THE CHARIOT RACE (from "Electra")

by: Sophocles

      HEY took their stand where the appointed judges
      Had cast their lots and ranged the rival cars.
      Rang out the brazen trump! Away they bound,
      Cheer the hot steeds and shake the slackened reins;
      As with a body the large space is filled
      With the huge clangor of the rattling cars.
      High whirl aloft the dust-clouds; blent together,
      Each presses each and the lash rings; and loud
      Snort the wild steeds, and from their fiery breath,
      Along their manes and down the circling wheels
      Scatter the flaking foam. Orestes still--
      Ays, as he swept around the perilous pillar
      Last in the course, wheeled in the rushing axle;
      The left rein curbed,--that on the dexter hand
      Flung loose.-- So on erect the chariots rolled!
      Sudden the Ænian's fierce and headlong steeds
      Broke from the bit -- and, as the seventh time now
      The course was circled, on the Libyan car
      Dashed their wild fronts: then order changed to ruin:
      Car crashed on car; the wide Crissæan plain
      Was sea-like strewed with wrecks; the Athenian saw,
      Slackened his speed, and wheeling round the marge,
      Unscathed and skillful, in the midmost space,
      Left the wild tumult of that tossing storm.
      Behind, Orestes, hitherto the last,
      Had yet kept back his coursers for the close;
      Now one sole rival left -- on, on he flew,
      And the sharp sound of the impelling scourge
      Rang in the keen ears of the flying steeds.
      He nears, he reaches -- they are side by side --
      Now one -- the other -- by a length the victor.
      The courses all are past -- the wheels erect --
      All safe -- when, as the hurrying coursers round
      The fatal pillar dashed, the wretched boy
      Slackened the left rein: on the column's edge
      Crashed the frail axle: headlong from the car
      Caught and all meshed within the reins, he fell;
      And masterless the mad steeds raged along!
      Loud from that mighty multitude arose
      A shriek -- a shout! But yesterday such deeds,
      To-day such doom! Now whirled upon the earth,
      Now his limbs dashed aloft, they dragged him -- those
      Wild horses -- till all gory from the wheels
      Released; -- and no man, not his nearest friends,
      Could in that mangled corpse have traced Orestes.
      They laid the body on the funeral-pyre;
      And while we speak, the Phocian strangers bear,
      In a small, brazen, melancholy urn,
      That handful of cold ashes to which all
      The grandeur of the Beautiful hath shrunk.

This English translation, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, of 'The Chariot Race' is reprinted from Greek Poets in English Verse. Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.




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