Polyneices bribes Eriphyle with the necklace of Harmonia

Fragment of a Greek Tragedy

by A. E. Housman

                CHORUS:  O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots

          Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom

          Whence by what way how purposed art thou come

          To this well-nightingaled vicinity?

          My object in inquiring is to know.

          But if you happen to be deaf and dumb

          And do not understand a word I say,

          Then wave your hand, to signify as much.

                ALCMAEON: I journeyed hither a Boeotian road.

                CHORUS: Sailing on horseback, or with feet for oars?

                ALCMAEON: Plying with speed my partnership of legs.

                CHORUS: Beneath a shining or a rainy Zeus?

                ALCMAEON: Mud's sister, not himself, adorns my shoes.

                CHORUS: To learn your name would not displease me much.

                ALCMAEON: Not all that men desire do they obtain.

                CHORUS: Might I then hear at what thy presence shoots.

                ALCMAEON: A shepherd's questioned mouth informed me


                CHORUS: What? for I know not yet what you will say.

                ALCMAEON: Nor will you ever, if you interrupt.

                CHORUS: Proceed, and I will hold my speechless tongue.

                ALCMAEON: This house was Eriphyle's, no one else's.

                CHORUS: Nor did he shame his throat with shameful lies.

                ALCMAEON: May I then enter, passing through the door?

                CHORUS: Go chase into the house a lucky foot.

          And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good,

          And do not, on the other hand, be bad;

          For that is much the safest plan.

                ALCMAEON: I go into the house with heels and speed.



          In speculation

          I would not willingly acquire a name

                For ill-digested thought;

                But after pondering much

          To this conclusion I at last have come:

                LIFE IS UNCERTAIN.

                This truth I have written deep

                In my reflective midriff

                On tablets not of wax,

          Nor with a pen did I inscribe it there,

          For many reasons:  LIFE, I say, IS NOT


          Not from the flight of omen-yelling fowls

                This fact did I discover,

          Nor did the Delphine tripod bark it out,

                Nor yet Dodona.

          Its native ingenuity sufficed

                My self-taught diaphragm.


                Why should I mention

          The Inachean daughter, loved of Zeus?

                Her whom of old the gods,

                More provident than kind,

          Provided with four hoofs, two horns, one tail,

                A gift not asked for,

                And sent her forth to learn

                The unfamiliar science

                Of how to chew the cud.

          She therefore, all about the Argive fields,

          Went cropping pale green grass and nettle-tops,

                Nor did they disagree with her.

          But yet, howe'er nutritious, such repasts

                I do not hanker after:

          Never may Cypris for her seat select

                My dappled liver!

          Why should I mention Io?  Why indeed?

                I have no notion why.


                But now does my boding heart,

                Unhired, unaccompanied, sing

                A strain not meet for the dance.

                Yes even the palace appears

                To my yoke of circular eyes

                (The right, nor omit I the left)

                Like a slaughterhouse, so to speak,

                Garnished with woolly deaths

                And many shipwrecks of cows.

          I therefore in a Cissian strain lament:

                And to the rapid

                Loud, linen-tattering thumps upon my chest

                Resounds in concert

          The battering of my unlucky head.

                ERIPHYLE (within): O, I am smitten with a hatchet's jaw;

          And that in deed and not in word alone.

                CHORUS: I thought I heard a sound within the house

          Unlike the voice of one that jumps for joy.

                ERIPHYLE: He splits my skull, not in a friendly way,

          Once more: he purposes to kill me dead.

                CHORUS: I would not be reputed rash, but yet

          I doubt if all be gay within the house.

                ERIPHYLE: O! O! another stroke! that makes the third.

          He stabs me to the heart against my wish.

                CHORUS:  If that be so, thy state of health is poor;

          But thine arithmetic is quite correct.

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