A monologue from the play by Jean Racine
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from The Dramatic Works of Jean Racine. Trans. Robert Bruce Boswell. London: George Bell and Sons, 1911.
CLYTEMNESTRA: Fit offspring of a fatal stock!
Thine is the blood of Atreus and Thyestes:
Thy daughter’s murderer; there but remains
One horror more, to serve her as a feast
Before her mother. Savage, this is then
The gladsome sacrifice thou was preparing
With artful care! Did not thy hand refuse
The infamy of writing a command
So cruel! Why dost thou pretend to feel
A false distress? Think not that tears can prove
A love that shrinks from bold defense in arms.
Why has not blood been shed for her in torrents?
What wreck and ruin till of thy resistance?
What field of corpses cover’d seals my mouth?
Proofs such as these I would have had thee bring me
Of thine affection and desire to save her.
A fatal oracle ordains her death!
But what an oracle may seem to say
Not always is its meaning. Can just Heav’n
Thirst for the blood of innocence, or be
Honour’d by murder? If for Helen’s crime
Her kin are punish’d, for her daughter send
To Sparta. So let Menelaus ransom
The wife whose frailty in his eyes seems small
Match’d with her charms. But surely it is madness
To make thyself the victim of her sin.
And why should I, smiting upon my breast,
With my own flesh and blood pay for her folly?
Does Helen then, for whom such jealous fires
Were kindled, curse of Europe and of Asia,
Seem worthy of thine efforts to regain her?
How often have we blush’d to speak her name!
Ere, to his woe, thy brother link’d his fate
With hers, she had been carried off by Theseus,
Who, as thou knowest and hast heard from Calchas
A thousand times, clandestinely unloosed
Her virgin zone; and, pledge of that amour,
A princess of her blood has been by her
Kept in concealment. But a brother’s honour
Is the least cause of thy solicitude:
That lust of empire nothing can extinguish,
The pride of seeing twenty monarchs serve
And fear thee, empire to thine hands confided,
These are the gods who claim this sacrifice
From thee, who far from offering resistance
Dost make a barbarous merit of submission.
Jealous of pow’r that can excite their envy,
Thou dost not grudge to pay a heavy price
From thine own veins, that so thou mayest quell
All opposition to thy sovereign sway.
Is this to be a father? Outraged nature
Revolts at this perfidious cruelty.
A priest, surrounded by a brutal crowd,
Will on my child lay hands of violence,
Rend her bared bosom, and with curious eye
For omens search her palpitating heart!
While I, who brought her hither proud and happy,
Must needs go back alone and in despair!
Still will the ways be scented with the flow’rs
That ‘neath her feet were scatter’d as we came!
It shall not be that to her doom I brought her,
Or thou wilt have to add my death to hers.
Ay, thou shalt never tear her from these arms,
While life is mine: no fears can shake my purpose.
Ruthless alike as husband and as father
Come, if thou darest, snatch her from the breast
That nursed her!