Introduction and Synopsis
|Gentler than you I have found every kind of
I could not have been entrusted so badly to any of them as to you.
What you read, Theseus, I send to you from the shore
From which, without me, the sails carried off your ship,
And on which you--and my sleep--betrayed me so badly;
You plotted wickedly in my sleep.
|It was the time when the earth was first
sprinkled with hoarfrost,
And the birds complained, hidden by the leaves.
Not quite waking, and sluggish from sleep, I turned
On my side, my hands grasping for Theseus--
No one was there! I drew back my hands and tried once more,
And I moved my hands all over the bed--no one was there!
Fear struck away sleep; terrified, I sprang up,
And threw my limbs headlong from the widowed bed.
Immediately my breast resounded to the stokes of my hands,
And my hair was torn, disheveled as it was from sleep.
|There was a moon; I look, to see if I can
discern anything but the shore.
In what my eyes see, there is nothing but the shore.
Now this way, now that, and both ways without order I run;
The deep sand slows my girlish feet.
Meanwhile I cry along the whole shore, "Theseus!"
The hollow rocks give back your name.
And as often as I called you, so often the place itself called.
The place itself wished to give help to the wretched one.
|There was a mountain--scattered bushes
appear on its summit;
A cliff hangs out from it, gnawed by the hoarse waves.
I climb--my spirit gave me strength--and thus
With a broad view scan across the deep waters.
From there--for I was also mistreated by the cruel winds--
I saw sails stretched by the rushing south wind.
As I looked on that which I did not suppose I deserved to see,
I was colder than ice and half-dead.
Suffering does not allow me to be faint for long; I am aroused by it;
I am aroused and I call on Theseus at the top of my voice.
"Where do you flee?" I cry out. "Wicked Theseus, return!
Turn the ship! She does not have all of her crew!"
|Thus I spoke; what my voice fell short of I
completed with beating of my breast;
My blows were mingled with my words.
If you could not hear, at least you could see;
I gave broad signals with my waving hands.
I put my shining white garment on a long branch--
No doubt to remind the forgetful ones of me.
And now you were snatched away from my eyes. Then finally I wept;
Before this my tender eyes had been numb with pain.
What better could my eyes do than weep for me,
After I ceased to see your sails?
I have either wandered alone, with hair spread loose,
Like a Bacchante stirred up by the Ogygian god,
Or else I have sat upon the cold stone, looking out to sea,
As much a stone myself as the stone that was my seat.
Often I return to the bed that received us both
(But it would no longer show us received together)
And touch your trace, which is all I can touch in place of you,
And the blankets warmed by your limbs.
I lie down, watering the bed with flowing tears;
"Two pressed upon you," I cry; "give back two!
We came here together; why do we not depart together?
Treacherous couch, where is the greater part of me?"
|What am I to do? Where shall I take
myself? The island is empty of cultivation.
I see no works of men, nor of cattle.
Every side of the land is surrounded by sea; nowhere a sailor,
No ship to go over the uncertain paths.
Imagine that I was furnished with companions, and wind, and a ship--
Where would I go? My native land forbids my approach.
Granted that in a fortunate ship I glide over peaceful seas,
That Aeolus restrains the winds--I will be an exile.
I am not to see you, Crete separated out into a hundred cities,
Land known to the young Jove,
Since my father and the country ruled by my just parent
(Dear names) were betrayed by my deed.
When I gave to you, lest you, the victor, should die in the winding edifice,
The threads which directed your steps as a guide,
Then you said to me: "By these very perils I swear,
So long as we both live, you shall be mine."
|We live, and I am not yours, Theseus--provided
A woman lives who is buried by the treachery of a perjured husband.
Me too you should have slain, like my brother, wicked one, with a club;
The promise that you gave would have been dissolved by death.
Now I ponder not only that which I will suffer,
And whatever any abandoned woman can suffer:
There come to mind a thousand forms of dying,
And death has less pain than the delay of death.
At this very moment, now here, now there, I suspect
Wolves which will tear my entrails with greedy teeth.
And who knows whether this land supports tawny lions?
Perhaps the island has savage tigers as well.
And they say that the sea drives up great seals!
And who forbids swords from piercing my side?
|Only if I am not bound fast with hard
Nor drawn to the long day's work with enslaved hand,
I whose father is Minos, whose mother is the daughter of Phoebus,
And, that which I remember more strongly, who was betrothed to you!
If I look at the sea, if I look at the land and the long-extending shore,
Many things threaten me on land, many on the waters.
The sky remains--I fear phantoms of the gods!
I am abandoned, prey and food for ravening wild animals;
If men cultivate this place and live here, I distrust them--
Injured, I have learned to fear foreign men.
|Would that Androgeos were alive! And
that you did not pay for wicked deeds,
Land of Cecrops, with your funerals;
And that your upraised right hand, Theseus, had not struck with the knotty club
The part man, part bull;
And that I had not given you the threads that showed your return,
Threads often taken up by the hands that were led.
I do not wonder, if victory was with you,
And the beast, stretched out, struck the Cretan earth.
Your iron heart could not be pierced by the horn;
Even if you did not cover yourself, your breast was safe..
There you bear flint, there adamant,
There you have Theseus, who surpasses flint.
|Cruel sleep, why did you hold me unmoving?
Or else once and for all I should have been pressed down by an unending night.
You too were cruel, winds, and too well prepared,
And you gales, obliging for my tears.
The right hand was cruel, which killed me and my brother,
And the promise (empty word) which was given at my request.
Sleep and winds and promise were sworn against me;
A single girl, I was betrayed by three causes.
|So am I, dying, not see my mother's tears?
Will there not be someone who will close my eyes with his fingers?
Will my unhappy spirit go forth into foreign air,
And will no friendly hand anoint my limbs, having arranged them?
Will sea-birds hover over my unburied bones?
Is this tomb worthy of my kindnesses?
You will go to the port of Cecrops, and having been received by your homeland,
When you stand before your crowding followers, haughty in countenance,
You will speak well of the death of the man-bull
And of the building of rock cut in uncertain paths;
Tell also of me, abandoned in an uninhabited land!
I should not be stolen from your honors.
Neither is Aegeus your father, nor are you the son of Pittheus' daughter, Aethra;
Your originators are the rocks and the sea!
|The gods should grant that you had seen me
from the height of the stern;
My sad form would have moved you!
Now also look at me, not with eyes, but as you can with your mind,
Hanging on a cliff which the wandering waves beat upon.
Look at me, with hair hanging loose in the manner of mourning,
And garments heavy with tears as if with rain.
My body shudders, like a cornfield struck by the north wind,
And the letters, pressed by my trembling hand, waver.
I do not plead with you now by my merit, since that has turned out badly;
Let no thanks be owed for my deed.
Yet certainly no punishment! If I am not the cause of your safety,
Yet there is certainly no reason why you should be the cause of my death.
|These hands, wearied with the beating of my
I, unhappy, stretch out to you over the broad sea.
Grief-stricken, I show to you this hair--what remains of it!
I entreat you by these tears, which your deeds have caused--
Turn your ship, Theseus, and glide back with your sail turned around!
If I have died before then, you nevertheless will bear away my bones!
|This page created and maintained
by James M. Hunter
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Last updated 06/23/2013