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From the Iphigeneia in Aulis of Euripides
by Hilda Doolittle
[from The Poets’ Translation Series, No. 3 (issued by The Egoist, London, 1916)]


Chorus of the Women of Chalkis


I crossed sand-hills.
I stand among the sea-drift before Aulis.
I crossed Euripos’ strait—
Foam hissed after my boat.

I left Chalkis,
My city and the rock-ledges.
Arethusa twists among the boulders,
Increases—cuts into the surf.

I come to see the battle-line
And the ships rowed here
By these spirits—
The Greeks are but half-man.

Golden Menelaus
And Agamemnon of proud birth
Direct the thousand ships.
They have cut pine-trees
For their oars.
They have gathered the ships for one purpose:
Helen shall return.

There are clumps of marsh-reed
And spear-grass about the strait.
Paris the herdsman passsed through them
When he took Helen—Aphrodite’s gift.

For he had judged the goddess
More beautiful than Hera.
Pallas was no longer radiant
As the three stood
Among the fresh-shallows of the strait.


I crept through the woods
Between the altars:
Artemis haunts the place.
Shame, scarlet, fresh-opened—a flower,
Strikes across my face.
And sudden—light upon shields,
Low huts—the armed Greeks,
Circles of horses.

I have longed for this.
I have seen Ajax.
I have known Protesilaos
And that other Ajax—Salamis’ light
They counted ivory-discs.
They moved them—they laughed.
They were seated together
On the sand-ridges.

I have seen Palamed,
Child of Poseidon’s child:
Diomed, radiant discobolus:
Divine Merion, a war-god,
Startling to men:
Island Odysseus from the sea-rocks:

And Nireos, most beautiful
Of beautiful Greeks.


A flash—
Achilles passed across the beach.
(He is the sea-woman’s child
Chiron instructed.)

Achilles had strapped the wind
About his ankles,
He brushed rocks
The waves had flung.
He ran in armour.
He led the four-yoked chariot
He had challenged to the foot-race.
Emelos steered
And touched each horse with pointed goad.

I saw the horses:
Each beautiful head was clamped with gold.

Silver streaked the centre horses.
They were fastened to the pole.
The outriders swayed to the road-stead.
Colour spread up from ankle and steel-hoof.
Bronze flashed.

And Achilles, set with brass,
Bent forward,
Level with the chariot-rail.


If a god should stand here
He could not speak
At the sight of ships
Circled with ships.

This beauty is too much
For any woman.
It is burnt across my eyes.
The line is an ivory-horn.
The Myrmidons in fifty quivering ships
Are stationed on the right.

These are Achilles’ ships.
On the prow of each
A goddess sheds gold:
Sea-spirits are cut in tiers of gold.


Next, equal-oared ships
Were steered from the port of Argos
By one of the Mekistians.
Sthenelos was with him.

Then the son of Theseus
Led out sixty ships,
Prow to prow from Attica.
A great spirit keeps them—
Pallas, graved above each ship.


Wings bear her
And horses, iron of hoof:
The phantom and chariot
Appear to men slashed with waves.

Fifty Bœotian ships,
Heavy with bright arms,
Floated next:
The earth-god stood at the prow
With golden-headed serpent.

Leitos, born of earth,
Guided this group of ships.

Ships had gathered
From ports of Phokis:
The Lokrians sent as many.
Ajax left beautiful Thronion
To lead both fleets.


From Mykenae’s unhewn rock,
Men, led out by Agamemnon,
Served beyond the breakwater
In one hundred ships.
His brother went with him—
Lover to lover.

Insult was thrown upon both.
Helen, possessed,
Followed a stranger
From the Greek courtyard.
They would avenge this.

Nestor brought ships from Pylos.
They are stamped
With Alpheus’ bull-hoof.


There were twelve Ænian sails:
Gouneos led the twelve ships.
He is the tribe-king.
Near him were Elis’ petty-chiefs—
The common people call Epians—
And Eurytos, their great chief.

Meges brought white-wood oars
From island Taphos.
He left Echinades—
Sailors find no entrance
Across the narrow rocks.

Ajax of Salamis
Finished the great arc:
He joined both branches
To the far border
With twelve ships,
Strung of flexible planks.


I have heard all this.
I have looked too
Upon this people of ships.
You could never count the Greek sails
Nor the flat keels of the foreign boats.

I have heard—
I myself have seen the floating ships
And nothing will ever be the same—
The shouts,
The harrowing voices within the house.
I stand apart with an army:
My mind is graven with ships.


Paris came to Ida.
He grew to slim height
Among the silver-hoofed beasts.
Strange notes made his flute
A Phrygian pipe.
He caught all Olympus
In his bent reeds.
While his great beasts
Cropped the grass,
The goddesses held the contest
Which sent him among the Greeks.

He came before Helen’s house.
He stood on the ivory steps.
He looked upon Helen and brought
Desire to the eyes
That looked back—
The Greeks have snatched up their spears.
They have pointed the helms of their ships
Toward the bulwarks of Troy.



The crowd of the Greek force
With stacked arms and with troop-ships
Will come to Simois—
The strait, furrowed deep with silver.

They will enter Troy.
The sun-god built the porticoes.
Kassandra shakes out her hair—
Its gold clasped
With half-opened laurel-shoots—
When the god strikes her
With his breath.

They will stand on Pergamos.
They will crowd about the walls.

They will lift their shields,
Riveted with brass,
As they enter Simois
In their painted ships.

Two brothers of Helen are spirits
And dwell apart in the air,
Yet the shieldsmen will take her,
And men, alert with spear-shaft,
Will carry her to the Greek coast.


And Pergamos,
City of the Phrygians,
Ancient Troy
Will be given up to its fate.
They will mark the stone-battlements
And the circle of them
With a bright stain.
They will cast out the dead—
A sight for Priam’s queen to lament
And her frightened daughters.

And Helen, child of Zeus,
Will cry aloud for the mate
She has left in that Phrygian town.

May no child of mine,
Nor any child of my child
Ever fashion such a tale
As the Phrygians shall murmur,
As they stoop at their distaffs,
Whispering with Lydians,
Splendid with weight of gold—

“Helen has brought this.
They will tarnish our bright hair.
They will take us as captives
For Helen—born of Zeus
When he sought Leda with bird-wing
And touched her with bird-throat—
If men speak truth.

“But still we lament our state,
The desert of our wide courts,
Even if there is no truth
In the legends cut on ivory
Nor in the poets
Nor the songs.”



By burnished-head,
Pierides sought the bride:
They touched the flute-stops
And the lyre-strings for the dance,

They made the syrinx-notes
Shrill through the reed-stalk.
They cut gold sandal-prints
Across Pelion
Toward the gods’ feast.

They called Pelios
From steep centaur-paths,
And Thetis
Among forest trees:
They chanted at the feast
Where Phrygian Ganymede,
Loved of Zeus,
Caught the measure of wine
In the circle of the golden cups.

While fifty sea-spirits
Moved and paused
To mark the beat
Of chanted words
Where light flashed
Below them on the sand.


A centaur-herd,
Wild-horses, crowned with grass,
Swept among the feasting gods
With fir-shoots
Toward the wine-jars.

And Chiron,
Inspired by the rites of song,
Cried with a loud voice:

“From Thessaly,
The great light
Whom Thetis will beget,”
(He spoke his name)
“Will come with the Myrmidons
Spearsmen and hosts with shields,
Golden and metal-wrought,
To scatter fire
Over Priam’s beautiful land.”

Therefore the spirits blessed
The fair-fathered,
The Nereid,
And chanted at Pelios’ feast.


(To Iphigeneia.)
Your hair is scattered light:
The Greeks will bind it with petals.

And like a little beast,
Dappled and without horns,
That scampered on the hill-rocks,
They will leave you
With stained throat—
Though you never cropped hill-grass
To the reed-cry
And the shepherd’s note.

Some Greek hero is cheated
And your mother’s court
Of its bride.

And we ask this—where truth is,
Of what use is valour and is worth?
For evil has conquered the race,
There is no power but in base men,
Nor any man whom the gods do not hate.



It is not for me, the day,
Nor this light of sun.
Ah, mother, mother,
The same terror is cast on us both.

Alas for that Phrygian cleft,
Beaten by snow,
The mountain-hill, Ida,
Where Priam left the young prince,
Brought far from his mother
To perish on the rocks:
Paris who is called
Idaeos, Idaeos
In the Phrygian court.

Would that he had never thrived,
Would that he had not kept the flocks
O that he had not dwelt
At that white place of the water-gods:
In meadows,
Thick with yellow flower-sprays
And flowers, tint of rose,
And the hyacinth we break for gods.

For Pallas came there,
And Kypris, crafty-heart,
And Hera and Hermes, legate of god
(Beautiful Kypris,
Pallas with spear-hilt,
Hera, queen, wed with Zeus.)
It was a hated judgment, O slender-girls.
The contest of beautiful-face by beautiful-face
Has brought this:
I am sent to death
To bring honour to the Greeks.


For Ilium, for Ilium
Artemis exacts sacrifice.


O wretched, wretched,—
I know you, Helen, sharp to do hurt.
I am slaughtered for your deceit.

O I am miserable:
You cherished me, my mother,
But even you desert me.
I am sent to an empty place.

O that Aulis had not harboured
These beaked ships,
Nor sheltered their brazen prows
As they floated toward Troy:
O that Zeus had not turned them
Nor wafted their splendour
Through the straits:
For Zeus strikes different winds
To each ship,
So that some men laugh
With the light flap of the sails,
Some bend with anger
At their work:

Some haul up the sheets,
Some knot the great ropes,
Some dash through the spray
To quick death.

And each man is marked for toil,
Much labour is his fate,
Nor is there any new hurt
That may be added to the race.



Now sing, O slight girls,
Without change of note,
My death-paeon and Artemis’ chant.

Stand silent, you Greeks.
The fire kindles.
They step to do sacrifice
With reed-basket of salt-cakes:
I come—I free Hellas.
My father, as priest awaits me
At the right altar-step.

Hail me now.
I destroy Phrygia and all Troy.
Clasp on the flower-circlet.
Wind it through the locks just caught with it.
Bear water in a deep bowl.
Stand around the temple-front
And the altar of heaped earth.
For I come to do sacrifice,
To break the might of the curse,
To honour the queen, if she permit,
The great one, with my death.


O, mother, high-born,
Of proud birth,
Will you not weep for us?
For we may not cry out
In the splendour of this holy place.


Slight girls, stand forth,
Chant Artemis—Artemis:
She fronts the coast,
She stands opposite Chalkis—
For spears will clash in the contest
My fame has brought
In the shelter of these narrow straits.

Hail, land of my birth.
Hail Mykenae, where I once dwelt—


(She calls upon the city of Perseos,
Built of unchiselled rock.)


—you brought me to the Greek light
And I will not hold you guilty
For my death.


Your name will never be forgotten,
Your honour will always last.


Alas, day, you brought light,
You trailed splendour
You showed us god:
I salute you, most precious one,
But I go to a new place,
Another life.


Alas, she steps forward
To destroy Ilium and the Phrygians.
A wreath is about her head,
She takes water in a dish.

She comes to meet death,
To stain the altar of the goddess,
To hold her girl-throat
Toward the knife-thrust.

The land-springs await
And the sacred bowls,
And the Greek host, eager to depart.
But let us not forget
With our past happiness,
Artemis, daughter of god,
Queen among the great,
But cry out:
Artemis, rejoicer in blood-sacrifice,
Send the force of the Greeks
To Troy and the Phrygian court.

And grant that Agamemnon may clasp
Fame, never to be forgot
Upon his brow—encircled
By Greek spear-shafts,
May he gain honour for all the Greeks.

* * *

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