Introduction and Synopsis
You are said to have touched the shores of Thessaly in your returning ship,
Rich with the fleece of the golden ram.
I congratulate you on your safety, as much as I am allowed to. Nevertheless, of this very thing
I should have been informed by your own message.
For you may not have been able to come back by way of the kingdoms I had promised you,
Even though you wished to--the winds may not have favored you.
But a letter may be written, no matter how adverse the winds.
Hypsipyle deserved having a greeting sent.
Why did rumor of you come to me before your letter?
That the bulls sacred to Mars went under the curved yoke,
That from the scattered seed a crop of men grew up,
Who had no need of your right arm for their death;
That the plunder of the ram, watched over by the unsleeping dragon,
The tawny fleece, had nevertheless been stolen by your strong hand?
Oh, if to those who are hesitant to believe these things,
I could say "He wrote to me himself," how great it would be!
But why complain that my husband has been slow in his duty?
If only I remain yours, I am treated with great indulgence.
It is said that a barbarian poisoner has come with you,
Allowed a share of the marriage bed that was promised to me.
Love is ready to believe: oh, may I have spoken rashly,
Accusing my husband of a false crime!
Lately a Thessalian stranger came from Haemonian borders,
And, scarcely had he crossed the threshold,
When I said, "How does my lord, the son of Aeson?" In shame
He stopped still, his eyes fixed on the ground.
Immediately I leaped up and, tearing the garment from my breast,
Cried out, "Does he live, or do the fates call me as well?"
"He lives," he said. Since love is fearful, I made him swear it.
Even with a god as witness, I could hardly believe you were alive.
When my wits returned, I began to ask of your deeds.
He told me how the brazen-footed oxen of Mars plowed,
Of the serpent's teeth cast as seed in the ground,
And of men bearing arms, suddenly born--
Earth-born peoples destroyed in war with their fellows,
Completing their fates in the space of a day.
He told of the vanquished serpent. Again, if Jason lives,
I ask; hope and fear alternate with one another.
While he tells the tale one part at a time, in the eagerness and rush of his
He lays my wounds bare with his skill.
Alas! Where is the promised faith? Where are the marriage rights,
And the torch that would be more fitting to put beneath my blazing funeral pyre?
I did not come to know you furtively; Juno was there to wed us,
And Hymen, his temples bound with wreaths.
But neither Juno nor Hymen, but the dismal Furies,
Bloodstained, carried before me the unlucky torches.
What had I to do with the Minyans? What with the pine of Dodona?
What had you to do with my homeland, Tiphys the sailor?
Here there was no ram, notable for his golden fleece,
Nor was Lemnos the royal court of old Aeetes.
At first I was determined--but an evil fate pulled me on--
To drive out the foreign group with my band of women;
The Lemnian women know, too well, how to vanquish men.
A soldiery so brave should have been allowed to defend the land.
I aided the man with my city; I received him into my house and into my heart.
Here the summer passed twice for you, and twice the winter.
It was the third harvest when you were compelled to set sail,
And tainted these words with false tears:
"I am taken away, Hypsipyle; but if the fates only grant my return,
As your husband I leave you here, your husband I will always be.
That of mine which is hidden in your heavy womb,
Let it live, and may we both be its parents."
Thus you spoke, and with tears running down your deceitful face,
I remember you could say no more.
The last of your crew, you board the sacred Argo.
It flies on its way; the wind fills the curving sail.
The dark-blue waves slide under the driven ship;
Your gaze is on the land, mine on the water.
A tower looks all about across the waves, with unobstructed view on every side;
There I take myself, and tears wet my face and breast.
I look through my tears, and my eyes, favoring
My eager mind, see farther than they are accustomed to.
Add to this pious prayers, and vows mixed with fears--
Vows which I must now fulfill, since you are safe.
Do I fulfill these vows? Vows Medea reaps the benefit of?
My heart suffers, and overflows with anger mixed with love.
Do I bear gifts to shrines because Jason, who is alive, is lost to me?
Does the sacrificial animal fall beneath the blow because of my loss?
Admittedly, I never felt secure, and I always feared
Lest your father should choose a daughter-in-law from an Argolian city.
It was the daughters of Argolis I feared--but I have been destroyed by a barbarian concubine!
The wound I bear was not from the expected foe.
It is neither her appearance nor her merits that please you, but the magic charms she knows,
And the harmful plants she harvests with enchanted blade.
She strives to bring down the resisting moon from its course,
And to hide the horses of the sun in shadows.
She reins in the waters, and stops the winding stream.
She moves the woods and the living rocks from their places.
She wanders among graves, ungirded, with disheveled hair,
And gathers selected bones from the warm funeral pyres.
She curses absent ones, and makes waxen images,
And into the wretched liver presses the slender needle--
And does other things best not known. Badly sought by herbs
Is love that should be won over by beauty and good character.
Such a one can you embrace? And can you, remaining in the same
Enjoy without fear the sleep of the soundless night?
Surely, like the bulls, she forced you to bear the yoke,
And like the fierce serpent, she charmed you also with her power.
Add to this, that she wishes herself enrolled in the record of the deeds
Of yourself and your noble companions, and the wife obscures the honor of the husband.
And someone among Pelias' supporters imputes your deeds to poison,
And gets the people to believe:
"Not the son of Aeson, but the daughter of Aeetes, the Phasian,
Took away the golden fleece of Phrixus' ram."
Your mother, Alcimede, does not approve--ask her advice--
Nor your father, whose daughter-in-law comes from the frozen north.
Let her from the Tanais, and from the swamps of watery Scythia,
Seek for herself a husband, and even as far as from the shores of Phasis.
Fickle son of Aeson, more uncertain than the spring breeze,
Why do your words lack the weight appropriate to a promise?
You left here as my husband; why have you not returned as mine?
Let me be the wife of your return, as I was of your departure.
If nobility and a noble name touch you,
Behold, I am known as the daughter of Minoan Thoas!
Bacchus was my grandfather; Bacchus' wife, with encircling crown,
Outshines the lesser constellations with her stars.
Lemnos will be my dowry for you, land well-fit for cultivation;
And me, as well, you will possess among the marriage-goods.
Now also I have given birth; wish joy for us both, Jason!
The burden of my pregnancy was sweet to me--its author made it so.
I am fortunate in the number, too--twin offspring;
With Lucina favoring, I am given a twofold pledge.
If you ask, who do they resemble, you yourself are recognized in them.
They do not know how to deceive; they have everything else of their father's.
I almost gave them to be taken to you, their mother's envoys;
But the cruel stepmother held me back from the path I had started.
Medea I fear; Medea is more than a stepmother;
Medea's hands turn to any crime.
Would she, who could scatter her brother's dismembered
Body over the fields, spare my pledges?
Nevertheless this is she, O madman carried away by Colchian poison,
Whom you are said to have preferred to the marriage-bed of Hypsipyle.
Shamefully this adulterous maiden came to know her husband;
Chaste wedding torches gave me to you and you to me.
She betrayed her father; I snatched Thoas from destruction.
She deserted Colchis; my Lemnos still has me.
What does it matter, if the wicked one vanquishes the devoted,
And by the same crime both wins a husband and provides her dowry?
The evil deed of the Lemnian women I blame, but I am not astonished by it,
Such suffering gives arms even to the most cowardly.
Come, say, what if, driven by hostile winds, as would have been fitting,
You and your companions had entered my harbors,
And I had come forth to meet you, in company with my twin babies?
Certainly then you should have prayed for the earth to split open--
With what face would you have looked upon your children, upon me, wicked one?
What death would you have deserved as a reward for treachery?
Indeed, you yourself would have been safe and protected with me--
Not because you deserve it, but because I am gentle.
But I would myself have stained my face with the blood of your mistress,
And your face, which she stole away with her sorcery.
I would have been Medea to Medea! But if in any way
Jupiter the just is favorable to my prayers from above,
Then as Hypsipyle groans, let the rival of my marriage-bed
Moan, and experience her own mandates herself:
As I myself am deserted, wife and mother of two,
So may she, deprived of as many children, lose her husband.
Nor will she keep for very long her ill-gotten gains, but in worse state leave them behind,
Let her be banished, and seek her exile through the whole world.
As bitter a sister she was to her brother, and daughter to her father,
Just as bitter let her be to her children, and to her husband!
When she has worn out her welcome on the sea, and on the land, let her try the air;
Let her wander without wealth, without hope, bloody with her murders!
These things I, the daughter of Thoas, cheated of her marriage, do pray.
Live on--a bride and a husband in a cursed marriage-bed!
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by James M. Hunter
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Last updated 06/22/2013