First Act — First Scene
Hippolytus. — It is decreed — I go, Theramenes!
I separate from beautiful Troezen;
I cannot bear to tarry idle longer,
In those dark doubts, that sorely harass me.
Six moons have waned now since my father left;
And still no tidings have been borne of him —
Naught of the spot that hideth his dear head.
Theramenes. — And where, O Prince, wilt thou to seek him go?
To give thee peace, already I have crossed
Both the seas that lave the Isthmus’ shores!
For Theseus I asked, upon the shore
Where Acheron disappear’d in rayless gloom;
Elis have I searched through, then Taenaros
As I returned; yea, even on the sea
Have I been driven, to which Icarus
Gave its name. — What hopest thou, then, farther?
In what happy zone of heavenly calm
Dost thou think traces of him now to find?
Yea, how know we, whether the King doth not
His sojourn purposely from us conceal,
And thus, while we are trembling for his life,
May he not in the bonds of new found love delight?
Hip. — Stop, friend, and speak with reverence of the King!
An unworthy cause does not delay him;
He has renounced the wildness of his youth;
Phèdre has fettered his erst fickle mind,
And never need she fear a rival more.
Enough, I seek him, I perform my duty,
And flee this spot, that so disquieteth me.
Ther. — How, Prince, since what hour fearest thou danger
In this peaceful land, that to thy childhood
Was so dear, to which thou camest gladly
When thou fleddest from tumultuous Athens!
What can threaten thee or sicken here?
Hip. — Friend, those blest days have now for ever fled;
All wears a wholly different aspect now,
Since here the mighty Gods sent unto us
The daughter of Minos and Pasiphæ.
Ther. — Prince, I comprehend, I feel what pains thee.
Thy grief is that thou seest Phèdre here;
Stepmother in her hate, scarce had she seen
Thee, when she sought how she might work thee ill;
Her first work was to have thee banished.
But this great hate, that she has sworn to thee,
Is now much lessened, if not wholly dead.
And what evil can a woman bring thee,
Who is dying and is resolved to die?
The wretched one who pines a hapless prey
To some deep woe, she obstinately hides;
She is weary of the light and of her life;
How can she then work mischief unto thee?
Hip. — It is not her powerless hate I fear,
From a far different foe would I fain flee:
I now confess it is Aricia,
The last one left of that unhappy race,
Who endless enmity against us swore.
Ther. — Wouldst thou too persecute her, Prince? The fair
Sister of the wild Pallantides, has she
Ever shar’d the dark mutiny of her race?
And canst thou the guiltless fair one hate?
Hip. — If I hated her, I would not flee her.
Ther. — Prince, dare I venture to explain thy flight?
Thou art, mayhap, the strong Hippolytus
No more; the fearless foe of all-subduing love,
The courageous despiser of a yoke
Beneath which Theseus oft so gladly bent?
Has Venus, now so long of thee disdained,
Redeemed thy father’s honour from thy scorn?
She has placed thee in the list of those
Who worship her, with costly offerings,
— Prince, thou lovest?
Hip. — Friend, what speech holdest thou?
Thou, who hast known each thought since I drew breath,
Demandest thou that I disown the noble pride
Which has been ever known to my free heart?
Not only from the Amazonian breast
Of her who bore me, drew I in this pride;
But I, myself, so soon as conscious grown,
Strengthen’d the noble impulse of my mind.
Thou wert the friend, the guider of my youth;
Oft spak’st thou to me of my father’s deeds;
Thou knowest how I listen’d, how my heart
Beat at the mention of his noble acts —
When thou describ’st to me the fearless hero,
How to the world he stood in place of Hercules,
Warring with dreaded monsters, smiting robbers;
How he struck down Procrustes, Sinnis slew,
Wrested from Periphetes his great club,
Conquered Cercyon, and with the blood
Of the fierce Minotaur dyed Creta’s soil.
But when thou spakest of his lesser glories,
The lightly-spoken oaths of changing love,
The faith, so often praised, so often broken —
When Spartan Helen thou didst name to me,
Torn from her own away, — Periboa
Left at Salamin in her heavy grief, —
And all who, without number, were betrayed,
Who to his vows too easily gave heed,
Whose very names by him were all forgotten —
Ariadne, who to the deaf sea shore
Bewailed her wrong; and her sister, Phèdre,
Like her, too, wronged, yet happier than her —
Thou knowest how painful the recitals were
For me to hear, how glad when they were ended!
How earnestly I wished, such a grand life
Had been free from all less glorious deeds!
And shall I see myself now fettered fast?
A God has willed I should so deeply fall!
I, whom no foe yet slain has clothed with honour,
Who with no noble and heroic deeds
Have won the right, like Theseus, to be weak!
And must this haughty heart so deeply feel?
Must it be Aricia that conquers me?
Forgot I wholly, in my blissful dream,
The eternal obstacle that severs us?
Is she not guarded by my father? A stern decree
Forbids me from reviving, ever more,
The race of the fierce hating Pallantides.
In her shall it be utterly annulled.
Under control must she remain till death.
Never may Hymen’s torch be lit for her?
Dare I defy my father, and demand
Of him her hand, and all her ancient rights?
To such folly has youth urged me on —
Ther. — Ah, Prince, when thine hour came there was no God
To ask as to thy state! Theseus himself
But made the glance more keen he fain would seal;
The heart rebels against all force, his hate
But clothed the lov’d one with supremer charms.
Why should tender love, which brings great joy,
Affright thee? Dost envy to thyself the bliss?
Vanquish the shy fear! Can one go astray
Following the path that Hercules trod?
What haughty hearts ere this has Venus tamed!
Thou thyself, who striv’st against her might,
Where wert thou, if the Goddess’ pow’r had been
By Antiope through all time withstood,
Nor ever felt the tender flame of love?
But, Prince, why make parade with idle words?
Admit thou art thy former self no more!
Long since much seldomer than of yore hast thou,
Proud and unbending, guided thy chariot,
And taken part in Neptune’s noble art,
And curbed the wild steed with a mighty hand.
Much seldomer resoundeth wood and vale
With our cries in the chase. A hidden grief
Has overcast thy strong and fearless brow.
Yes, yes, thou lovest, thou art sick from love,
A fire consumes thee, which thou fain wouldst hide!
Admit, thou lovest Aricia!
Hip. — I — depart
To seek out my father, Theramenes!
Ther. — Prince, wilt thou not see Phèdre ere thou goest?
Hip. — Such is my purpose. Bring her these tidings.
Let us seek her at the decree of duty.
Phèdre. — Œnone, we go not further; let us rest.
I can no longer stand, my strength has fled;
I am pain’d by the unwonted light of day;
My knees begin to tremble under me.
Œnone. — O mighty Gods, behold our bitter tears!
Phèdre. — How I am burdened with this heavy veil
In empty pomp! What unbidden hand
Hath, with such artfulness, entwined my hair,
With thankless trouble in those heavy coils
Upon my brow? Must all and each conspire
To sicken, to torment me, endlessly?
Œnone. — Thus is she ever with herself at strife!
It was thyself, O Queen, bethink thee now,
Who, in striving to recall thy sadness,
Quickened our willing hands to deck thee thus,
To gaze upon the light of the great sun —
Thou seest it now, only to hate its gleam.
Phèdre. — Radiant founder of my hapless race!
Thou, whom it was my pride to name grandsire!
Who now, mayhap, doth look with utter shame
Upon my error — O mighty Sungod,
For the last time I see thy genial rays.
Œnone. — Woe me, O Queen, why dost thou cherish thus
The woful purpose of renouncing life?
Phèdre (in a reverie). — O that I sat without in the green woods!—
When will mine eyes upon the dusty path
Follow the course of his fast-fleeting chariot?
Œnone. — How, Queen? What dost thou say?
Phèdre. Ah, I am
Sunk in thought. What have I said, Œnone?
I know not what I wish, or what I say;
By a God have I been robbed of reason —
Feel, how my cheeks are burning now, Œnone!
I betray my weakness to thee too much,
And against my will my tears burst forth.
Œnone. — If thou must blush, blush at thy guilty silence,
At thy immovable, strange concealment,
Which lends barbèd arrows to thy secret grief.
Wilt thou, unmovèd by our strong entreaties,
Obstinately thrust all help away from thee,
And suffer thy life helplessly to decay?
What madness thus before its time has set
An early mark? What strange and deadly charm,
What secret poison worketh thee such torment?
Three times has night darkened the great sky,
Since slumber on thy weary eyelids sank,
And three times has light chased night away,
Since without nourishment, thy body pines.
To what awful resolve dost thou give room?
Darest thou purpose to destroy thyself?
That were defiance to the Gods, treachery
To thy Consort to whom thy faith is sworn,
Treachery to thy children, the guiltless souls
Whom thou wouldst thus condemn to slavery’s yoke.
The day that seeth them bereft of thee,
Think of it, Queen, gives back his hopes again
Unto the son of her, the Amazon,
Unto the haughty foe of all thy race,
Unto the stranger, to this Hippolytus——
Phèdre. — Ye Gods!
Œnone. — Rouseth the truth of this reproach thy heart?
Phèdre. — Unhappy one! whom didst thou mention now?
Œnone. — Rightly art thou thus moved. I rejoice
That this hated name enrageth thee!
Therefore, live! Let love, let duty prevail
With thee! Live! Suffer not this Scythian
To bind thy children with the hated yoke!
The barbarian to rule the noblest
Blood of Greece. But haste thee now, each moment
That thou delayest, brings thee nearer death —
Wait no longer, to quicken failing nature,
While the flame of love still strengtheneth thee —
Which is anew enkindled in thy heart.
Phèdre. — I have cherished a guilty life too long.
Œnone. — Does thy heart charge thee with some hidden guilt?
Is it a crime that agonizes thee?
Have thy hands been stained with guiltless blood?
Phèdre. — My hands are pure. Would that my heart were so!
Œnone. — And what atrocity lives in thy heart,
That thou art thus so strangely horrified?
Phèdre. — I have said enough. O spare me! I die
To conceal from all the unblessed truth!
Œnone. — Then die! Continue thy defiant silence!
But seek thou another hand to close
Thine eyes in death! Mayhap thy life
Will not have flitted from thy whit’ning lips,
Ere I in death before thee pass away.
Thereto a thousand paths lead weary man;
My grief will choose the speediest way to flee.
Cruel one, when did I betray thy trust?
Forgettest thou who tended thee in childhood?
Who for thy sake left friends, left fatherland
And child? And thou rewardest thus my love!
Phèdre. — What dost thou hope to gain with thy entreaties?
If I broke the silence, thou wouldst flee from me.
Œnone. — What canst thou name to me more terrible
Than thus to see thee die before mine eyes?
Phèdre. — Though thou wouldst know my wretchedness and guilt,
Thou couldst not save, but guiltier I would die.
Œone (falling before her). — By all the tears that I have shed for thee,
By thy trembling knees, which I thus clasp,
Bring my despair, my anguish, to an end!
Phèdre. — Thou willest it. Rise up.
Œnone. — O speak, I hear.
Phèdre. — Gods! what will I say to her, and how?
Œnone. — With thy doubts thou sick’nest me. End them!
Phèdre. — O heavy wrath of Venus! Mighty vengeance!
To what madness didst thou drive my mother!
Œnone. — Speak not thereof! Forgetfulness eternal
Should cover that unblessèd crime!
Phèdre. — O Ariadne, sister, what a fate
Has love prepared thee, on a barren shore!
Œnone. — What dost thou mean? What frenzy drives thee thus
To probe anew the wounds of all thy race?
Phèdre. — Thou willest it, Venus! And I, the last
Of all my kin, must now the deepest fall!
Œnone. — Thou lovest?
Phèdre. — The whole madness dwells in me.
Œnone. — Whom lovest thou?
Phèdre. — Be thou prepared for horror.
I love — my heart beats unto death; I shudder
To speak it out — I love —
Œnone. — Whom?
Phèdre. — The youth, him, whom I persecuted long,
The son of the Amazon —
Œnone. — Hippolytus? Righteous Gods!
Phèdre. — Thou namest him, not I.
Œnone. — Gods! All my blood is frozen in my veins.
O grief! O strangely criminal house
Of Minos. Unblessed, most unhappy race,
O journey thrice unblessed, that we should
Land upon this dark unhappy shore!
Phèdre. — Earlier still began my wretchedness.
Scarce was my faith plighted to Ægeus’ son,
When my joy seem’d to me so surely grounded,
My happiness so certain, then I first
Beheld my haughty foe in Athens.
I saw him, I crimsoned, my face burned
Before his glance, upon my spirit fell
Endless perplexity, before me all
Was dim, my voice died in a falt’ring sigh,
Terror and passion seized upon my mind,
I felt the violence of great Venus’ might,
And all the pangs, that, when enraged, she sends.
With pious offerings I hop’d to appease her,
I built a temple for her, costly, rare,
Hecatombs before her at my bidding fell,
In blood of beasts I sought the reason
Of which a God had robbed me. Powerless
The strife against the might of Venus! In vain
I burnt rare incense upon costly altars;
Hippolytus reigned solely in my heart,
When with my lips I to the Goddess pray’d.
I saw him above all and him alone,
When kneeling low before the smoking altar
He was the god of all my sacrifice.
What availed it, that I shunned him more
Than all — O most unhappy destiny! —
When in the father’s face I found him still?
In agony I warred against my love;
With breaking heart, I persecuted him.
A stepmother’s deep hatred I assumed,
To exile from me the beloved foe.
I rested not, till he was sent afar;
I stormed the father with unceasing prayers,
Till I had sent his son from his fond arms.
Again Œnone, I breathed in peace and freedom,
My tranquil days flew on in innocence,
My grief lay buried in my inmost heart;
Meekly subject to each wifely duty,
I tended the pledges of our hapless union!
Fruitless efforts! O fatal prank of fate!
My consort brought me here unto Troezen;
Again must I see him I banished far,
The ne’er extinguished flame burst out anew.
It is a hidden smouldering fire no more;
Venus in wrath with madness overwhelms me.
I shudder back myself from my great guilt,
I condemn myself and hate my life,
In silence I would fain go down to death,
In the deep grave my crime I would conceal —
Thy prayers constrained me and I have reveal’d
All unto thee, nor will I repent thereof
If thou henceforth thy unjust reproaches
Wilt spare the dying, nor with fruitless care
Seek to give back my life to me again.
© Catherine Martin