| Stories from the Greek Tragedians|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|Thirteen strong, interesting tales from Greek tragedy, admirably retold by Alfred J. Church and retaining remarkably well the spirit of the originals. Includes the stories of Alcestis, Medea, Antigone, Philoctetes, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Electra, and Orestes among others. Ages 11-14 |
THE STORY OF THE FURIES, OR THE LOOSING OF ORESTES
 THE gift of prophecy Earth had at the first, and after
her Themis; and after her Phœbe, who was of the race of
the Titans, and Phœbe gave it to Apollo—who is also
called Phœbus—at his birth. Now Apollo had a great
temple and famous upon the hill of Delphi, to which men
were wont to resort from all the earth, seeking counsel
and knowledge of the things that should come to pass
hereafter. And it came to pass on a day that the
priestess—for the temple was served by a woman, whom
men called Pythia—when she went into the shrine,
after her custom, in
the morning, saw therein a dreadful sight. For by the
very seat of the God there sat a man, a suppliant,
whose hands were dripping with blood, and he bare a
bloody sword, and on his head there was a garland of
 cunningly twined with snow-white wool. And behind there
sat a strange company of women sleeping, if indeed they
could be called women, that were more hideous than the
Gorgons, on which if a man looks he is turned to stone,
or the Harpies, of which they say that they have the
faces of women and the bodies of vultures. Now this man
was Orestes, and the blood that was upon his hands was
the blood of his mother Clytæmnestra, whom he slew,
taking vengeance for his father King Agamemnon, and the
women were the Furies, who pursue them that shed the
blood of kindred, and torment them even unto death. But
the priestess when she saw this sight fell down for
fear and crawled forth from the temple. And when she
was gone there appeared Apollo himself. Now Apollo had
counselled Orestes that he should slay his mother, and
so avenge his father's blood that had been shed. And
now he spake, saying, "Fear not, I will not betray
thee, but will keep to thee to the end. But now thou
must flee from this place; and know that these, the
hateful ones, with whom neither God nor man nor beast
consorts, will pursue thee both over the
 sea and over the land; but do thou not grow weary or
faint, but haste to the city of Pallas, and sit in the
temple of the goddess, throwing thy arms about the
image, and there will I contrive that which shall
loose thee from this guilt."
THE BIRTHDAY GIFTS OF PHOEBUS.
And when the God had said this, he bade his brother
Hermes (for he also stood near) to guide the man by the
way in which he should go.
ORESTES SUPPLIANT TO APOLLO.
So Orestes went his way. And straightway, when he was
gone, rose up the spirit of Queen Clytæmnestra, clad in
garments of black, and on her neck was the wound where
her son smote her. And the spirit spake to the Furies,
for these were yet fast asleep, saying, "Sleep ye? What
profit is there in them that sleep? Shamefully do ye
dishonour me among the dead; for they whom I slew
reproach me, and my cause, though I was slain by my own
son, no one taketh in hand. Do ye not mind with what
offerings, with what midnight sacrifices upon the
hearth in old time I honoured you, and now, while ye
sleep, this wretch hath escaped from the net."
Then they began to stir and rouse
them-  selves, the spirit still goading them with angry words till
they were now fully awake and ready to pursue. Then
there appeared the God Apollo with his silver bow in
his hand, and cried, "Depart from this place, ye
accursed ones. Depart with all speed, lest an arrow
leap forth from this string and smite you so that ye
vomit forth the blood of men that ye have drunk. This
is no fit halting-place for you; in the habitations of
cruelty is your best abode, or in some lion's den,
dripping with blood, not, verily, where men come to
hear the oracles of truth. Depart ye, therefore, with
"Nay," said they; "hear, King Apollo, what we would
say. For thou art verily guilty of this matter."
"How so? So much thou mayest say."
"Thou badest this stranger slay his mother."
"I bade him take vengeance for his father's blood."
"And thou wast ready to answer for this deed?"
"I bade him come for succour to this shrine."
"Yet they who attend him please thee not?"
 "No, for it fitteth not that they should approach this
"Yet 'tis our appointed task to follow him that slayeth
"And what if a wife slay her husband?
"Between wife and husband there is no kindred blood."
"Thou dost dishonour, saying this, to great Heré that
is wife to Zeus, and to all love, than which there is
nothing dearer to men."
"Yet will I hunt this man to the death, for the blood
of his mother drives me on."
"And I will help him and save him."
But in the meantime Orestes fled with all speed to the
city of Athens, and came to the temple of Athené, and
sat clasping the image of the goddess, and cried to her
that he was come at the bidding of Apollo, and was
ready to abide her judgment. But the Furies followed
hard upon him, having tracked him as a dog tracks a
fawn that hath been wounded, by the blood. And when
they were come and had found him in the temple, they
cried that it was of no avail that he sought the help
of the Gods, for that the blood of his mother that had
 cried against him from the ground, and that they would
drink his blood, and waste him, and drive him a living
man among the dead, that all men might shun to do such
deeds in time to come.
Then said Orestes, "I have learnt in many troubles both
how to be silent and how to speak. And now I speak as a
wise man biddeth me. For lo! the stain of blood that is
upon my hand groweth pale, and the defilement is
cleansed away. Therefore, I call to Athené that is
Queen of this land, to help me, wherever she be; for
though she be far, yet being a goddess, she can hear my
voice. And helping me, she shall gain me, and my
people, and my land to be friends to her and to her
people for ever."
But not the less did the Furies cry out against him
that he was accursed and given over to them as a prey;
for that they were appointed of the Gods to execute
vengeance upon evil-doers, of whom he was the chief,
seeing that he had slain the mother that bare him.
But while they thus cried out against him, there
appeared the Goddess Athené, very fair to see, with the
spear of gold in her hand; and she
 spake, saying, "From the banks of Scamander am I come,
for I heard the cry of one that called upon my name.
And now I would fain know what meaneth all this that I
see. Who art thou, stranger, that sittest clasping this
image? And who are ye that are so strange of aspect,
being like neither to the Gods nor to the daughters of
Then the Furies made answer, "We will tell thee the
matter shortly, daughter of Zeus. We are the children
of Night, and we are called the Curses, and our office
is to drive the murderer from his home."
Then said the goddess, "And whither do ye drive him?"
"We drive him to the land where no joy abideth."
"And why do ye pursue this man?"
"Because he dared to slay his mother."
"Did aught compel him to this deed?"
"What should compel a man to such wickedness?"
"There are two stories to be told, and I have heard but
And when they had thus talked together for
 a while the Furies said that they would abide by the
judgment of the goddess. Whereupon she turned herself
to Orestes, and bade him set forth his case; who he
was, and what deed he had done. To which he made this
answer: "I am a man of Argos, and my sire, King
Agamemnon, thou knowest well; for he was ruler of the
host of the Greeks, and by his hands thou madest the
great city of Troy to be no city. Now this man perished
in a most unrighteous fashion, when he was returned to
his home, for my mother, having an evil heart, slew him
foully in the bath. And I, coming back to my country,
from which in time past I had fled, slew her that bare
me. This I deny not. Yea, I slew her, taking vengeance
for my father. And in this matter Apollo hath a common
share with me, for he said that great woes should
pierce my heart if I recompensed not them that had done
this deed. But do thou judge this matter; for with thy
judgment, whatsoever it be, I will be content."
Then the goddess said, "This is a hard matter to judge;
for thou, Orestes, art come as a suppliant to this
house, being innocent of
 guilt, and I may not reject thee. And yet these have a
suit which may not lightly be dismissed; for haply, if
they fail of that which they seek, they will send a
wasting disease upon this land and consume it. But
seeing that this great matter has fallen to me to deal
with, I will do this. Judges will I choose, binding
them with an oath, and they shall judge in all cases,
whensoever one man hath slain another. And this will I
establish for all time to come. Do you, therefore,
call witnesses and proofs with oaths for confirmation
thereof. And I will choose such as are worthiest among
my citizens, righteous men, who will have regard unto
their oath, and they shall judge this matter."
So they went all of them to the hill of Ares, where the
cause should be judged. And twelve men that were
worthiest in the city sat on the seat of judgment, and
Athené came forth and said to the herald that stood by,
"Blow the trumpet, that the people keep silence, and
that this cause may be tried justly, as is meet."
Then came forth Apollo. And when the Furies saw him
they cried, "What hast thou to do with this matter,
 And he said, "As a witness am I come, for I commanded
this man to do this deed."
Then Athené commanded that the Furies should speak the
first, being the accusers. So they began, saying to
Orestes, "Answer what we shall ask thee. Didst thou
slay thy mother?"
"I slew her. This I deny not."
"How didst thou slay her?"
"I drew my sword, and smote her on the neck."
"Who counselled thee to this deed?"
"Apollo counselled me; therefore I fear not; also my
father shall help me from the tomb."
"Shall the dead help thee that didst slay thy mother?"
"Yea, for she also had slain her husband. Say, why did
ye not pursue her while she lived?"
"Because she was not akin to him she slew."
"Not akin? then was I not akin to her. But do thou
bear witness, King Apollo."
Then said Apollo, "I am a prophet and lie not. Never
have I spoken about man or woman or city save as my
Father Zeus gave me to speak."
Then said the Furies, "How sayest thou?
 that Zeus gave this command that this man should slay
" 'Twas even so. For think how basely this woman slew
her husband, his father. For she smote him not with an
arrow, as might some Amazon, but when he was come back
from the war, full of honour, in the bath she entangled
him, wrapping a robe about him, and so slew him.
Wherefore this man did righteously, taking vengeance
for the blood that was shed. And as for this kinship
that ye say is between a man an his mother, hearken to
this. Had Pallas here a mother? Nay, for no womb bare
her, seeing that she came from the head of Zeus her
Then said Athené, "It is enough. Judges, judge ye this
cause, doing justice therein. But first hear the
statute that I make establishing this court. On this
hill did the Amazons in old time build their fortress
when they waged war with King Theseus and the men of
this land; and hence it is called the hill of Ares, who
is the god of war. And here do I make this as an
ordinance for ever, that it may be a bulwark to this
land; that judges may sit herein, keen to avenge the
wrong, not blinding their eyes
 with gifts, but doing true judgment and justice between
man and man. And now rise, ye judges, from your place,
and take these pebbles n your hand, and vote according
to right, not forgetting your oath."
THE FURIES DEPARTING.
So the judges rose up from their place and dropped the
pebbles into the urns, Apollo on the one side and the
Furies on the other urging them with many promises and
threats. And at the last Athené stood up and said,
" 'Tis for me to give the casting vote; and I give it to
Orestes. For I myself was not born of a mother;
wherefore I am on the father's side. And I care not to
avenge the death of a woman that slew her husband, the
ruler of her house. Now, if the votes be equal, Orestes
is free. Take the pebbles from the urns, ye to whom
this office is given. And see that ye do it justly and
well, that no wrong be done."
So they that were appointed to this took the pebbles
forth from the urns and counted them. And lo! the votes
were equal on this side and on that. And Athené stood
forth and said, "The man is free."
Thus was accomplished the loosing of Orestes.
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