Aeschylus, Agamemnon (English) (XML Header) [genre: poetry; drama; tragedy] [word count] [Aesch. Ag.].
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Upon the roof of the palace of Agamemnon at Argos

Watchman 1Release from this weary task of mine has been my plea to the gods throughout this long year's watch, in which, lying upon the palace roof of the Atreidae, upon my bent arm, like a dog, I have learned to know well the gathering of the night's stars, those radiant potentates conspicuous in the firmament, 5bringers of winter and summer to mankind [the constellations, when they rise and set].

So now I am still watching for the signal-flame, the gleaming fire that is to bring news from Troy and 10tidings of its capture. For thus commands my queen, woman in passionate heart and man in strength of purpose. And whenever I make here my bed, restless and dank with dew and unvisited by dreams—for instead of sleep fear stands ever by my side, 15so that I cannot close my eyelids fast in sleep—and whenever I care to sing or hum (and thus apply an antidote of song to ward off drowsiness), then my tears start forth, as I bewail the fortunes of this house of ours, not ordered for the best as in days gone by. 20But tonight may there come a happy release from my weary task! May the fire with its glad tidings flash through the gloom!

The signal fire suddenly flashes outOh welcome, you blaze in the night, a light as if of day, you harbinger of many a choral dance in Argos in thanksgiving for this glad event!

25Hallo! Hallo! To Agamemnon's queen I thus cry aloud the signal to rise from her bed, and as quickly as she can to lift up in her palace halls a shout of joy in welcome of this fire, if the city of Ilium 30truly is taken, as this beacon unmistakably announces. And I will make an overture with a dance upon my own account; for my lord's lucky roll I shall count to my own score, now that this beacon has thrown me triple six.

Ah well, may the master of the house come home and may 35I clasp his welcome hand in mine! For the rest I stay silent; a great ox stands upon my tongue [Note]—yet the house itself, could it but speak, might tell a plain enough tale; since, for my part, by my own choice I have words for those who know, and to those who do not know, I've lost my memory.He descends by an inner stairway; attendants kindle fires at the altars placed in front of the palace. Enter the chorus of Argive Elders

Chorus 40This is now the tenth year since Priam's mighty adversary, king Menelaus, and with him king Agamemnon, the mighty pair of Atreus' sons, joined in honor of throne and sceptre by Zeus, 45set forth from this land with an army of a thousand ships manned by Argives, a warrior force to champion their cause. Loud rang the battle-cry they uttered in their rage, just as eagles scream which, 50in lonely grief for their brood, rowing with the oars of their wings, wheel high over their bed, because they have lost the toil of guarding their nurslings' nest.

55But some one of the powers supreme—Apollo perhaps or Pan, or Zeus—hears the shrill wailing scream of the clamorous birds, these sojourners in his realm, and against the transgressors sends vengeance at last though late. 60Even so Zeus, whose power is over all, Zeus, lord of host and guest, sends against Alexander the sons of Atreus, that for the sake of a woman with many husbands [Note]he may inflict many and wearying struggles (when the knee is pressed in the dust and 65the spear is splintered in the onset) on Danaans and on Trojans alike.

The case now stands where it stands—it moves to fulfilment at its destined end. Not by offerings burned in secret, not by secret libations, 70not by tears, shall man soften the stubborn wrath of unsanctified sacrifices. [Note]

But we, incapable of service by reason of our aged frame, discarded from that martial mustering of long ago, wait here at home, 75supporting on our canes a strength like a child's. For just as the vigor of youth, leaping up within the breast, is like that of old age, since the war-god is not in his place; so extreme age, its leaves 80already withering, goes its way on triple feet, and, no better than a child, wanders, a dream that is dreamed by day.

But, O daughter of Tyndareos, Queen Clytaemestra, 85what has happened? What news do you have? On what intelligence and convinced by what report do you send about your messengers to command sacrifice? For all the gods our city worships, the gods supreme, the gods below, 90the gods of the heavens and of the marketplace, have their altars ablaze with offerings. Now here, now there, the flames rise high as heaven, yielding 95to the soft and guileless persuasion of holy ointment, the sacrificial oil itself brought from the inner chambers of the palace. Of all this declare whatever you can and dare reveal, and be a healer of my uneasy heart. 100This now at one moment bodes ill, while then again hope, shining with kindly light from the sacrifices, wards off the biting care of the sorrow that gnaws my heart.

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Aeschylus, Agamemnon (English) (XML Header) [genre: poetry; drama; tragedy] [word count] [Aesch. Ag.].
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