To what ills
Have I been subject, O my dear companions!
Did not my mother, as a prodigy
Which wondering mortals gaze at, bring me forth?
For neither Grecian nor barbaric dame
Till then produced an egg, in which her children
Enveloped lay, as they report, from Jove
Leda engendered. My whole life and all
That hath befallen me, but conspires to form
One series of miraculous events;
To Juno some, and to my beauty some
Are owing. Would to Heaven, that, like a tablet
Whose picture is effaced, I could exchange
This form for one less comely, since the Greeks
Forgetting those abundant gifts showered down
By prosperous Fortune which I now possess,
Think but of what redounds not to my honour,
And still remember my ideal shame.
Whoever therefore, with one single species
Of misery is afflicted by the gods,
Although the weight of Heaven's chastising hand
Be grievous, may with fortitude endure
Such visitation: but by many woes
Am I oppressed, and first of all exposed
To slanderous tongues, although I ne'er have erred.
It were a lesser evil e'en to sin
Than be suspected falsely. Then the gods,
'Midst men of barbarous manners, placed me far
From my loved country: torn from every friend,
I languish here, to servitude consigned
Although of free born race: for 'midst barbarians
Are all enslaved but one, their haughty lord.
My fortunes had this single anchor left,
Perchance my husband might at length arrive
To snatch me from my woes; but he, alas!
Is now no more, my mother too is dead,
And I am deemed her murd'ress, though unjustly,
Yet am I branded with this foul reproach;
And she who was the glory of our house,
My daughter in the virgin state grown grey,
Still droops unwedded: my illustrious brothers,
Castor and Pollux, called the sons of Jove,
Are now no more. But I impute my death,
Crushed as I am by all these various woes,
Not to my own misdeeds, but to the power
Of adverse fortune only: this one danger
There yet remains, if at my native land
I should again arrive, they will confine me
In a close dungeon, thinking me that Helen
Who dwelt in Ilion, till she thence was borne
By Menelaus. Were my husband living,
We might have known each other, by producing
Those tokens to which none beside are privy:
But this will never be, nor can he e'er
Return in safety. To what purpose then
Do I still lengthen out this wretched being?
To what new fortunes am I still reserved?
Shall I select a husband, but to vary
My present ills, to dwell beneath the roof
Of a barbarian, at luxurious boards
With wealth abounding, seated? for the dame
Whom wedlock couples with the man she hates
Death is the best expedient. But with glory
How shall I die? the fatal noose appears
To be so base, that e'en in slaves 'tis held
Unseemly thus to perish; in the poniard
There's somewhat great and generous. But to me
Delays are useless: welcome instant death:
Into such depth of misery am I plunged.
For beauty renders other women blest,
But hath to me the source of ruin proved.
Credits: Reprinted from The Plays of Euripides in English, vol. i.
Trans. Shelley Dean Milman. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1920.
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