My very life began when thee I lov’d.
Say, then thy woes began, and thou speak’st
This is the sharpest sorrow of my lot,
That, like a plague-infected wretch, I bear
Death and destruction hid within my breast;
That, where I tread, e’en on the healthiest spot,
Ere long the blooming faces round betray
The anguish’d features of a ling’ring death.
Were thy breath venom, I had been the first
To die, that death, Orestes. Am I not,
As ever, full of courage and of joy?
And love and courage are the spirit’s wings
Wafting to noble actions.
Time was, when fancy painted such before us!
When oft, the game pursuing, on we roam’d
O’er hill and valley; hoping that ere long,
Like our great ancestors in heart and hand,
With club and weapon arm’d, we so might track
The robber to his den, or monster huge.
And then at twilight, by the boundless sea,
Peaceful we sat, reclin’d against each other,
The waves came dancing to our very feet,
And all before us lay the wide, wide world;
Then on a sudden one would seize his sword,
And future deeds shone round us like the stars,
Which gemm’d in countless throngs the vault of night.
Endless, my friend, the projects which the soul
Burns to accomplish. We would every deed
At once perform as grandly as it shows
After long ages, when from land to land
The poet’s swelling song hath roll’d it on.
It sounds so lovely what our fathers did,
When, in the silent evening shade reclin’d,
We drink it in with music’s melting tones;
And what we do is, as their deeds to them,
Toilsome and incomplete!
Thus we pursue what always flies before;
We disregard the path in which we tread,
Scarce see around the footsteps of our sires,
Or heed the trace of their career on earth.
We ever hasten on to chase their shades,
Which, godlike, at a distance far remote,
On golden clouds, the mountain summits crown.
The man I prize not who esteems himself
Just as the people’s breath may chance to raise him.
But thou, Orestes, to the gods give thanks.
That they through thee have early done so much.
When they ordain a man to noble deeds,
To shield from dire calamity his friends,
Extend his empire, or protect its bounds,
Or put to flight its ancient enemies,
Let him be grateful! For to him a god
Imparts the first, the sweetest joy of life.
Me have they doom’d to be a slaughterer,
To be an honor’d mother’s murderer,
And shamefully a deed of shame avenging,
Me through their own decree they have o’erwhelm’d.
Trust me, the race of Tantalus is doom’d;
And I, his last descendant, may not perish,
Or crown’d with honor or unstain’d by crime.