont is narrowed down.
Great Troy was burning: while the fire still raged,
Jove's altar drank old Priam's scanty blood.
The priestess of Apollo then, alas!
Was dragged by her long hair, while up towards heaven
she lifted supplicating hands in vain.
The Trojan matrons, clinging while they could
to burning temples and ancestral gods,
victorious Greeks drag off as welcome spoil.
Astyanax was hurled down from the very tower
from which he often had looked forth and seen
his father, by his mother pointed out,
when Hector fought for honor and his country's weal.
Now Boreas counsels to depart. The sails,
moved by a prosperous breeze, resound and wave—
the Trojan women cry,—“Farewell to Troy!
Ah, we are hurried off! ” and, falling down,
they kiss the soil, and leave the smoking roofs
of their loved native land. The last to go
on board the fleet was Hecuba, a sight
most pitiful. She was found among the tombs
of her lost sons. While she embraced each urn
and fondly kissed their bones, Ulysses came
with ruthless hands and bore her off, his prize
she in her bosom took away the urn
of Hector only, and upon his grave
she left some white hair taken from her head,
a meager gift, her white hair and her tears.
Across the strait from Troy, there is a land
claimed by Bistonian men, and in that land
was a rich palace, built there by a king
named Polymnestor. To him the Phrygian king
in secret gave his youngest son to rear,
his Polydorus, safe from Troy and war,
a prudent course, if he had not sent gold
arousing greed, incitement to a crime.
Soon, when the fortunes of the Trojans fell,
that wicked king of Thrace took his own sword,
and pierced the throat of his poor foster son
and then, as if the deed could be concealed,
if he removed the body, hurled the boy
from a wild cliff into the waves below.
Until the sea might be more calm, and gales
of wind might be subdued, Atrides moored
his fleet of ships upon the Thracian shore;
there, from wide gaping earth, Achilles rose,
as large as when he lived, with look as fierce,
as when his sword once threatened Agamemnon.
“Forgetting me do you depart, O Greeks?”
He said, “And is your grateful! memory
of all my worth interred with my bones?
Do not do so. And that my sepulchre
may have due worship, let Polyxena
be immolated to appease the ghost:
of dead Achilles.” Fiercely so he spoke.
The old friends of Achilles all obeyed
his unforgiving shade; and instantly
the noble and unhappy virgin—brave,
more like a man than woman—was torn from
her mother's bosom, cherished more by her,
since widowed and alone. And then they led
the virgin as a sacrifice from there
up to the cruel altar. When the maid
observed the savage rites prepared for her,
and when she noticed Neoptolemus
stand by her with his cruel sword in hand,
his fixed eyes on her countenance; she said:—
“Do not delay my generous gift of blood,
with no resistance thrust the ready steel
into my throat or breast!” And then she laid
both throat and bosom bare. “Polyxena
would never wish to live in slavery.
And such rites win no favor from a god.
Only I fondly wish my mother might
not know that I have died. My love of her
takes from my joy in death and gives me fear.
Not my death truly, but her own sad life
should be the most lamented in her tears.
Now let your men stand back, that I may go
with dignity down to the Stygian shades,
and, if my plea is just, let no man's hand
touch my pure virgin body. A nobler gift
to him, whoever he may be, whom you
desire to placate with my death today,
shall be a free maid's blood. But, if my words—
my parting wish, has power to touch your hearts,
(King Priam's daughter, not a captive, pleads)
freely return my body to my mother,
let her not pay with gold for the sad right
to bury me—but only with her tears!
Yes, when she could, she also paid with gold.”
After she said these words, the people could
no more restrain their tears; but no one saw
her shed one tear. Even the priest himself,
reluctantly and weeping, drove the steel
into her proffered breast. On failing knees
she sank down to the earth; but still maintained
a countenance undaunted to the last:
and, even unto death, it was her care
to cover all that ought to be concealed,
and save the value of chaste modesty.
The Trojan matrons took her and recalled,
lamenting, all the sons of Priam dead,
the wealth of blood one house had shed for all.
And they bewailed the chaste Polyxena
and you, her mother, only lately called
a royal mother and a royal wife,—
the soul of Asia's fair prosperity,;
now lowest fallen in all the wreck of Troy.
The conquering Ulysses only claimed
her his because she had brought Hector forth:
and Hector hardly found a master for
his mother. She continued to embrace
the body of a soul so brave, and shed
her tears, as she had shed them often before
for country lost, for sons, for royal mate.
She bathed her daughter's wounds with tears and kissed
them with her lips and once more beat her breast.
Her white hair streamed down in the clotting blood,
she tore her breast, and this and more she said: