The son of Atreus is no more, slain by the hand of his wife, and she herself hath paid the debt of blood by death, and from her children's hands received her doom. The god's own bidding from his oracle was levelled against her, in the day that Agamemnon's son set forth from Argos and visited his shrine; so he slew her, aye, spilt his own mother's blood. O Phoebus, O thou power divine, how can I believe the story?
Anon wherever Hellenes gather, was heard the voice of lamentation, mothers weeping o'er their children's fate, as they left their homes to mate with strangers. Ah! thou art not the only one, nor thy dear ones either, on whom the cloud of grief hath fallen. Hellas had to bear the visitation, and thence the scourge crossed to Phrygia's fruitful fields, raining the bloody drops the death-god loves. (PELEUS enters in haste.) PELEUS Ye dames of Phthia, answer my questions. I heard a vague rumour that the daughter of Menelaus had left these halls and fled; so now I am come in hot haste to learn if this be true; for it is the duty of those who are at home to labour in the interests of their absent friends. LEADER OF THE CHORUS Thou hast heard aright, O Peleus; ill would it become me to hide the evil case in which I now find myself; our queen has fled and left these halls. PELEUS What did she fear? explain that to me. LEADER She was afraid her lord would cast her out. PELEUS In return for plotting his child's death? surely not? LEADER Yea, and she was afraid of yon captive. PELEUS With whom did she leave the house? with her father? LEADER The son of Agamemnon came and took her hence. PELEUS What view hath he to further thereby? Will he marry her? LEADER Yes, and he is plotting thy grandson's death. PELEUS From an ambuscade, or meeting him fairly face to face? LEADER In the holy place of Loxias, leagued with Delphians. PELEUS God help us. This is a present danger. Hasten one of you with all speed to the Pythian altar and tell our friends there what has happened here, ere Achilles' son be slain by his enemies. (A MESSENGER enters.) MESSENGER Woe worth the day! what evil tidings have I brought for thee, old sire, and for all who love my master! woe is me! PELEUS Alas! my prophetic soul hath a presentiment. MESSENGER Aged Peleus, hearken! Thy grandson is no more; so grievously is he smitten by the men of Delphi and the stranger from Mycenae. LEADER Ah! what wilt thou do, old man? Fall not; uplift thyself. PELEUS I am a thing of naught; death is come upon me. My voice is choked, my limbs droop beneath me. MESSENGER Hearken; if thou art eager also to avenge thy friends, lift up thyself and hear what happened. PELEUS Ah, destiny! how tightly hast thou caught me in thy toils, a poor old man at life's extremest verge! But tell me how he was taken from me, my one son's only child; unwelcome as such news is, I fain would hear it. MESSENGER As soon as we reached the famous soil of Phoebus, for three whole days were we feasting our eyes with the sight. And this, it seems, caused suspicion; for the folk, who dwell near the god's shrine, began to collect in groups, while Agamemnon's son, going to and fro through the town, would whisper in each man's ear malignant hints: "Do ye see yon fellow, going in and out of the god's treasure-chambers, which are full of the gold stored there by all mankind? He is come hither a second time on the same mission as before, eager to sack the temple of Phoebus." Thereon there ran an angry murmur through the city, and the magistrates flocked to their council-chamber, while those, who have charge of the god's treasures, had a guard privately placed amongst the colonnades. But we, knowing naught as yet of this, took sheep fed in the pastures of Parnassus, and went our way and stationed ourselves at the altars with vouchers and Pythian seers. And one said: "What prayer, young warrior, wouldst thou have us offer to the god? Wherefore art thou come?" And he answered: "I wish to make atonement to Phoebus for my past transgression; for once I claimed from him satisfaction for my father's blood." Thereupon the rumour, spread by Orestes, proved to have great weight, suggesting that my master was lying and had come on a shameful errand. But he crosses the threshold of the temple to pray to Phoebus before his oracle, and was busy with his burnt-offering; when a body of men armed with swords set themselves in ambush against him in the cover of the bay-trees, and Clytemnestra's son, that had contrived the whole plot was one of them. There stood the young man praying to the god in sight of all, when lo! with their sharp swords they stabbed Achilles' unprotected son from behind. But he stepped back, for it was not a mortal wound he had received, and drew his sword, and snatching armour from the pegs where it hung on a pillar, took his stand upon the altar-steps, the picture of a warrior grim; then cried he to the sons of Delphi, and asked them: "Why seek to slay me when I am come on a holy mission? What cause is there why I should die? But of all that throng of bystanders, no man answered him a word, but they set to hurling stones. Then he, though bruised and battered by the showers of missiles from all sides, covered himself behind his mail and tried to ward off the attack, holding his shield first here, then there, at arm's length, but all of no avail; for a storm of darts, arrows and javelins, hurtling spits with double points, and butchers' knives for slaying steers, came flying at his feet; and terrible was the war-dance thou hadst then seen thy grandson dance to avoid their marksmanship. At last, when they were hemming him in on all sides, allowing him no breathing space, he left the shelter of the altar, the hearth where victims are placed, and with one bound was on them as on the Trojans of yore; and they turned and fled like doves when they see the hawk. Many fell in the confusion: some wounded, and others trodden down by one another along the narrow passages; and in that hushed holy house uprose unholy din and echoed back from the rocks. Calm and still my master stood there in his gleaming harness like a flash of light, till from the inmost shrine there came a voice of thrilling horror, stirring the crowd to make a stand. Then fell Achilles' son, smitten through the flank by some Delphian's biting blade, some fellow that slew him with a host to help; and as he fell, there was not one that did not stab him, or cast a rock and batter his corpse. So his whole body, once so fair, was marred with savage wounds. At last they cast the lifeless clay, Iying near the altar, forth from the fragrant fane. And we gathered up his remains forthwith and are bringing them to thee, old prince, to mourn and weep and honour with a deep-dug tomb. This is how that prince who vouchsafeth oracles to others, that judge of what is right for all the world, hath revenged himself on Achilles' son, remembering his ancient quarrel as a wicked man would. How then can he be wise?
(The MESSENGER withdraws as the body of Neoptolemus is carried in on a bier. The following lines between PELEUS and the CHORUS are chanted responsively.)
CHORUS Lo! e'en now our prince is being carried on a bier from Delphi's land unto his home. Woe for him and his sad fate, and woe for thee, old sire! for this is not the welcome thou wouldst give Achilles' son, the lion's whelp; thyself too by this sad mischance dost share his evil lot. PELEUS Ah! woe is me! here is a sad sight for me to see and take unto my halls! Ah me! ah me! I am undone, thou city of Thessaly! My line now ends; I have no children left me in my home. Oh! the sorrows seem born to endure! What friend can I look to for relief? Ah, dear lips, and cheeks, and hands! Would thy destiny had slain the 'neath Ilium's walls beside the banks of Simois! CHORUS Had he so died, my aged lord, he had won him honour thereby, and thine had been the happier lot. PELEUS O marriage, marriage, woe to thee! thou bane of my home, thou destroyer of my city! Ah my child, my boy, would that the honour of wedding thee, fraught with evil as it was to my children and house, had not thrown o'er thee, my son, Hermione's deadly net! that the thunderbolt had slain her sooner! and that thou, rash mortal, hadst never charged the great god Phoebus with aiming that murderous shaft that spilt thy hero-father's blood! CHORUS Woe! woe! alas! With due observance of funeral rites will I begin the mourning for my dead master. PELEUS Alack and well-a-day! I take up the tearful dirge, ah me! old and wretched as I am. CHORUS 'Tis Heaven's decree; God willed this heavy stroke. PELEUS O darling child, thou hast left me all alone in my halls, old and childless by thy loss. CHORUS Thou shouldst have died, old sire, before thy children. PELEUS Shall I not tear my hair, and smite upon my head with grievous blows? O city! of both my children hath Phoebus robbed me. CHORUS What evils thou hast suffered, what sorrows thou hast seen, thou poor old man! what shall be thy life hereafter? PELEUS Childless, desolate, with no limit to my grief, I must drain the cup of woe, until I die. CHORUS 'Twas all in vain the gods wished thee joy on thy wedding day. PELEUS All my hopes have flown away, fallen short of my high boasts. CHORUS A lonely dweller in a lonely home art thou. PELEUS I have no city any longer; there! on the ground my sceptre do cast; and thou, daughter of Nereus, 'neath thy dim grotto, shalt see me grovelling in the dust, a ruined king. CHORUS Look, look! (A dim form of divine appearance is seen hovering mid air.) What is that moving? what influence divine am I conscious of? Look, maidens, mark it well; see, yonder is some deity, wafted through the lustrous air and alighting on the plains of Phthia, home of steeds. THETIS (from above) O Peleus! because of my wedded days with thee now long agone, I Thetis am come from the halls of Nereus. And first I counsel thee not to grieve to excess in thy present distress, for I too who need ne'er have borne children to my sorrow, have lost the child of our love, Achilles swift of foot, foremost of the sons of Hellas. Next will I declare why I am come, and do thou give ear. Carry yonder corpse, Achilles' son, to the Pythian altar and there bury it, a reproach to Delphi, that his tomb may proclaim the violent death he met at the hand of Orestes. And for his captive wife Andromache,-she must dwell in the Molossian land, united in honourable wedlock with Helenus, and with her this babe, the sole survivor as he is of all the line of Aeacus, for from him a succession of prosperous kings of Molossia is to go on unbroken; for the race that springs from thee and me, my aged lord, must not thus be brought to naught; no! nor Troy's line either; for her fate too is cared for by the gods, albeit her fall was due to the eager wish of Pallas. Thee too, that thou mayst know the saving grace of wedding me, will I, a goddess born and daughter of a god, release from all the ills that flesh is heir to and make a deity to know not death nor decay. From henceforth in the halls of Nereus shalt thou dwell with me, god and goddess together; thence shalt thou rise dry-shod from out the main and see Achilles, our dear son, settled in his island-home by the strand of Leuce, that is girdled by the Euxine sea. But get thee to Delphi's god-built town, carrying this corpse with thee, and, after thou hast buried him, return and settle in the cave which time hath hollowed in the Sepian rock and there abide, till from the sea I come with choir of fifty Nereids to be thy escort thence; for fate's decree thou must fulfil; such is the pleasure of Zeus. Cease then to mourn the dead; this is the lot which heaven assigns to all, and all must pay their debt to death. PELEUS Great queen, my honoured wife, from Nereus sprung, all hail! thou art acting herein as befits thyself and thy children. So I will stay my grief at thy bidding, goddess, and, when I have buried the dead, will seek the glens of Pelion, even the place where I took thy beauteous form to my embrace. Surely after this every prudent man will seek to marry a wife of noble stock and give his daughter to a husband good and true, never setting his heart on a worthless woman, not even though she bring a sumptuous dowry to his house. So would men ne'er suffer ill at heaven's hand. (THETIS vanishes.) CHORUS (chanting) Many are the shapes of Heaven's denizens, and many a thing they bring to pass contrary to our expectation; that which we thought would be is not accomplished, while for the unexpected God finds out a way. E'en such hath been the issue of this matter.
Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson
Mrs. Piozzi, by her second marriage, was by her first marriage the Mrs. Thrale in whose house at Streatham Doctor Johnson was, after the year of his first introduction, 1765, in days of infirmity, an honoured and a cherished friend. The year of the beginning of the friendship was the year in which Johnson, fifty-six years old, obtained his degree of LL.D. from Dublin, and--though he never called himself Doctor--was thenceforth called Doctor by all his friends.
Before her marriage Mrs. Piozzi had been Miss Hesther Lynch Salusbury, a young lady of a good Welsh family. She was born in the year 174O, and she lived until the year 1821. She celebrated her eightieth birthday on the 27th of January, 182O, by a concert, ball, and supper to six or seven hundred people, and led off the dancing at the ball with an adopted son for partner. When Johnson was first introduced to her, as Mrs. Thrale, she was a lively, plump little lady, twenty-five years old, short of stature, broad of build, with an animated face, touched, according to the fashion of life in her early years, with rouge, which she continued to use when she found that it had spoilt her complexion. Her hands were rather coarse, but her handwriting was delicate.
Henry Thrale, whom she married, was the head of the great brewery house now known as that of Barclay and Perkins. Henry Thrale's father had succeeded Edmund Halsey, who began life by running away from his father, a miller at St. Albans. Halsey was taken in as a clerk-of-all-work at the Anchor Brewhouse in Southwark, became a house-clerk, able enough to please Child, his master, and handsome enough to please his master's daughter. He married the daughter and succeeded to Child's Brewery, made much money, and had himself an only daughter, whom he married to a lord. Henry Thrale's father was a nephew of Halseys, who had worked in the brewery for twenty years, when, after Halsey's death, he gave security for thirty thousand pounds as the price of the business, to which a noble lord could not succeed. In eleven years he had paid the purchase-money, and was making a large fortune. To this business his son, who was Johnson's friend, Henry Thrale, succeeded; and upon Thrale's death it was bought for 15O,OOO pounds by a member of the Quaker family of Barclay, who took Thrale's old manager, Perkins, into partnership.