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Scene: the palace-front at Argos. A WATCHMAN appears on its roof, on top of the stage-building. His words indicate that the action begins in the night.
WATCHMAN. I ask the gods for release from this misery, the year-long watch I lie awake keeping on the roof of the Atreidae, up above here like a dog; I am familiar now with the night-stars’ assembly, and those brilliant potentates which bring men summer and winter, conspicuous in the heaven; I mark them closely as they fade, and the risings of others. And now I am on watch for a beacon’s sign, a gleam of ﬁre bringing word from Troy and report of its capture: such is the power here of a woman whose heart in its hope plans like a man. Whenever I ﬁnd myself shifting my bed about at night, wet with dew, unvisited by dreams—because fear instead of sleep stands at my side to stop my eyes closing fast in slumber—and whenever I think to sing or to hum, dispensing this remedy from music against sleep, then I weep in lament for this house’s misfortune; it is not managed for the best as it was before. Now I wish for a happy release from misery when the ﬁre in the dark has appeared with its good news.
(beginning to settle once more, but suddenly crying out) The beacon! Greetings to you! You show daylight in the night, and mean the setting up of many dances in Argos to mark this good fortune!
(shouting down into the palace behind him) Ho there, ho! (a slight pause) I am making a clear signal to Agamemnon’s wife, to rise up speedily from her bed and lift a joyful cry of celebration for the house at this beacon, if Ilion’s city is indeed taken, as the ﬂame prominently announces; and I shall dance a prelude of my own too, for I shall play on my master’s good success now this beacon-ﬂame has thrown me treble-six.
My real wish however, when the house’s lord has come, is to clasp his well-loved hand in mine. The rest, I keep silent: a great ox is treading on my tongue—but the house itself, if it got a voice, would speak very plainly; I talk willingly to those who know, and for those who do not know, I choose to forget.
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Outside the royal palace at Argos.
You Gods in heaven —
You have watched me here on this tower
All night, every night for twelve months,
Thirteen moons -
Tethered on the roof of this palace
Like a dog.
It is time to release me.
I’ve stared long enough into this darkness
For what never emerges.
I’m tired of the constellations —
That glittering parade of lofty rulers
Night after night a little bit earlier
Withholding the thing I wait for —
Slow as torture.
And the moon, coming and going —
Wearisome, like watching the sea
From a deathbed. Like watching the tide
In its prison yard, with its two turns
In out in out.
I’m sick of the heavens, sick of the darkness.
The one light I wait for never comes.
Maybe it never will come -
A beacon-ﬂare that leaps from peak to peak
Bringing the news from Troy -
‘Victory! After ten years, Victory!’
The one word that Clytemnestra prays for.
Queen Clytemnestra - who wears
A man’s heart in a woman’s body,
A man's dreadful will in the scabbard of her body
Like a polished blade. A hidden blade.
Clytemnestra reigns over fear.
I get up sodden with dew.
I walk about, to shift my aches.
I lie down — the aches harden worse.
No dreams. No sleep. Only fear —
Fear like a solid lump of indigestion
Here, high in my belly — a seething.
Singing’s good for fear
But when I try to sing — weeping comes.
I weep. There’s no keeping it down.
Everything’s changed in this palace.
The old days,
The rightful King, order, safety, splendour,
A splendour that lifted the heart —
Let that ﬂame come leaping out of the East
To release me.
Where did that light come from? In pitch darkness
That point — that’s new.
Down there, near what must be the skyline,
In the right place! It just appeared!
A ﬂickering point. And getting bigger. A ﬁre!
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SCENE: The House of Atreus in Argos. Nighttime.
(A disheveled watchman appears on the roof of the house.)
Gods! Free me from these labors!
I've spent a whole year up here, watching,
propped up on my elbows, on the roof
of this house of Atreus, like some dog.
How well I've come to know night's congregation of stars,
the blazing monarchs of the sky, those that bring winter
and those that bring summer to us mortals.
I know just when they rise and when they set.
So I watch, watch for the signal pyre,
the burning flame that will tell us, Troy is taken!
I take my orders from a woman, my mistress who waits for news
oh she's a woman all right, a woman with a man's heart.
So I lie here, tossing and turning all night,
this sopping bed unvisited by dreams.
Fear sits by my side and keeps me awake,
oh, I wish I could just close my eyes up tight and sleep.
So I sing to myself or hum a little tune,
a musical remedy, in case I drop off.
But it always makes me miserable and I start to cry,
for this house and how things used to be run, in the old days.
But if only tonight could come blessed freedom from these labors.
Oh, let the fire of fortune light up our darkness.
(He sees the beacon shining in the distance.)
Oh! Oh! Welcome, beacon of the night, bright as day!
They'll be dancing all over Argos,
rejoicing this moment,
I'm shouting to wake the wife of Agamemnon,
she must rise up out of bed, quickly, wake the house
and welcome this signal fire with the hallowed cry.
If Troy has been taken, as these flames
tell me, then I'll be the first
to sing and dance in celebration.
My master's luck is mine, this blazing
torch has thrown triple sixes for me!
Just bring my King home and let me clasp
his most welcome hand in mine. As for the rest,
I'm saying nothing, a great ox is standing on my tongue.
Now if this house could speak it would tell quite a story,
I've only got words for those in the know,
for the others, I can't remember anything.
(Exit watchman from the roof)
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TIME AND Scene: A night in the
tenth and final autumn of the Trojan
war. The house of Atreus in Argos.
Before it, an altar stands unlit; a
watchrnan on the high roof fights to
Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
the long watch I keep, one whole year awake
propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of
like a dog.
I know the stars by heart,
the armies of the night, and there in the lead
the ones that bring us snow or the crops of summer,
bring us all we have
our great blazing of the sky,
I know them, when they rise and when they fall
and now I watch for the light, the signal-fire
breaking out of Troy, shouting Troy is taken.
So she commands, full of her high hopes.
That woman - she manoeuvres like a man.
And when I keep to my bed, soaked in dew,
and the thoughts go groping through the night
and the good dreams that used to guard my sleep
not here, it's the old comrade, terror, at my neck.
I musn't sleep, no -
Shaking himself awake
Look alive, sentry.
And I try to pick out tunes, I hum a little,
a good cure for sleep, and the tears start,
I cry for the hard times come to the house,
no longer run like the great place of old.
Oh for a blessed end to all our pain,
some godsend burning through the dark
Light appears slowly in the east; he
struggles to his feet and scans it.
I salute you!
You dawn of the darkness, you turn night to day
I see the light at last.
They'll be dancing in the streets of Argos
thanks to you, thanks to this new stroke of-
There's your signal clear and true, my queen!
Rise up from bed - hurry, lift a cry of triumph
through the house, praise the gods for the beacon,
if they've taken Troy
But there it burns,
fire all the way. I'm for the morning dances.
Master's luck is mine. A throw of the torch
has brought us triple-sixes - we have won!
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It is night, a little before sunrise. On the roof of Atreus’ palace WATCHMAN stands, or rises from a small mattress placed on the hewn stone. lnfront cf the palace are statues of Zeus, Apollo, and Hermes; each with an altar bgbre it.
WATCHMAN: O gods! grant me release from this long weary watch.
Release, O gods! Twelve full months now, night after night Dog-like I lie here, keeping guard from this high roof
On Atreus’ palace. The nightly conference of stars,
Resplendent rulers, bringing heat and cold in turn,
Studding the sky with beauty — I know them all, and watch them
Setting and rising; but the one light I long to see
Is a new star, the promised sign, the beacon-flare
To speak from Troy and utter one word, ‘Victory l’ -
Great news for Clytemnestra, in whose woman’s heart
A man’s will nurses hope.
Now once more, drenched with dew,
I walk about; lie down, but no dreams visit me.
Sleep’s enemy, fear, stands guard beside me, to forbid
My eyes one instant’s closing. If I sing some tune
Since music's the one cure prescribed for heartsicknees -
Why, then I weep, to think how changed this house is now
From splendour of old days, ruled by its rightful lord.
So may the gods be kind and grant release from trouble,
And send the ﬁre to cheer this dark night with good news.
The beacon shines out.
O welcome beacon, kindling night to glorious day,
Welcome! You’ll set them dancing in every street in Argos
When they hear your message. Ho there! Hullo! Call Clytemnestra!
The Queen must rise at once like Dawn from her bed, and welcome
The fire with pious words and a shout of victory,
For the town of Ilion’s ours - that beacon’s clear enough!
I'll be the first myself to start the triumphal dance.
Now I can say the gods have blessed my master’s hand;
And for me too that beacon-light’s a ltlcky throw.
Now Heaven bring Agamemnon safe to his home!
May I Hold his dear hand in mine! For the rest, I say no more;
My tongue’s nailed down. This house itself, if walls had words,
Would tell its story plainly. Well, I speak to those
Who understand me; to the rest - my door is shut.
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Scene: Argos, in front of the palace of King Agamemnon. The Watchman is posted on the roof.
I ask the gods some respite from the weariness
of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake
elbowed upon the Atreidae’s roof dogwise to mark
the grand processionals of all the stars of night
burdened with winter and again with heat for men,
dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air,
these stars, upon their wane and when the rest arise.
I wait; to read the meaning in that beacon light,
a blaze of fire to carry out of Troy the rumor
and outcry of its capture; to such end a lady’s
male strength of heart in its high confidence ordains.
Now as this bed stricken with night and drenched with dew
I keep, nor ever with kind dreams for company—
since fear in sleep’s place stands forever at my head
against strong closure of my eyes, or any rest—
I mince such medicine against sleep failed: I sing,
only to weep again the pity of this house
no longer, as once, administered in the grand way.
Now let there be again redemption from distress,
the flare burning from the blackness in good augury.
(A light shows in the distance.)
Oh hail, blaze of the darkness, harbinger of day’s
shining, and of processionals and dance and songs
of multitudes in Argos for this day of thanks.
Ho there, ho!
I cry the news aloud to Agamemnon’s queen,
that she may rise up from her bed of state with speed
to raise the rumor of gladness welcoming this beacon,
and singing rise, if truly the citadel of Ilium
has fallen, as the shining of this flare proclaims.
I also, I, will make my choral prelude, since
my lord’s dice cast aright are counted as my own,
and mine the tripled sixes of this torchlit throw.
May it only happen. May my king come home, and I
take up within this hand the hand I love. The rest
leave to silence; for an ox stands huge upon
my tongue. The house itself, could it take voice, might speak
aloud and plain. I speak to those who understand,
but if they fail, I have forgotten everything.
(Exit. Enter the Chorus from the side.)
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(The entrance to the palace of the Atreidae at Argos. Before the door stand sacred images. A Watchman is stationed on the roof)
WATCHMANZ I've prayed God to deliver me from evil
Throughout a long years vigil, couched like a dog
On the roof of the House of Atreus, where I scan
The pageant of‘Night's starry populace,
And in their midst, illustrious potentates,
The shining constellations that bring men
Summer and winter, as they rise and set.
And still I keep watch for the beacon-sign,
That radiant ﬂame that shall ﬂash out of Troy
The message of her capture. So strong in hope
A woman's heart, whose purpose is a man's.
Night after night, tossed on this restless bed,
With dew bedrenched, by no dreams visited,
Not mine—no sleep, but at n1y pillow fear
That keeps these eyes from slumber all too sound;
And when I start to sing or hum a tune.
And our of music cull sleeps antidote,
I always weep the state of this great house.
Not in high fettle as it used to be.
But now at last may good news in a ﬂash
Scatter the darkness and deliver us! (The beacon flashes)
Hail, lamp of joy, whose gleam turns night to day.
Hail, radiant sign of dances numberless
In Argos for our happy state! Ho there!
I summon Agamemnon's sleeping queen.
To leave her couch and lift the ringing voice
Of gracious alleluias through the house
To celebrate the beacon, if it be true
That Troy is taken, as this blaze portends.
And I will dance the overture myself. (Dances)
My master’s dice have fallen well, and I
For this night's work shall score a treble six.
Well, come what may, let it be mine to grasp
In this right hand my masters, home again!
The rest is secret: a heavy ox has trod
Across my tongue. These walls, if they had mouths,
Might tell tales all too plainly. I speak to those
Who know, to others—purposely forget.
(He disappears into the palace. A woman's cry of joy is heard within. Enter chorus of old men.)
Herbert Weir Smyth
This older Loeb Classical Library translation is freely available online at Perseus . Alternatively, you can see the paper copies at Amazon:
Release from this weary task of mine has been my plea to the gods throughout this long year's watch, in which, lying upon the palace roof of the Atreidae, upon my bent arm, like a dog, I have learned to know well the gathering of the night's stars, those radiant potentates conspicuous in the firmament, bringers of winter and summer to mankind [the constellations, when they rise and set].
So now I am still watching for the signal-flame, the gleaming fire that is to bring news from Troy and tidings of its capture. For thus commands my queen, woman in passionate heart and man in strength of purpose. And whenever I make here my bed, restless and dank with dew and unvisited by dreams—for instead of sleep fear stands ever by my side, so that I cannot close my eyelids fast in sleep—and whenever I care to sing or hum （and thus apply an antidote of song to ward off drowsiness）, then my tears start forth, as I bewail the fortunes of this house of ours, not ordered for the best as in days gone by. But tonight may there come a happy release from my weary task! May the fire with its glad tidings flash through the gloom!
The signal fire suddenly flashes out
Oh welcome, you blaze in the night, a light as if of day, you harbinger of many a choral dance in Argos in thanksgiving for this glad event!
Hallo! Hallo! To Agamemnon's queen I thus cry aloud the signal to rise from her bed, and as quickly as she can to lift up in her palace halls a shout of joy in welcome of this fire, if the city of Ilium truly is taken, as this beacon unmistakably announces. And I will make an overture with a dance upon my own account; for my lord's lucky roll I shall count to my own score, now that this beacon has thrown me triple six.
Ah well, may the master of the house come home and may I clasp his welcome hand in mine! For the rest I stay silent; a great ox stands upon my tongue1—yet the house itself, could it but speak, might tell a plain enough tale; since, for my part, by my own choice I have words for those who know, and to those who do not know, I've lost my memory.
He descends by an inner stairway; attendants kindle fires at the altars placed in front of the palace. Enter the chorus of Argive Elders.
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The Scene represents a space in front of the Palace of Agamemnon in Argos, with an Altar of Zeus in the centre and many other altars at the sides. On a high terrace of the roof stands a WATCHMAN. It is night.
This waste of year-long vigil I have prayed
God for some respite, watching elbow-stayed,
As sleuthhounds watch, above the Atreidae's hall,
Till well I know yon midnight festival
Of swarming stars, and them that lonely go,
Bearers to man of summer and of snow,
Great lords and shining, throned in heavenly fire.
And still I await the sign, the beacon pyre
That bears Troy's capture on a voice of flame
Shouting o'erseas. So surely to her aim
Cleaveth a woman's heart, man-passioned!
And when I turn me to my bed—my bed
Dew-drenched and dark and stumbling, to which near
Cometh no dream nor sleep, but alway Fear
Breathes round it, warning, lest an eye once fain
To close may close too well to wake again;
Think I perchance to sing or troll a tune
For medicine against sleep, the music soon
Changes to sighing for the tale untold
Of this house, not well mastered as of old.
Howbeit, may God yet send us rest, and light
The flame of good news flashed across the night.
He is silent, watching. Suddenly at a distance in the night there is a glimmer of fire, increasing presently to a blaze.
0 kindler of the dark, O daylight birth
Of dawn and dancing upon Argive earth
For this great end! All hail!—What ho, within!
What ho! Bear word to Agamemnon's queen
To rise, like dawn, and lift in answer strong
To this glad lamp her women's triumph-song,
If verily, verily, Ilion's citadel
Is fallen, as yon beacons flaming tell.
And I myself will tread the dance before
All others; for my master's dice I score
Good, and mine own to-night three sixes plain.
Lights begin to show in the Palace.
Oh, good or ill, my hand shall clasp again
My dear lord's hand, returning! Beyond that
I speak not. A great ox hath laid his weight
Across my tongue. But these stone walls know well,
If stones had speech, what tale were theirs to tell.
For me, to him that knoweth I can yet
Speak; if another questions I forget.
Exit into the Palace. The women's "Ololûgê" or triumph-cry, is heard within and then repeated again and again further off in the City. Handmaids and Attendants come from the Palace, bearing torches, with which they kindle incense on the altars. Among them comes CLYTEMNESTRA, who throws herself on her knees at the central Altar in an agony of prayer.
Presently from the further side of the open space appear the CHORUS of ELDERS and move gradually into position in front of the Palace. The day begins to dawn.
Ten years since Ilion's righteous foes,
The Atreidae strong,
Menelaüs and eke Agamemnon arose,
Two thrones, two sceptres, yoked of God;
And a thousand galleys of Argos trod
The seas for the righting of wrong;
And wrath of battle about them cried,
As vultures cry,
Whose nest is plundered, and up they fly
In anguish lonely, eddying wide,
Great wings like oars in the waste of sky,
Their task gone from them, no more to keep
Watch o'er the vulture babes asleep.
But One there is who heareth on high
Some Pan or Zeus, some lost Apollo—
That keen bird-throated suffering cry
Of the stranger wronged in God's own sky;
And sendeth down, for the law transgressed,
The Wrath of the Feet that follow.
Edmund Doidge Anderson Morshead
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I pray the gods to quit me of my toils,
To close the watch I keep, this livelong year;
For as a watch-dog lying, not at rest,
Propped on one arm, upon the palace-roof
Of Atreus' race, too long, too well I know
The starry conclave of the midnight sky,
Too well, the splendours of the firmament,
The lords of light, whose kingly aspect shows—
What time they set or climb the sky in turn—
The year's divisions, bringing frost or fire.
And now, as ever, am I set to mark
When shall stream up the glow of signal-flame,
The bale-fire bright, and tell its Trojan tale—
Troy town is ta'en: such issue holds in hope
She in whose woman's breast beats heart of man.
Thus upon mine unrestful couch I lie,
Bathed with the dews of night, unvisited
By dreams—ah me!—for in the place of sleep
Stands Fear as my familiar, and repels
The soft repose that would mine eyelids seal.
And if at whiles, for the lost balm of sleep,
I medicine my soul with melody
Of trill or song—anon to tears I turn,
Wailing the woe that broods upon this home,
Not now by honour guided as of old.
But now at last fair fall the welcome hour
That sets me free, whene'er the thick night glow
With beacon-fire of hope deferred no more.
A beacon-light is seen reddening the distant sky.
Fire of the night, that brings my spirit day,
Shedding on Argos light, and dance, and song,
Greetings to fortune, hail!
Let my loud summons ring within the ears
Of Agamemnon's queen, that she anon
Start from her couch and with a shrill voice cry
A joyous welcome to the beacon-blaze,
For Ilion's fall; such fiery message gleams
From yon high flame; and I, before the rest,
Will foot the lightsome measure of our joy;
For I can say, My master's dice fell fair—
Behold! the triple sice, the lucky flame!
Now be my lot to clasp, in loyal love,
The hand of him restored, who rules our home:
Home—but I say no more: upon my tongue
Treads hard the ox o' the adage.
Had it voice,
The home itself might soothliest tell its tale;
I, of set will, speak words the wise may learn,
To others, nought remember nor discern.
This translation is freely available online at Perseus. Alternatively, you can see the paper copies at Amazon:
The gods I ask deliverance from these labours,
Watch of a year's length whereby, slumbering through it
On the Atreidai's roofs on elbow, -- dog-like --
I know of nightly star-groups the assemblage,
And those that bring to men winter and summer
Bright dynasts, as they pride them in the aether
-- Stars, when they wither, and the uprisings of them.
And now on ward I wait the torch's token,
The glow of fire, shall bring from Troia message
And word of capture: so prevails audacious
The man's-way-planning hoping heart of woman.
But when I, driven from night-rest, dew-drenched hold to
This couch of mine -- not looked upon by visions,
Since fear instead of sleep still stands beside me,
So as that fast I fix in sleep no eyelids --
And when to sing or chirp a tune I fancy,
For slumber such song-remedy infusing,
I wail then, for this House's fortune groaning,
Not, as of old, after the best ways governed.
Now, lucky be deliverance from these labours,
At good news -- the appearing dusky fire!
O hail, thou lamp of night, a day-long lightness
Revealing, and of dances the ordainment!
To Agamemnon's wife I show, by shouting,
That, from bed starting up at once, i' the household
Joyous acclaim, good-omened to this torch-blaze,
She send aloft, if haply Ilion's city
Be taken, as the beacon boasts announcing.
Ay, and, for me, myself will dance a prelude,
For, that my masters' dice drop right, I'll reckon:
Since thrice-six has it thrown to me, this signal.
Well, may it hap that, as he comes, the loved hand
O' the household's lord I may sustain with this hand!
As for the rest, I'm mute: on tongue a big ox
Has trodden. Yet this House, if voice it take should,
Most plain would speak. So, willing I myself speak
To those who know: to who know not -- I'm blankness.