Book Excerpt: Themis by Isaac Attah Ogezi

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CHORUS:

The last is not yet heard of the royal house

Of Agamemnon, the conqueror of Troy

Who lost the battle in his own house

And submitted to the burial-mat of his wife

Her keen golden scimitar driven to the hilt into his body.

Alas, the tide of retribution abates not

But must flow unceasingly until that family is doomed.

For how can the merciless be recompensed with mercy

When the blood of the one sent untimely to sunless Hades

Daily cries to high heavens for justice?

Can there be full atonement

When blood is not paid for blood?

O Zeus, the greatest, help us! Let Earth in her wrath

Cave in and swallow us into her nether darkness

For our ears have heard what is not meet for mortal ears

The abomination wrought in the royal house of Agamemnon

Can deafen even the ears of the gods.

How can the seed that set sail to life

Stop the stream of primordial beginnings?

O the curse of mother’s blood

Who can escape it?

Shall Justice, purblind, not exact her debt?

What suppliant will again make sacrifices

At her altar if this dread act goes unrequited?

We, the good women of Olympus, have lent our voices

To the general hue and cry for justice

For this godless matricide lest motherhood be spurned

Held with sheer disdain by the human race.

[Enter THEMIS with attendants. She is a lily-white and very good-looking woman in her early forties. Draped in a spotlessly white gown, her erect figure coupled with her sprightly walk belies her blindness. She seats herself on the judgment-seat]

THEMIS:

What are your prayers, good women of Olympus?

CHORUS:

We crave justice.

Daily do we pelt the heavens with our cries for justice.

THEMIS:

And that shall you have

Justice unalloyed and unstained

By the sands of mortality.

Let the prisoners come in.

[ELECTRA and ORESTES in bonds are led in by guards]

THEMIS:

Loose them! Electra and Orestes, unhappy and unlucky children of Agamemnon

Your blood-guilt is already established beyond reasonable doubt.

What allocutus can you make for mercy

In mitigation of your horrendous crime

Of matricide? Speak, Electra!

ELECTRA:

Mighty Themis, here my knees graze the earth

In obeisance to you, O immortal one

Blind yet all-seeing Justice.

The lore of the royal house of Agamemnon

Has its roots in the ancient land of Argos,

When our mother’s sister Helen, wife of Menelaus

Fled to Troy with her lover Paris

Our sire, Agamemnon, was the Commander-in-chief

Of the Greek army, who, unafraid for his dear life,

Saved us of the disgrace. To succeed in this expedition,

Goddess Artemis made a demand of our sister Iphigenia

To be sacrificed to her in appeasement

And thus was Troy taken and its ruin still

A subject of many a spinner.

Argos and its citizens were agog with this victory

Declared the day of the triumphant return of the Greek army

Led by our father, a public holiday.

Didn’t our impure, abhorrent mother with her lover Aegisthus

Cuckolding our father turn this festivity into mourning?

For his royal crown, did they not give him a wreath

Of myrtle in its stead? With her hand she struck

Her husband with the golden scimitar

And turned to the killing of her daughter Iphigenia by him for an alibi.

Pray, does such a despicable woman

Who killed her husband in consort with her lover

Deserve to live? Is she not a disgrace to womanhood?

THEMIS:

And since the mill of justice of heaven

Grinds but slowly, you goaded your brother Orestes

Into killing her when he returned to Mycenae?

ELECTRA:

Yes, my hands are stained by the blood of my mother

I stood not at the grandstand

But beside him gleefully as he drove the sword

Into the womb that gave us birth.

For no woman is fit to live

Who turns murderer of her husband.

CHORUS:

Alas, our eyes have seen a foul mother-killer

Revelling in her unholy crime.

For how long will goddess Themis continue

To humour her? For how long we ask?

Ah, woe are we!

THEMIS:

I will have silence in my temple

Women of Olympus.

CHORUS:

Henceforth shall we hold our peace

We have given birth before and know

How our lives shuttled thinly between life and death.

Pray what petulant right has the tributary

To say that the parent river should not live?

THEMIS:

Orestes, you have heard how frantically and insolently

Your sister has tried to dress your common gruesome murder,

This unspeakable revenge, with niceties?

Do you too toe the same path with her?

Speak!

ORESTES:

What more have I to say that my sister Electra

Has not said? Only that justice should tilt

In favour of the murderers of our fiendish mother

A woman not fit to be a wife and mother

An impious husband-killer and hater of her children.

When she colluded with her lover Aegisthus

To murder our sire, Aphrodite blinded her eyes

And hardened her heart against her innocent younglings.

I was only a child when she thrust her golden scimitar

Into my sire in connivance with her lover.

Afraid that I might grow up to be

The avenger of his hideous death

She and her partner in crime resolved to kill me

But my sister got a whiff of it

And quickly did she charge my tutor, an old slave

Loyal to my foully and horribly slain sire

To flee with me to Phocis where I attained manhood

In the house of old Strophius, ripe enough

To put to gory death my sire’s killers.

Each day of my life was a torment to their guilt-ridden lives

A nightmare that made them sleepless in the nights

And a sad reminder of their dastardly crime of regicide

A royal citizen of Argos, yet did I live a mendicant in Phocis

A fugitive and outlaw with a reward

Of beaten gold placed on my head for anyone

Who could kill me by her lover Aegisthus

The usurper of the royal throne of my father.

For what crime had I committed except that

I was sired by the loins of Agamemnon

And thus an albatross to their peaceful reign?

Were the streets of Mycenae in ancient Argos

Not pervaded with an air of festivity

When my old tutor, unrecognized by my mother

And Aegisthus because of his silvered hair,

Brought glad tidings of my feigned death in Phocis?

Did Aegisthus not offer sacrifices to great Zeus

And send for the assumed Phocian stranger,

The harbinger of glad tidings to further regale him

With the horrid tale of how I met my sorry end,

Dismembered in the wreck of my chariot at the Delphian

Games, my hapless remains, spread-eagled on my mottled

Blood and sweat tresses, were burned on a pyre

And the ashes gathered into an urn?

Did not the woman who called herself my mother

Too rejoice that an end had come to my dread threats

Against her and her lover who could now sleep in peace

Freed from the fear of impending horrible death?

Gaia, the earth-goddess, would blush with shame

For making the womb of such a cruel woman fertile

One who could not hesitate to abdicate

The sacred role of motherhood

For an adulterous bed, stained with the blood

Of her husband. Were she to come back to life again

I would be glad to strike the killing blow

That would sever her stream of life.

CHORUS:

Horror, horror, horror!

What a bare-faced and unconscionable killer

Of she who bore him for nine starless moons?

THEMIS:

Alack, peace!

We have heard what the children of Agamemnon

Had to say in defence of the brutal murder of their mother

They asked not for mercy but relished ghoulishly

In their horrendous crime. Justice can only be tempered

With mercy when the convict is contrite and remorseful

Of his crime and not puffed up with self-righteousness.

Orestes!

ORESTES:

I bow in reverence, O goddess Themis.

THEMIS:

Let him that lives by the sword

Die by the wrathful sword. Quid pro quo.

Today before the night draws her black muslin

Across the face of the earth, you shall join your mother

And sire in Hades, slain by my sword. Justice

May seem slow and sluggish in her chariot

But like nemesis, it surely catches up

With the ungodly culprit in the end.

What virtue shall we bequeath the unborn generation

If we all resort to self-help

Because justice is slow-footed? Will life not be

Short and brutish, a rudderless ship

Caught in the whirlpool of anomie?

Of all crimes, nothing strikes me to the heart

Like the shedding of one’s mother’s blood

Except the killer is unredeemably bloodthirsty

He can even hear the heavens scream ‘Hold!’

Electra!

ELECTRA:

Yes, goodly Themis.

THEMIS:

Your tongue smarts like a wasp’s

When your ill-fated brother drove his sword

Into the womb that bore him

You stood beside him, an unwary transgressor

Urging him on. For aiding and abetting your brother

Yours shall be the rocky vaults of Delphi

With much food but shorn of the light of day

Until Hades claims you as his bride.

Despite the unnatural crime of your brother

Which you played the unworthy role of an accomplice

Your case is still viewed with some leniency.

A maiden are you, unacquainted with the birth-pangs

Of motherhood, otherwise the gravity of your foul crime

Would have dawned on you in all its stark and unashamed nakedness.

ELECTRA:

Alas, mine is the cruellest fate

To long for death from coy Hades, ever evasive

In my rocky prison

Yet is my dread sentence draped

With the honeyed word called ‘leniency.’

THEMIS:

Lament as much as you can

Chant your dirge to high heavens

The judgment of heaven stands sure and immutable

Against the ragings of accursed earthlings.

ELECTRA:

Ah, woe is me!

I would I were dead, brother mine

Than Hades which shall now tear us asunder

Should be the confluence wherein we will meet to part no more

Death would have been less painful than this purgatory life,

Unlucky, unlucky me!

ORESTES:

The foreboding clouds hovering over our royal house

Have alas claimed their last victims.

Ho, the house of Agamemnon is bereft of human life

All is desolate save for the termite-hill

Which shall now sprout in its stead.

Take me into your warm arms, daughter of my sire

For this shall be the last I shall see you

On this side of life.

ELECTRA:

Ah me! My eyes are twin waterfalls of tears.

O unhappy and miserable life!

It is not for love of sweet life that I bewail my cursed fate

But the dreadful fear never to set eyes on you again

The last man in the lineage of Agamemnon.

ORESTES:

O hapless me! Cursed, cursed is our lineage

With one tragedy hot upon the heels of another

Without a breath’s respite. Sister mine, I go

To meet my death bravely and remorselessly.

ELECTRA:

And I to contend with the lonely vaults

Of death in Delphi without you to keep me company.

Ah me! What a pestilence of a life!

ORESTES:

This earth, sister mine, is but a torture-chamber

A groaning passage through dusty death

That mortal man is heir to.

THEMIS:

Away with them! Take them away

Lest the earth be sodden

With their soulful dirges.

[ORESTES and ELECTRA are hustled off. Exeunt]

CHORUS:

Indeed the ways of the gods are beyond us mortals

Eyes have we yet unseeing

Ears have we yet stone-deaf to the loud-thundering Zeus.

Who are we mere mortals to question

The justice of heaven?

The bird of ill-omen had long cried itself hoarse

On the ivy-clad roof of the Agamemnon household

Long before Helen, wife of Menelaus

Fled to Troy with Paris, the herdsman of Ida

Plunging Greece and Troy in a war for ten harvests.

To win this war and the wife of his younger brother back

Did Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia

At the behest of Artemis. While the war raged on,

With brave Agamemnon slaying the Trojan army

In Argos his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus

Cuckolded him, an ill-knit prologue to the dread act

Of killing her husband when he was come home victorious

In the wake of the fall and utter ruin of Troy.

Now Clytemnestra is dead

Avenged by the children she bore for Agamemnon.

Alas, the royal house of Agamemnon is fallen, fallen

Usurped by restless termites

Gone, gone is the fire in the tripod-stand hearth

And in its stead cold, cold ashes of non-life.

Indeed the crime of the offspring of Agamemnon

Is grievous and unspeakably barbarous

The thought of it alone makes our hair stand on end

But is it not foolhardy to throw the baby out

With the bath water, Themis?

Shall Justice not thaw this maelstrom

Of gathering subterranean gloom with some streaks

Of light?

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[End of Excerpt]

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One thought on “Book Excerpt: Themis by Isaac Attah Ogezi

  1. Pingback: Themis by Isaac Attah Ogezi | New Books Nigeria

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