Monday, January 2, 2012

Passages from the Tragedies

Cry aloud without fear the victory of Zeus,
You will not have failed the truth:
Zeus, who guided men to think,
Who has laid it down that wisdom
Comes alone through suffering.
Still there drips in sleep against the heart
Grief of memory; against
Our pleasure we are temperate.
From the gods who sit in grandeur
Grace comes somehow violent.

-from Agamemnon, by Aeschylus

The god of war, money changer of dead bodies,
Held the balance of his spear in the fighting,
And from the corpse-fires at Ilium
Sent to their dearest the dust
Heavy and bitter with tears shed
Packing smooth the urns with
Ashes that once were men.
They praise them through their tears, how this man
Knew well the craft of battle, how another
Went down splendid in the slaughter:
And all for some strange woman.
Thus they mutter in secrecy,
And the slow anger creeps below their grief
At Atreus’ sons and their quarrels.
There by the walls of Ilium
The young men in their beauty keep
Graves deep in the alien soil
They hated and they conquered.

-from Agamemnon, by Aeschylus

Numberless wonders
terrible wonders walk the world but none the match for man--
that great wonder crossing the heaving gray sea,
driven on by the blasts of winter
on through breakers crashing left and right,
holds his steady course
and the oldest of the gods he wears away--
the Earth, the immortal, the inexhaustible--
as his powers go back and forth, year in, year out
with the breed of stallions turning up the furrows.
And the blithe, lightheaded race of birds he snares,
the tribes of savage beasts, the life that swarms the depths--
with one fling of his nets ;
woven and coiled tight, he takes them all,
man the skilled, the brilliant!
He conquers all, taming with his techniques
the prey that roams the cliffs and wild lairs,
training the stallion, clamping the yoke across
his shaggy neck, and the tireless mountain bull.
And speech and thought, quick as the wind
and the mood and mind for law that rules the city--
all these he has taught himself
and shelter from the arrows of the frost
when there's rough lodging under the cold clear sky
I and the shafts of lashing rain--
ready, resourceful man!
Never without resources
never an impasse as he marches on the future--
only Death, from Death alone he will find no rescue
but from desperate plagues he has plotted his escapes
Man the master, ingenious past all measure
Past all dreams, the skills within his grasp—
He forges on, now to destruction
Now again to greatness. When he weaves in
The laws of the land, and the justice of the gods
That binds his oaths together
He and his city rise high—
But the city casts out
That man who weds himself to inhumanity
Thanks to reckless daring. Never share my hearth
Never think my thoughts, whoever does such things.

-from Antigone, by Sophocles

Blest, they are truly blest who all their lives
Have never tasted devastation. For others, once
The gods have rocked a house to its foundations
The ruin will never cease, cresting on and on
From one generation on throughout the race—
Like a great mounting tide
Driven on by savage northern gales,
Surging over the dead black depths
Roiling up from the bottom dark heaves of sand
And the headlands, taking the storm’s onslaught full-force,
Roar, and the low moaning
Echoes on and on…

-from Antigone, by Sophocles

Wisdom is by far the greatest part of joy,
And reverence toward the gods must be safeguarded.
The mighty words of the proud are paid in full
With mighty blows of fate, and at long last
Those blows will teach us wisdom.

-from Antigone, by Sophocles

The proverb runs “There is one thing alone
That stands the brunt of life throughout its course,
A quiet conscience,”…a just a quiet conscience
Whoever can attain it.
Time holds a mirror, as for a young girl,
And sometimes as occasion falls, he shows is
The ugly rogues of the world. I would not wish
That I should be seen among them.

-from Hippolytus, by Euripides

Love distills desire upon the eyes,
Love brings bewitching grace into the heart
Of those he would destroy.
I pray that love may never come to me
With murderous intent,
In rhythms measureless and wild.
Not fire nor stars have stronger bolts
Than those of Aphrodite sent
By the hand of Eros, Zeus’s child.

-from Hippolytus, by Euripides

The care of God for us is a great thing,
If a man believe it at heart:
It plucks the burden of sorrow from him.
So I have a secret hope
Of someone, a God, who is wise and plans;
But my hopes grow dim when I see
The deeds of men and their destinies.

-from Hippolytus, by Euripides

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