Euripides, 1: Medea, Hecuba, Andromache, The Bacchae available in Paperback
The Penn Greek Drama Series presents original literary translations of the entire corpus of classical Greek drama: tragedies, comedies, and satyr plays. It is the only contemporary series of all the surviving work of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander.
This volume includes translations by Eleanor Wilner with Inés Azar (Medea), Marilyn Nelson ( Hecuba ), Donald Junkins ( Andromache ), and Daniel Mark Epstein ( The Bacchae ).
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Eleanor Wilner with Ines Azar
NURSE of Medea
TUTOR to Medea's children
CHILDREN of Medea and Jason
CHORUS of Corinthian women
CREON, king of Corinth
JASON, Medea's husband
AEGEUS, king of Athens
(The action of the play takes place in the Greek city-state of Corinth,
in front of the house of Medea. The Nurse enters from
If only the Argo had never spread its sails and flown
across the waves to distant Colchis, passing through
the dark Symplegades, those clashing rocks that lock
the blue straits to the East. If only the forest of pine
had not been felled to build the ship and hew the oars
that took the heroes to that foreign place. If only Jason
and his men had not been sent by the command of Pelias
the king, to seek the serpent-guarded Golden Fleece.
For then Medea, my mistress, would not have taken ship
for high-walled Iolchus, her heart clawed by love
for Jason. And she would not have tricked the daughters
of king Pelias into killing him, would not have made
her home with Jason and their children here in Corinth, cut off
forever from the country and the cradle of her birth.
At first, though, her life here was fortunate--with husband,
children, and the sympathy of the Corinthians
for the exile in their midst. To share everything with Jason
was her happiness. Life is an untroubled sea when
what a woman wants agrees with what her husband seeks.
But now the waters of content are roiled, all is hostile
to Medea, love is her enemy, and all that she holds dear
is sick. For Jason has deserted both his children and his wife,
and made his bed on royal sheets: he has wed the daughter
of Creon, Corinth's king.
Medea burns with shame.
Dishonored, she calls out to the gods to witness his betrayal,
invokes that vow he swore with his own right hand;
cast aside, she cries aloud what she has given him,
and how he serves her in return. Since she learned of his
food has not passed her lips, she gives herself entirely up
to a terrible despair, cries out, and melts time into tears.
Lost in pain, she will not raise her eyes nor lift
her face from the ground.
As well to move a stone, or turn
the waves back with a word, as to reach her. She speaks to
but to herself she weeps and murmurs of her beloved father,
her lost country and her kin, of all that she betrayed for him
who now dishonors her. Her own torn heart bears witness
now to what she did when she abandoned home.
And her children--she draws back at the sight of them.
I fear what dreadful plans she may conceal; the iron
weight of wrath is far too great to be endured within.
I fear that even now she hones the sword, and means
herself to drive it through her rival's belly as she lies
on the bridal bed, or kill the king, and Jason, all--
and leave a trail of blood in the wake of her insulted
pride. She is formidable. No one who crosses her
can hope to greet the morning light victorious, and crow.
But look. Here come her boys, home from their games,
by their mother's griefs. That is the way with the young--
to them, grief is no more than a passing cloud.
(Enter Tutor with the two children of Medea and Jason.)
Aged slave, nurse and servant to the house, what are
you doing out here, lamenting to yourself? What is the good
of pouring misery back into your own ears?
Does Medea, our mistress, wish to be left entirely alone?
Old Tutor, long time attendant to Lord Jason's sons, you know
how the loyal servant's heart is pierced when the master's luck
runs out on a bad roll of the dice. Overcome with grief,
I had to come out here to tell my lady's sorrows to the only
audience I have: the silent earth, the empty sky.
Is she still inconsolable? Not yet resigned?
I wish I shared your happy ignorance. Her pain has just
begun its climb--like a building wave, it has not reached
that peak where it will break, and crash.
Poor fool (though I tempt the gods to speak of my betters
so), it is our mistress who is the ignorant one, old nurse;
she doesn't know that worse news follows bad.
Tell me, old man. Don't leave me in suspense.
It's nothing. I have said more than I should.
By your beard I beg you, and as your fellow slave,
I beg you--tell me. If it is a secret, I will keep it close.
It is something that I overheard the old men say, the ones
who sit at the gaming tables near the holy Pierian spring.
Pretending not to listen, I heard one say that Creon,
Corinth's king, was going to exile these two children
and their mother from our land. I don't know if the tale
is true or no, but I fear it may be so.
That he is through with her, I understand; but will Jason
let them cast his own sons out like so much trash?
Old marriage bonds become an inconvenience when a man
moves on. I fear that Jason will no longer shield this house.
We have not passed through one storm and another breaks.
Too soon--I hear the very timbers groan; our ruin is sure.
Tell no one of this news I overheard. Your mistress must
Children, do you hear how little your father cares for you?
I curse him--no, what am I saying? He is my master. And yet,
how be loyal to one who shows no loyalty to his own?
Well, he is only human, after all. He has
a new and royal bride; these boys are in his way.
Don't you know by now that men put self-love first?
Now boys, go on inside. It's going to be all right. And you,
keep them far away from their mother in her rage; I have seen
her turn a savage look their way, and my heart quailed.
She will keep her anger chained until, a tiger, she turns
it loose unfed. Then pray it is her enemies
on whom it feeds, and not on those she loves.
Ay! Despised, cast out, sick with sorrow,
most miserable of women, I! Aaaay! If only I could die!
As I told you, dear ones, your mother whips her grief-tormented
heart into a fury. Go quickly into the house and stay out
of her sight. Don't come near her now. She baits her anger
with a prod. Beware her raging sorrow and her savage ways!
Quick--get inside now, fast as you can.
(Exit Tutor and children into the house.)
Laments and wailing rise from her, like smoke from a burning
house. And when fresh injury pours oil on the fire,
I fear the flames from the furnace of her sorrow-blasted
soul will sear us all. What won't she do?
Aiee! Unhappy as I am, I can suffer this no more!
The bitterest lament cannot contain the measure of my grief.
Oh children of a hateful mother, cursed by your very birth,
may you perish with your father, may this house fall into
ruin, may its dust be swept into the bin by slaves!
Ay! Ay me! The father's is the sin. Why must the children
share the blame? Why would you hate them? Oh children, I fear
for you; blank terror stalks my heart. For those with power
are dangerous: used to being obeyed, nothing checks
their willfulness. They swing from mood to mood, loose
cargo in a stormy hold. Let me grow old, secure and
unassuming, used to no more than my share; the middle way
is best, and keeps life on an even keel. Riches in excess
and lordly privilege aren't meant for mortals--no. When
fall on those who have the most, they pick them to the bones.
It was her voice,
her cry, the wretched
woman of Colchis--
again I heard it. Is she still
not calm? Is there no balm
to soothe her? Old
woman, tell me the truth.
Even inside my double-gated
house I heard those chants
I heard her cry--
but of what wrongs?
I can take no pleasure
in the misfortune
of this house, for I have shared
the cup of friendship there.
The house is no more than a shell. Its former lord has gone
to a royal marriage bed. Cast away, his one-time wife,
my mistress, keeps fast in her room, and lengthens time
and dreadful cries, and will take no comfort in the words
Aiee! May a bolt of lightning strike me dead!
Why should I drag myself, a broken-legged thing,
through empty days? If death would come for me,
and free me of my hateful life, then--oh, sweet rest!
O Zeus, and fruitful Earth,
and lucid Sun,
attend! Did you hear
this young wife's wail
But you, foolish
to sleep with Death?
That bed awaits us
all too soon--
what folly to invite it
out of time. And as to
husbands who desert
their wives to wed
their own advantage, Zeus
will settle that score.
Your husband does not
deserve your tears;
your grief by far
exceeds his worth.
O mighty Themis who sets the balance right,
and night-ruling Artemis, hear me! Do you see how
I am wronged, tied by firm oaths to an accursed husband.
May I live to see him and his new bride--her royal
house and train--ground into grit as fine as meal
fit to feed pigs, for they have wronged me without cause,
I who was never their foe.
O father, O city of my birth,
I feel my shame--to help Jason live, I killed my brother.
Do you hear her prayers, how she calls on Zeus' daughter,
Themis, guardian of oaths, avenger of men's broken vows?
Imperious, these prayers--no small revenge will do. Who knows
what she will undertake before this rage is spent?
If only she would come outside
and let us meet her--face to face;
perhaps our words could turn
her anger's tide, perhaps
we could, if not erase,
at least assuage her rage,
avert what rises from her heart,
May our good will never fail
our friends. Go now
and coax her from the house;
tell her that friends are here;
go quick, we fear her harm
to those inside. Like an army
that has begun its charge,
her grief is driving forward
toward its cause.
I will try. Though I am doubtful I can pry her
from the fastness of her pride. Still, I will serve you, and
persuade her if I can--though she growls and glowers
like a lioness with cubs at any servant who comes close
and tries to speak.
Would that there were songs to tame
the bitterness of mortal woe: for its relief wars are begun,
great houses ruined, the floodgates of violence opened.
Orpheus, though he could soften the hearts of beasts
and gods, had no song to quiet the furies of human grief.
Like him, our bards of old were helpless in the face
of rage; their harmonies were made to play at banquets
and at festivals where happiness abounds, where
the cakes are soaked in honey, and song's redundant.
Would that sweet music were devised--and wiser men
would tune the lyres in that more necessary key--
to mend the wounded heart, and make of lyric arts
a healing balm.
(Exit Nurse into the house.)
We heard the tortured
music of her cries,
how she calls for him
whom she despises now--
Jason: traitor, breaker
of vows, defiler of
their marriage bed.
We heard her call
on Themis, Goddess
of Oaths, daughter
of Olympic Zeus;
gives weight to the words
of men. By her good
faith, Medea came
to Hellas across the sea,
braved the swallowing
salt darkness; sailed
through the narrow straits
of the Black Sea,
few have gone.
(Medea and Nurse enter from the house.)
Women of Corinth, you have summoned me, and I have
come. I would not have your ill report. How easy it is
to be mistaken by the world, I know. Though there are
many who are arrogant, who do not hesitate--whether in
the open marketplace or behind their walls--to lord it over
all, yet there are those who live a quiet life, who shun
publicity, and, for diffidence and sweet reserve, they get
a reputation for indifference, for thinking themselves above
the common lot. Justice is not in the eyes of men:
judgment runs before knowledge. Before a man's true
character is known, people believe the worst; they hate
so easily and on the least of grounds--though the man
has done them not the slightest wrong. Above all,
a foreigner must not resist the general will, but be
compliant with the city's wish--though I do not mean
to praise or to excuse the citizen who is self-willed
and lacks civility. But in my case, a blow as if
from nowhere struck me down. I am destroyed: my joy
in life is done. I have but one desire: I want to die.
For he to whom my life and all were bound, has proved
the worst of men. And now disgrace is all I own.
Of all the sentient creatures of the earth, we women are
the most unfortunate. First there is the dowry: at such
exorbitant expense we have to buy a husband--pay
to take a master for our bodies. And as the seasons pass,
if he prove false, then are we twice abused. For our initial
loss (which custom celebrates) is multiplied beyond
the estimation of a cost: it is our pride that is insulted,
trampled underfoot. All our hopes and striving lean
on this one thing: whether the husband that we take
turns out good or ill. For marriage is the only choice
we have, and divorce discredits women utterly.
We leave the house we knew, the dear comfort of familiar
ways. We must enter the husband's world, accommodate
strange practices, the habits of his house, and figure out--
oh, hardest yet--how best to deal with his whims, for little
in our past prepares us for this task of satisfying him.
If after all our work to break our own will on the wheel
of his, and, with studied art, to mate desire with necessity--
if then the man has still not tired of us, does not resent
the marriage yoke: then, in the sorority of wives,
our lives are enviable.
Otherwise, one is better off dead.
A man when he is bored at home, or irritated by
the burdens of domestic life, goes out into the streets,
or to the baths, debates philosophy for sport, diverts
himself with games and friends, and does what pleases him.
Our lives are monotone: for on one man we're forced
to fix our gaze. Men say we lead an easy life,
safe at home while they risk all at the point of a spear.
What do they know? I would rather stand three times
in battle with shield and spear than give birth once.
But though we share a woman's lot, your story and mine
diverge. You have a city and the sanctuary of a father's
house, you yet enjoy your life and bask in the warmth
and company of friends. While I, bereft of city and of kin,
am by my husband's outrage left exposed-unwanted
as a child left on a hill to the vultures and the quarreling dogs.
For I was booty carried from a foreign land, orphaned
by distance; I have no mother, no brother, no family to offer
refuge from the wreckage of my hopes. So I ask you one favor.
If I find means and opportunity to punish my faithless
husband--sisters, keep my secret. For though a woman
turn away at the sight of the blood-drenched field of war,
and shudder at the cold steel blade-when she is scorned in love,
no warrior, however fierce, has thoughts as murderous as hers.
I will keep your secret, Medea. Your cause is just, for you
are wronged. Your husband must be punished. I understand
your grief, and that it seeks relief, as streams flow down,
tearing aside whatever rocks may block their way.
But here comes Creon, and, in the way of kings, no doubt
he comes to bring some new edict. What can it be?
(Enter Creon with his guards.)
You, Medea, who disturb our peace with rage against
your husband--I order you to leave this land at once,
go into exile, and your children with you. At once, I say--
for this decree is mine, and I will see you gone myself,
outside the borders of this land, before I go back home.
Aiee! I am utterly destroyed! My enemies come full sail--
from the narrowing straits of blind misfortune, I can see no
Is not my suffering unendurable enough? I ask you: why?
Creon, I ask you why you wish to banish me.
Well, I see no reason at all to hide the fact
that I'm afraid for my daughter, of what you might
do to her, what deadly harm, as you have all
the means--your cleverness, your skill in evil arts,
and certainly the record shows what you can do.
Stung by the loss of your husband's marriage bed, you dare
threaten to harm the bride, her husband--even me!
This is the report that many bring--well, an ounce
of prevention, and so on ... better that you should hate me now,
than I be soft, and live to repent it later.
Ah, Creon. This is not the first time that my reputation
hurt me, and led others to misjudge my honest aims.
A sensible man should not educate his children too much,
make them too wise, for their learning will earn them little more
than the malice of their fellows, who will accuse them
of everything malign--idleness, intrigue, whatever their envy
can invent. If you bring new ideas to fools, they will hate
you for it; whatever they fail to understand, they judge
as useless, or worse. And if your reputation outstrips
those whom the city acknowledges as its most clever men,
then you become an irritation--a thorn in order's tender skin.
I share this fate I speak of--my cleverness and education
have brought me the enmity of some, by others I am thought
withdrawn, or else too forward, too formidable--and yet,
my wisdom is but small, I cannot raise an army, or a wind,
I have no power--and still you fear me. What harm could I
do you? Creon, have no fear of me; I am no criminal to plot
against my rulers. What reason would I have? You have done
me no injustice. It is my husband that I hate, not you, nor
your good fortune. You married your daughter to the man
on whom your own heart placed the seal. A choice sincere,
and sensible; you acted well. May the marriage, may you all
prosper in the days ahead. Only let me stay here in Corinth.
For, though I am wronged, I am not wroth--I put aside
and I will be compliant now, and yield to my superiors.
Your words are soothing to my ear, but I dare not trust them.
I fear you only feign; beneath these yielding words,
deep in your heart, you plot to harm us. Your honeyed words
have only added force to what I first suspected.
It is easier to protect oneself against a woman in a passion--
or a man for that matter--than one wise enough to keep
her own counsel. No more argument: go at once into exile--
My decree is fixed; no enemy of mine remains in Corinth.
Oh, no. I beg you by your knees and by your newly wedded
It is no use; I can't be won. Woman, you waste your words.
But will you banish me and so refuse a suppliant?
Yes. Should I put you before the love I owe my own?
Oh fatherland! Now my thoughts are filled with you.
And mine. Next to my children, my land is nearest to my heart.
Oh, what a curse is love!
Well, it all depends.
Zeus, mark well who is responsible for all this grief!
Plague take you, woman--go! And rid me of this burden.
The suffering is mine. I have no need of more.
In a minute, my servants will throw you out by force.
No, no. Oh please, I beg you, Creon, not yet.
Woman, you are like a fly buzzing in my ear.
Your banishment I accept. It is not from that I sought reprieve.
Infuriating woman, what then? Why still cling to my hand,
using a suppliant's sacred claim to bend my will?
I ask for but one day, today, to make provision
for exile, for my children, whom their father abandons.
But you, a parent too, will naturally have pity on them;
you will be shepherd to my lambs. For myself, I care nothing;
exile for me is neither here nor there. It is for my children
that I sorrow, for their departure I would prepare the way.
I have not the cast of mind to play the tyrant's role,
though I have paid, and dearly so, for clemency.
I know to grant your plea is a grave mistake, and yet
I grant it. But if tomorrow's sun should find you and
your sons within this land, then, straight away, you will
be put to death. My word on this is final. Stay then
for this last day. Too little time to do the harm I feared.
(Exit Creon and guards.)
Table of Contents
Introduction by Palmer Bovie
—Translated by Eleanor Wilner and Ines Azar
—Translated by Marilyn Nelson
—Translated by Donald Junkins
—Translated by Daniel Mark Epstein
Pronouncing Glossary of Names
About the Translators