The Phoenician Women


Euripides. The Plays of Euripides, Translated into English Prose from the Text of Paley. Vol. II. Coleridge, Edward P., translator. London: George Bell and Sons, 1891.

  1. he would aim his lance there, eager to outwit him with the point.
  2. But both kept such careful outlook through the spy-holes in their shields, that their weapons found nothing to do; while from the onlookers far more than the combatants trickled the sweat caused by terror for their friends.
  3. Eteocles, in kicking aside a stone that rolled beneath his tread, exposed a limb outside his shield, and Polyneices, seeing a chance of dealing him a blow, aimed at it, and the Argive shaft passed through his leg;
  4. the Danaid army, one and all, cried out for joy. And the wounded man, seeing Polyneices’ shoulder bare in this effort, plunged his spear with all his might into his breast, restoring gladness to the citizens of Thebes, though he broke off the spear-head.
  5. And so, at a loss for a weapon, he retreated step by step, till catching up a splintered rock he let it fly and broke the other’s spear in the middle; and now the combat was equal, for each had lost his lance.
  6. Then clutching their sword-hilts
  7. they closed, and round and round, with shields clashing, they fought a wild battle. And Eteocles introduced the crafty Thessalian trick, having some knowledge of it from his association with that country. Disengaging himself from the immediate contest,
  8. he drew back his left foot but kept his eye closely on the pit of the other’s stomach from a distance; then advancing his right foot he plunged the weapon through his navel and fixed it in his spine. Down fell Polyneices, dripping with blood,
  9. ribs and belly contracting in his agony. But the other, thinking his victory now complete, threw down his sword and began to despoil him, wholly intent on that, without a thought for himself. And this indeed tripped him up; for Polyneices, who had fallen first, was still faintly breathing,
  10. and having in his grievous fall kept his sword, he made a last effort and drove it through the heart of Eteocles. They both lie there, fallen side by side, biting the dust with their teeth, and they have not decided the mastery.
Chorus Leader
  1. Ah, ah, how I mourn for your sorrows, Oedipus! The god, it seems, has fulfilled those curses of yours.
  1. Now hear what further woes succeeded. Just as her two sons had fallen and lay dying, their wretched mother came on the scene,
  2. her daughter with her, in great haste. When she saw their mortal wounds, she wailed: O my sons, the help I bring is too late. And throwing herself on each in turn she wept and mourned, sorrowing over all her toil in nursing them, and their sister, by her side, mourned also:
  3. Supporters of your mother’ s age, dearest brothers, leaving me forlorn, unwed! Then lord Eteocles with one deep dying gasp, hearing his mother, laid on her his clammy hand,
  4. and though he could not say a word, his moistened eye was eloquent to prove his love. And Polyneices was still breathing, and seeing his sister and his old mother he said: Mother, our end has come; I pity you
  5. and my sister Antigone and my dead brother. For I loved him though he became my enemy, I loved him in spite of all. Bury me, mother, and you, my sister, in my native land; pacify the city’s wrath that l may get at least that much
  6. of my own fatherland, although I lost my home. With your hand, mother, close my eyes—he himself places her fingers on the lids—and farewell; for already the darkness wraps me round.
  7. So both at once breathed out their life of sorrow.
  8. But when their mother saw this sad event, in her overmastering grief she snatched a sword from the dead, and did a fearful deed; for she drove the steel right through her throat, and there she lies, dead with those she loved so well, her arms thrown round them both.
  9. The army sprang to their feet and fell to wrangling, we maintaining that victory rested with my master, they with theirs; and there was strife among the generals, some holding that Polyneices gave the first wound with his spear, others that, as both were dead, victory rested with neither.