A monologue from the play by Sophocles
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Dramas. Sophocles. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1906.
HERACLES: How many and how fierce and sore to tell
The labours I with body and hands have wrought!
And such an one not even the Spouse of Jove
Set me, or the abhorred Eurystheus, ever,
As this, which ?neus’ daughter crafty-faced
Fitted upon my shoulders–the web-toil
Woven of the Furies, which is killing me.
For plastered to my sides, it has gnawed off
The surface of my flesh, and settles in
And battens on the channels of the lungs,
And has already drained all my fresh life-blood,
And through my whole frame I am overthrown,
Worsted by this unthought-for fetterment!
Treatment such as I never yet endured–
No, not from lances in the battle-field,
Or Giants’ earthborn army, or Centaurs’ might,
Or Grecian or barbarian, or all lands
Which I, cleansing their borders, visited;
But one sole woman–a female, not a male
By sex–weaponless–puts an end to me.
O boy, now show yourself my true-born son;
Set not the name of mother all too high;
But with your own hands hale out of the house
And render her that bare you unto mine,
That I may know whether you grieve to see
This form of mine abused, rather than hers
Righteously punished. Up, my son, take courage!
Have pity on me, whom any men might pity,
Weeping and moaning like a girl–a thing
No one could say that he had seen me do
Ever before; rather, where hardships led
I followed uncomplaining. Now, alas,
Falling from thence, I have been proved a woman.
And now come near; stand by your father’s side;
See under what mischance I suffer thus;
Here, I will show you without coverings;
Lo, behold all, a miserable frame!
Mark me, poor wretch, how I am pitiable!–O woe! Alas, ah me,
Again, once more, that racking fever pain
Right through my side! The desperate gnawing plague
Will not release me from its harassing;
O Hades, king, receive me! O Jove’s lightning, strike me!
Smite me, O king! Dart down thy thunderbold,
Father, on me! for once again it revels,
It has blossomed–it has burst forth. O hands–hands,
O back and breast, O shoulder-blades of mine,
And have you come to this, who formerly
Beat down by force the lion habitant
Of Nemea, the perilous beast and wild,
Fatal to herdsmen; and the water-snake
Of Lerna; and the two-form prancing host
Of Centaurs, insolent, unsocial, rude,
Rampant at might; and the Erymanthian boar;
And the infernal triple-headed hound
Of Hades, the resistless monster, whelp
Of the dread Basilisk; and the Dragon-guard
Of golden apples, growing at the world’s end?
And countless other toils I tasted of,
And no man set up trophies over me!
Now here I lie, with dislocated bones,
With lacerated flesh, by a dark mischief
Utterly cast away, unhappy! I,
Named of a mother most illustrious,
Reputed son of Zeus, Lord of the stars!
But be ye sure of this; though I be nothing,
Albeit I cannot move, even as I am,
Her who did this, still, I can overcome;
Let her come only, that she may be taught,
And have it to relate to all, how I,
Living and dying, punished wickedness!