Sophocles the plays and fragments, Part 5: The Trachiniae. Jebb, Richard Claverhouse, Sir, translator. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1892.
In payment of a vow, or at the command of an oracle?
For a vow, made when he was seeking to conquer and plunder the country of these women whom you see before you.
And these—who are they, by the gods, and whose daughters? They deserve pity, unless their misfortune deceives me.
These are captives whom he
selected as choice spoils for himself and for the gods when he sacked the city of Eurytus.
Was it in fact the war against that city which kept him away so long, beyond all forecast, past all count of days?
No. The greater part of the time he was detained in Lydia, no free man, as he declares,
but sold into servitude. No offense should be taken at my tale, lady, when the deed is found to be Zeus’ work. He passed a whole year, as he himself says, a bought slave to the barbarian Omphale. And so stung was he by the shame of it,
that he bound himself by a solemn oath, swearing one day to enslave with wife and child the man who had brought that suffering upon him. And not in vain did he speak the oath; but, when he had been purified, he gathered a mercenary army and went against the city
of Eurytus. For, Heracles asserted, that man alone of mortals had a share in causing his suffering. For when Heracles, a guest-friend of long standing, came to his house and hearth, Eurytus roared against him with insults of ruinous intent,
saying that, although Heracles had inevitable shafts in his hands, he fell short of his own sons in the contest of the bow. Next he shouted that Heracles was a freeman’s slave, a broken hulk, and then at a banquet, when his guest was full of wine, he tossed him from his home. Furious at this treatment,
when afterward Iphitus came to the hill of Tiryns on the track of horses that had strayed, Heracles seized a moment when the man’s eyes were one place and his thoughts another, and hurled him from a towering summit. But in anger at that deed, the king,
the father of all, Olympian Zeus, sent him away to be sold, and did not tolerate that this once, he killed a man by guile. Had he achieved his vengeance openly, Zeus would surely have pardoned him the righteous triumph.
For the gods do not love criminal behavior either. So those men, who gloried in bitter speech, are themselves residents of Hades, all of them, and their city is enslaved. And the women whom you see, fallen from happiness to misery,
are sent here to you. For that was your husband’s command, which I, his faithful servant, perform. As for the man himself, know that he will come, once he has made pure sacrifice to Zeus of his fathers for the sacking of the city. After all the good news
that has been told, this, indeed, is the sweetest word to hear.
Now, O Queen, your joy is plainly revealed; part is with you, and of the rest you have foreknowledge.
Yes, how would I not rejoice with dutiful spirit, when I hear of my husband’s successful venture?
My rejoicing is bound to keep pace with his success. And yet a prudent mind can see room for fear, lest he who prospers should one day stumble. For a strange pity came over me, friends, at the sight of these ill-fated exiles,
homeless and fatherless in a foreign land. Though they were once the daughters perhaps of freeborn men, they now live the life of slaves. O Zeus, god who turns the tide of battle, may I never see you stalking against a child of my line on any occasion;