Sophocles the plays and fragments, Part 5: The Trachiniae. Jebb, Richard Claverhouse, Sir, translator. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1892.
I neglected no part of the precepts which the savage Centaur gave me when he was hurting from the bitter barb in his side; they were in my memory, like the graven words which no hand may wash from a tablet of bronze. Now this was his order to me, and I obeyed it:
to keep this potion hidden in inmost recesses always away from fire and untouched by the sun’s warm ray, until I should apply it, newly spread, where I wished. So I had done. And just now, when the moment for action had come, I performed the anointing secretly in the rooms of the house
with a tuft of soft wool which I had plucked from a sheep of our home-flock; then I folded up my gift, and laid it, unvisited by sunlight, within its hollow chest, as you saw. But as I am going back into the house, I see a thing inexplicable by words and beyond the knowledge of the human mind to understand.
For somehow I happened to have thrown the ball of wool, with which I had been anointing the robe, into the full blaze of the sun’s rays. As it grew warm, it ran all into confusion, and quickly crumbled to powder on the ground, like nothing in appearance so much as
the morsels left by a saw’s teeth when wood is cut. It lies just so, fallen. And from the earth, where it lay exposed, clotted foam seethes up, like the rich juice of the blue fruit from the vine of Bacchus when it is poured on the ground.
And so I am distraught, and I do not know to which side my thoughts should fall. I only see that I have brought a terrible deed to completion. For why or in thanks for what should the monster in his death-throes have shown good will to me, because of whom he was dying? Impossible! No, he was
enchanting me in order to destroy the man who had shot him. And now too late I gain the knowledge of this, when it can no longer help. Yes, I alone—unless my outlook prove mistaken—I, miserable one, shall completely destroy him! For I know that the arrow which made the wound harmed
even the god Cheiron, and that it kills all varieties of beasts that it touches. Since it is this same black venom in the blood that has passed out through the wound of Nessus, must it not kill Heracles also? To my mind, at least, it must. Nevertheless, I am resolved that, if he is to be brought down,
at the same time I too will die along with him in the selfsame fall. No woman could bear to live with a reputation for evil, if she cares above all that her nature is not evil.
Fear is necessary when terrible deeds are done, but one should not judge one’s expectations before the outcome is known.
There is no room for expectation when one’s plans are bad, at least the kind of expectation which lends confidence.
And yet in the case of those whose mistakes were unwitting, men’s anger is softened. So it should be for you.
No, such words are not for one who took part in the wrongdoing,
but only for him who has no trouble at his own door.
It would suit you to refrain from saying anything more, unless you would reveal anything to your own son. For he is here, the one who earlier went to seek his father.
O Mother, how I wish I could choose one of three fates for you!
I wish that you no longer lived, or, if you remained, that someone else called you “Mother”, or that some new and kinder heart had been exchanged for your present one!