Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
 
Poems of Tragedy: I. Greece
The Sacrifice of Polyxena
Euripides (c. 480–406 B.C.)
 
 
From the Greek by John Addington Symonds

From “Hecuba”
  
  [It had been determined by the victorious Greeks to sacrifice Polyxena, the daughter of Priam, King of Ilium, and his wife Hecuba, on the tomb of the slain Achilleus. Odysseus, sent by the Greeks to fetch the maiden, turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of the mother, and Polyxena herself addresses the Greek:]

“I SEE thee, how beneath thy robe, O King,
Thy hand is hidden, thy face turned from mine,
Lest I should touch thee by the beard and pray:
Fear not: thou hast escaped the god of prayers
For my part. I will rise and follow thee,        5
Driven by strong need; yea, and not loth to die.
Lo! if I should not seek death, I were found
A cowardly, life-loving, selfish soul!
For why should I live? Was my sire not King
Of all broad Phrygia? Thus my life began;        10
Then I was nurtured on fair bloom of hope
To be the bride of kings; no small the suit,
I ween, of lovers seeking me: thus I
Was once—ah, woe is me! of Idan dames
Mistress and queen, ’mid maidens like a star        15
Conspicuous, peer of gods, except for death;
And now I am a slave: this name alone
Makes me in love with death—so strange it is.”
 
   [Later in the drama follows the account of the heroic death of Polyxena, described to the unhappy Hecuba by the herald Talthybius.]

“THE WHOLE vast concourse of the Achaian host
Stood round the tomb to see your daughter die.        20
Achilleus’ son, taking her by the hand,
Placed her upon the mound, and I stayed near;
And youths, the flower of Greece, a chosen few,
With hands to check thy heifer, should she bound,
Attended. From a cup of carven gold,        25
Raised full of wine, Achilleus’ son poured forth
Libation to his sire, and bade me sound
Silence throughout the whole Achaian host.
I, standing there, cried in the midst these words:—
‘Silence, Achaians! let the host be still!        30
Hush, hold your voices!’ Breathless stayed the crowd;
But he:—‘O son of Peleus, father mine,
Take these libations pleasant to thy soul,
Draughts that allure the dead: come, drink the black
Pure maiden’s blood wherewith the host and I        35
Sue thee: be kindly to us; loose our prows.
And let our barks go free; give safe return
Homeward from Troy to all, and happy voyage.’
Such words he spake, and the crowd prayed assent.
Then from the scabbard, by its golden hilt,        40
He drew the sword, and to the chosen youths
Signalled that they should bring the maid; but she,
Knowing her hour was come, spake thus, and said:
‘O men of Argos, who have sacked my town,
Lo, of free will I die! Let no man touch        45
My body: boldly will I stretch my throat.
Nay, but I pray you set me free, then slay;
That free I thus may perish: ’mong the dead,
Being a queen, I blush to be called slave.’
The people shouted, and King Agamemnon        50
Bade the youths loose the maid, and set her free;
She, when she heard the order of the chiefs,
Seizing her mantle, from the shoulder down
To the soft centre of her snowy waist
Tore it, and showed her breasts and bosom fair        55
As in a statue. Bending then with knee
On earth, she spake a speech most piteous:—
‘See you this breast, O youth? If breast you will,
Strike it; take heart: or if beneath my neck,
Lo! here my throat is ready for your sword!’        60
He, willing not, yet willing,—pity-stirred
In sorrow for the maiden,—with his blade
Severed the channels of her breath: blood flowed;
And she, though dying, still had thought to fall
In seemly wise, hiding what eyes should see not.        65
But when she breathed her life out from the blow,
Then was the Argive host in divers way
Of service parted; for some, bringing leaves,
Strewed them upon the corpse; some piled a pyre,
Dragging pine trunks and boughs; and he who bore none,        70
Heard from the bearers many a bitter word:—
‘Standest thou, villain? hast thou then no robe,
No funeral honors for the maid to bring?
Wilt thou not go and get for her who died
Most nobly, bravest-souled, some gift?’ Thus they        75
Spake of thy child in death:—O thou most blessed
Of women in thy daughter, most undone!”
 
 
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