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]
What are your prayers, good women of Olympus?
We crave justice.
Daily do we pelt the heavens with our cries for justice.
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]
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!
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?
And since the mill of justice of heaven
Grinds but slowly, you goaded your brother Orestes
Into killing her when he returned to Mycenae?
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.
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!
I will have silence in my temple
Women of Olympus.
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?
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?
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.
Horror, horror, horror!
What a bare-faced and unconscionable killer
Of she who bore him for nine starless moons?
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.
I bow in reverence, O goddess 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!’
Yes, goodly 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.
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.’
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
This earth, sister mine, is but a torture-chamber
A groaning passage through dusty death
That mortal man is heir to.
Away with them! Take them away
Lest the earth be sodden
With their soulful dirges.
[ORESTES and ELECTRA are hustled off. Exeunt]
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
[End of Excerpt]