Fragment of a Greek Tragedy

by A. E. Housman

I transcribed this from a handout in my Classics 35: Greek Tragedy class, from when I was an undergrad at U.C. Berkeley.
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 enquiring 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 your presence shoots?
Alcmaeon A shepherd's questioned mouth informed me that -
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 very much the safest plan.
Alcmaeon I go into the house with heels and speed.
Chorus   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
  A stranger to uncertainty.
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 sphipwrecks 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,
One 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.

Dan Wallach, CS Department, Rice University
Last modified: Tue Oct 31 20:12:48 CST 2000