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Phaedra

Expert (the first scene)

Translated by Robert Bruce Boswell (1846-1933): Act I Scene I

HIPPOLYTUS
MY mind is settled, dear THERAMENES

, And I can stay no more in lovely Troezen In doubt that racks my soul with mortal anguish, I grow ashamed of such long idleness. Six months and more my father has been gone, And what may have befallen one so dear I know not, nor what corner of the earth Hides him.

THERAMENES
And where, prince, will you look for him? Already, to content your just alarm, Have I not cross’d the seas on either side Of Corinth, ask’d if aught were known of Theseus Where Acheron is lost among the Shades, Visited Elis, doubled Tœnarus, And sail’d into the sea that saw the fall Of Icarus? Inspired with what new hope, Under what favour’d skies think you to trace His footsteps? Who knows if the King, your father, Wishes the secret of his absence known? Perchance, while we are trembling for his life, The hero calmly plots some fresh intrigue, And only waits till the deluded fair—

HIPPOLYTUS
Cease, dear THERAMENES, respect the name Of Theseus. Youthful errors have been left Behind, and no unworthy obstacle Detains him. Phædra long has fix’d a heart Inconstant once, nor need she fear a rival. In seeking him I shall but do my duty, And leave a place I dare no longer see. (Translated by Translated by A. S. Kline)

THERAMENES
My lord, since when did you fear the proximity, Of peaceful scenes, so dear to you from infancy, Whose haunts I’ve often seen you prefer before The tumultuous pomp of Athens and her court? What risk, or rather what sorrow, drives you away? HIPPOLYTE
Glad times are no more. All’s changed since the day That, to our shores, the gods despatched the daughter, Of Minos King of Crete: Pasiphae her mother.

THERAMENES
I see. The reason for your pain is known to me. Phaedra, grieves you, here, offends you deeply. A dangerous stepmother, who scarcely saw you Before she signalled her wish to banish you. But the hatred that she then turned your way Has either lessened, now, or seeped away. And what danger can she offer you, besides: A dying woman: and one who seeks to die? Phaedra, touched by illness her silence covers, Tired at last of herself, and the light around her, What designs could she intend against you?

HIPPOLYTE
Her fruitless enmity’s not what I have in view. Hippolyte, in leaving, flees someone other. I flee, I confess, from young Aricia, Last of a deadly race that conspires against me.

THERAMENES
What! Are you persecuting her, my lord, indeed? Has that sweet sister of the cruel Pallantides Ever been involved in her brothers’ perfidies? Can you bring yourself to hate her innocent charms? HIPPOLYTE
If I hated her I would not flee her arms.

THERAMENES
Am I allowed to explain this flight to us? Can it be you’re no longer proud

HIPPOLYTUS, Implacable enemy of the laws of love, Of that yoke Theseus so often knew above? Could Venus whom your pride so often scorned, Wish to justify Theseus, after all? And placing you in the ranks of other mortals, Force you now to light incense at her altars? Do you love, my lord?

HIPPOLYTUS
Friend, what is it you dare say? You who’ve known my heart since my first day, Do you ask me to deny, when it would be shameful, The feelings of a heart so proud, and so disdainful? With her milk, an Amazon mother once fed me On that pride you seem, now, so amazed to see: Then, when I myself achieved a riper age, I knew and approved my thoughts at every stage. Attached to me then, with eager sincerity, You told me all about my father’s history. You know how my soul, attentive to your voice, Was warmed by the noble story of his exploits, As you revealed that intrepid hero to me, Consoling us mortals for lost Hercules, Monsters choked, and robbers punished, Procustus, Cercyon, Sciron, and Sinis: Epidaurus, and the giant’s bones flung abroad, Crete, smoking with the blood of the Minotaur. But when you told me of less glorious deeds, His word in a hundred places pledged, received, Helen in Sparta stolen from her parents, Periboea’s tears witnessed by all Salamis, So many others whose names he’s forgotten, Credulous spirits deceived by his passion: Ariadne telling the rocks of those injustices, Phaedra won, at last, under better auspices: You know how, regretfully hearing that discourse, I often urged you to abridge its course: Happy if I could erase in memory The unworthy chapters of so fine a story! And am I myself entangled in my turn? Is my humiliation the gods concern? My cowardly sighs are the more contemptible, Since glory renders Theseus excusable: Because as yet myself I’ve tamed no monsters, I’ve acquired no right to imitate his failures. And even if my pride could be sweetened more, Would I choose Aricia as my conqueror? Is my mind so lost it no longer remembers The eternal obstacle that separates us? My father disapproves: and laws most severe Prevent him granting nephews to her brothers: He fears the offspring born of a guilty strain: He’d like to bury their sister and their name, Submit her to his guardianship till the grave, Ensure that for her no wedding torches blaze. Should I flaunt her rights against an angry father? Shall I set an example in my rashness, rather? And let my youth embark on a mad affair...

THERAMENES
Oh! My lord, once our fate is written there, Heaven knows not to inquire into our reasons. Theseus opened your eyes so he might close them, Yet his hatred, exciting a rebellious flame, Lends new grace to his enemy all the same. Why be frightened of a love, though, that’s so chaste? If it possesses sweetness, won’t you dare to taste? Will these awkward scruples always hold you back? Do you fear to lose yourself on Hercules’ track? Of what brave men has Venus not been conqueror! Where would you be, now, you who fight against her, If Antiope, opposed to her laws forever, Hadn’t burnt for Theseus with modest ardour? But what use is it to affect a proud display? Confess, and all will change: for many a day We’ve seen you infrequently, unsociable, proud, Now driving your chariot along the coast road, Now, skilled in the art Neptune himself made plain, Breaking an untamed stallion to the rein. The forests ring out less often to our cries. Filled with secret fire, there’s heaviness in your eyes. There’s no longer any doubt: you love, you burn:135 You are dying of an illness you disguise in turn. Or has lovely Aricia pleased you, rather?

HIPPOLYTUS : THERAMENES I am leaving, to seek my father.

THERAMENES
Will you not see Phaedra again, before you go, My lord?

HIPPOLYTUS That’s my intent: you may tell her so. I’ll see her, since my duty demands of it me.

(Oenone enters.)
But what new trouble disturbs dear Oenone?

END of ACT 1 SCENE 1