Orestes has been charged by the Greeks to deliver an ultimatum to Pyrrhus: hand over Astyanax, the son of Hector, or face a full-scale invasion. Pyrrhus is reluctant to do so, since he is using the boy as leverage to force Andromache to marry him.
Pyrrhus, Orestes, Phoenix
Before the Greek nation speaks with my voice,
Let me approve the justice of their choice,
And to your face, my lord, express the joy
Of meeting Achilles’ son, sacker of Troy.
His exploits we admire, but you, your scars:
Hector fell by his hand, and Troy by yours;
And you have shown, with daring and with grace,
Only the son of Achilles could take his place.
But this he would not have done, and I regret
Greece finds you raising up the Trojan threat,
Touched by pity for what we all abhor,
Stirring up the ashes of our long war.
Don’t you recall the terror that Hector was?
Even today our blood-soaked nation does.
Widows and orphans cringe at the mere name.
As one, the families of Greece proclaim
That the ill-fated boy must answer now
For the husbands and fathers Hector sent below.
Who knows what feats his son may soon contrive?
Are Greece’s ports secure with him alive?
Will he not follow in his father’s steps
And come with fire in hand to burn our ships?
May I speak frankly, my lord, just us two?
You fear the recompense of what you do:
The infant snake that grows with every breath
Shall murder you for sparing him from death.
In short, it is the will of every Greek:
Protect yourself, dispatch the boy we seek,
An act that better serves your state’s salvation
Than you alone trying to fight the nation.
Greece pains herself too much with my affairs.
I thought her troubled by more urgent cares,
And judged your charge to be of greater weight,
My lord, given the renown of her delegate.
Who would believe indeed that such a mission
Needs Agamemnon’s son for its petition?
That a people who know triumph and its joy
Would stoop to plot the death of a mere boy?
To whom, do they say, should I make this sacrifice?
By what right does Greece now put this price
On his head? Or am I the only Greek denied
Rights over a captive whom fate did confide
To me? Oh yes, beside the ruins of Troy
Fate decreed that Andromache and the boy
Fall to me, divvied up among the spoils
By the victors after their blood-thirsty toils.
To Argos with your father Cassandra went;
Hecuba killed herself in Ulysses’ tent:
Did my rights extend over them and their property?
Did I commandeer the fruits of their victory?
You fear that Troy and Hector rise anew;
That he’ll strike down my days before he’s through.
So much caution, my lord, wants too much care.
I can’t forestall dangers which are not there.
When I recall the glory that was Troy:
Empress of Asia, heroes full of joy,
Proud of her high walls; then I clearly see
What was her fate and what her destiny:
Towers burned to the ground, abandoned shields,
A river choked with blood, deserted fields,
A child clapped in irons; I don’t believe
Troy in this state has vengeance up her sleeve.
If Hector’s son is such a cause of fear,
Why have they waited longer than a year?
They should have slaughtered him in Priam’s keep
With the myriad who under Troy now sleep.
Then anything was just: both old and young
In vain defense to their own frailty clung.
Darkness, more cruel than men, and victory
Undid our victims and our chivalry.
Never should we the fury of war assuage.
But shall my cruelty survive my rage?
The pity taking hold of me I should
Ignore, and blithely bathe in a child’s blood?
No, my lord, let the Greeks seek other prey
And stamp out the last of Troy another way.
It is my wish no longer to destroy.
Epirus will preserve what lives of Troy.
You know too well a false Astyanax
Was put to death, my lord, behind our backs,
When the true son of Hector should have died.
It’s not the Trojans but Hector they can’t abide.
With too much blood did he achieve his fame;
The son is punished in the father’s name.
The anger of the Greeks will have its due:
This Trojan boy could bring it down on you.
Don’t test them.
No, no I accept with joy:
Epirus! Be for Greece a second Troy!
Let their confusion with their hatred grow,
Spilling the blood of ally and of foe.
Of course, this will not be the first injustice
Greece has shown Achilles for his service.
Hector used it to bring the Argives shame;
This boy, my lord, may one day do the same.
So the rebellious son of Greece will fight?
I’ve done enough for her to earn that right.
My lord, between your own and her father’s blows,
The eyes of Hermione will interpose.
I can love Hermione and still be brave;
Fondness does not make me her father’s slave;
One day perhaps I will acquire the art
Of reconciling glory with the heart.
Till then, Helen’s daughter would speak with you.
I am well aware of the friendship of you two.
But after that, my lord, let us say good-bye:
You may report my failure to comply.
Translated by Michael Taormina