First of the gods I honour in my prayer is Mother Earth,
the first of the gods to prophesy, and next I praise
Tradition, second to hold her Mother’s mantic seat,
so legend says, and third by the lots of destiny,
by Tradition’s free will - no force to bear her down -
another Titan, child of the Earth, took her seat
and Phoebe passed it on as a birthday gift to Phoebus,
Phoebus a name for clear pure light derived from hers.
Leaving the marsh and razorback of Delos, landing
at Pallas’ headlands flocked by ships, here he came
to make his home Parnassus and the heights.
And an escort filled with reverence brought him on,
the highway-builders, sons of the god of fire who tamed
the savage country, civilized the wilds - on he marched
and the people lined his way to cover him with praise,
led by Delphos, lord, helm of the land, and Zeus
inspired his mind with the prophet’s skill, with godhead,
made him fourth in the dynasty of seers to mount this throne,
but it is Zeus that Apollo speaks for, Father Zeus.
These I honour in the prelude of my prayers - these gods.
But Athena at the Forefront of the Temple crowns our legends.
I revere the nymphs who keep the Corycian rock’s deep hollows,
loving haunt of birds where the spirits drift and hover.
And Great Dionysus rules the land. I never forget that day
he marshalled his wild women in arms - he was all god,
he ripped Pentheus down like a hare in the nets of doom.
And the rushing springs of Pleistos, Poseidon’s force I call,
and the king of the sky, the king of all fulfilment, Zeus.
Now the prophet goes to take her seat. God speed me -
grant me a vision greater than all my embarkations past!
Where are the Greeks among you? Draw your lots and enter.
It is the custom here. I will tell the future
only as the god will lead the way.
She goes through the doors and reappears in a moment, shaken, thrown to her knees by some terrific
terrors to tell, terrors all can see! -
they send me reeling back from Apollo’s house.
The strength drains, it’s very hard to stand,
crawling on all fours, no spring in the legs . . .
an old woman, gripped by fear, is nothing,
a child, nothing more.
Struggling to her feet, trying to compose herself.
I’m on my way to the vault,
it’s green with wreaths, and there at the Navelstone
I see a man - an abomination to god -
he holds the seat where suppliants sit for purging;
his hands dripping blood, and his sword just drawn,
and he holds a branch (it must have topped an olive)
wreathed with a fine tuft of wool, all piety,
fleece gleaming white. So far it’s clear, I tell you.
But there in a ring around the man, an amazing company -
women, sleeping, nestling against the benches . . .
Gorgons I’d call them; but then with Gorgons
you’d see the grim, inhuman . . .
I saw a picture
years ago, the creatures tearing the feast
away from Phineus -
have no wings,
I looked. But black they are, and so repulsive.
Their heavy, rasping breathing makes me cringe.
And their eyes ooze a discharge, sickening,
and what they wear - to flaunt
at the gods,
the idols, sacrilege! even in the homes of men.
The tribe that produced that brood I never saw,
or a plot of ground to boast it nursed their kind
without some tears, some pain for all its labour.
Now for the outcome. This is his concern,
Apollo the master of this house, the mighty power.
Healer, prophet, diviner of signs, he purges
the halls of others - He must purge his own.
She leaves. The doors of the temple open and reveal
prayer at the Navelstone, surrounded by the
who are sleeping.
waits in the background.
No, I will never fail you, through to the end
your guardian standing by your side or worlds away!
I will show no mercy to your enemies! Now
look at these -
these obscenities! - I’ve caught them,
beaten them down with sleep.
They disgust me.
These grey, ancient children never touched
by god, man or beast - the eternal virgins.
Born for destruction only, the dark pit,
they range the bowels of Earth, the world of death,
loathed by men and the gods who hold Olympus.
Nevertheless keep racing on and never yield.
Deep in the endless heartland they will drive you,
striding horizons, feet pounding the earth for ever,
on, on over seas and cities swept by tides!
Never surrender, never brood on the labour.
And once you reach the citadel of Pallas, kneel
and embrace her ancient idol in your arms and there,
with judges of your case, with a magic spell -
with words - we will devise the master-stroke
that sets you free from torment once for all.
I persuaded you to take your mother’s life.
Lord Apollo, you know the rules of justice,
know them well. Now learn compassion, too.
No one doubts your power to do great things.
Remember that. No fear will overcome you.
from the shadows.
You, my brother, blood of our common Father,
Hermes, guard him well. Live up to your name,
good Escort. Shepherd him well, he is my suppliant,
and outlaws have their rights that Zeus reveres.
Lead him back to the world of men with all good speed.
withdraws to his inner sanctuary;
the lead. The
GHOST OF CLYTAEMNESTRA
as they sleep
THE GHOST OF CLYTAEMNESTRA:
You - how can you
Awake, awake - what use are sleepers now?
I go stripped of honour, thanks to you,
alone among the dead. And for those I killed
the charges of the dead will never cease, never -
I wander in disgrace, I feel the guilt, I tell you,
withering guilt from all the outraged dead!
But I suffered too, terribly, from dear ones,
and none of my spirits rages to avenge me.
I was slaughtered by his matricidal hand.
See these gashes -
Seizing one of the
weak with sleep.
Carve them in your heart!
The sleeping brain has eyes that give us light;
we can never see our destiny by day.
And after all my libations . . . how you lapped
the honey, the sober offerings poured to soothe you,
awesome midnight feasts I burned at the hearthfire,
your dread hour never shared with gods.
All those rites, I see them trampled down.
And he springs free like a fawn, one light leap
at that - he’s through the thick of your nets,
he breaks away!
Mocking laughter twists across his face.
Hear me, I am pleading for my life.
Awake, my Furies, goddesses of the Earth!
A dream is calling - Clytaemnestra calls you now.
mutter in their sleep.
Mutter on. Your man is gone, fled far away.
My son has friends to defend him, not like mine.
You sleep too much, no pity for my ordeal.
Orestes murdered his mother - he is gone.
Moaning, sleeping - onto your feet, quickly.
What is your work? What but causing pain?
Sleep and toil, the two strong conspirators,
they sap the mother dragon’s deadly fury -
utter a sharp moan and moan again, but they are still asleep.
Get him, get him, get him, get him -
there he goes.
THE GHOST OF CLYTAEMNESTRA:
The prey you hunt is just a dream -
like hounds mad for the sport you bay him on,
you never leave the kill.
But what are you
Up I don’t yield to the labour, limp with sleep.
Never forget my anguish.
Let my charges hurt you, they are just;
deep in the righteous heart they prod like spurs.
You, blast him on with your gory breath,
the fire of your vitals - wither him, after him,
one last foray - waste him, burn him out!
I rouse you, you rouse her. Still asleep?
Onto your feet, kick off your stupor.
See if this prelude has some grain of truth.
circle, pursuing the scent with hunting calls
and cry out singly when they find
- Aieeeeee - no, no, no, they do us wrong, dear sisters.
- The miles of pain, the pain I suffer . . .
and all for nothing, all for pain, more pain,
the anguish, oh, the grief too much to bear.
- The quarry’s slipped from the nets, our quarry lost and gone.
- Sleep defeats me . . . I have lost the prey.
- You - child of Zeus - you, a common thief!
- Young god, you have ridden down the powers
proud with age. You worship the suppliant,
the godless man who tears his parent’s heart -
- The matricide, you steal him away, and you a god!
- Guilt both ways, and who can call it justice?
- Not I: her charges stalk my dreams,
Yes, the charioteer rides hard,
her spurs digging the vitals,
under the heart, under the heaving breast -
- I can feel the executioner’s lash, it’s searing
deeper, sharper, the knives of burning ice -
- Such is your triumph, you young gods,
world dominion past all rights.
Your throne is streaming blood,
blood at the foot, blood at the crowning head -
- I can see the Navelstone of the Earth, it’s bleeding,
bristling corruption, oh, the guilt it has to bear -
Stains on the hearth! The Prophet stains the vault,
he cries it on, drives on the crime himself.
Breaking the god’s first law, he rates men first,
destroys the old dominions of the Fates.
He wounds me too,
he’ll never free,
plunging under the earth, no freedom then:
curst as he comes for purging, at his neck
he feels new murder springing from his blood.
strides from his sanctuary in full armour, brandishing his bow and driving back the
Out, I tell you, out of these halls - fast! -
set the Prophet’s chamber free!
Seizing one of the
shaking an arrow across her face.
the flash and stab of this, this flying viper
whipped from the golden cord that strings my bow!
Heave in torment, black froth erupting from your lungs,
vomit the clots of all the murders you have drained.
But never touch my halls, you have no right.
Go where heads are severed, eyes gouged out,
where Justice and bloody slaughter are the same . . .
castrations, wasted seed, young men’s glories butchered,
extremities maimed, and huge stones at the chest,
and the victims wail for pity -
spikes inching up the spine, torsos stuck on spikes.
close in on him.
So, you hear your love feast, yearn to have it all?
You revolt the gods. Your look,
your whole regalia gives you away - your kind
should infest a lion’s cavern reeking blood.
But never rub your filth on the Prophet’s shrine.
Out, you flock without a herdsman - out !
No god will ever shepherd you with love.
Lord Apollo, now it is your turn to listen.
You are no mere accomplice in this crime.
You did it all, and all the guilt is yours.
No, how? Enlarge on that, and only that.
You commanded the guest to kill his mother.
- Commanded him to avenge his father, what of it?
And then you dared embrace him, fresh from bloodshed.
Yes, I ordered him on, to my house, for purging.
And we sped him on, and you revile us?
Indeed, you are not fit to approach this house.
And yet we have our mission and our -
Authority - you? Sound out your splendid power.
Matricides: we drive them from their houses.
And what of the wife who strikes her husband down?
That murder would not destroy one’s flesh and blood.
Why, you’d disgrace - obliterate the bonds of Zeus
and Hera queen of brides! And the queen of love
you’d throw to the winds at a word, disgrace love,
the source of mankind’s nearest, dearest ties.
Marriage of man and wife is Fate itself,
stronger than oaths, and Justice guards its life.
But if one destroys the other and you relent -
no revenge, not a glance in anger - then
I say your manhunt of Orestes is unjust.
Some things stir your rage, I see. Others,
atrocious crimes, lull your will to act.
will oversee this trial. She is one of us.