The Cranes of Ibykus
Unto the songs and chariot fighting
Which all the strains of Greece are joining,
On Corinth's isthmus festive gay,
Made Ibycus, gods' friend, his way.
The gift of song Apollo offer'd,
To him the sweeten'd voice of song;
Thus on a light staff forth he wander'd,
From Rhegium, with god along.
Now beckons high on mountain ridges
High Corinth to the wand'rer's glances,
nd then doth he, with pious dread,
to Poseidon's spruce grove tread.
Naught stirs about him, just a swarming
Of cranes which join him on his way,
Which towards the distant southern warming
Are flying forth in squadrons grey.
"Receive my greetings, squads befriended,
Which o'er the sea have me escorted!
I take you as a goodly sign,
Your lot, it doth resemble mine
From distant lands we are arriving
And pray for a warm dwelling place.
Be the hospitable good willing,
Who wards the stranger from disgrace!"
And merrily he strides on further
And finds himself i'th' forest's center
Abruptly, on the narrow way,
Two murderers upon him prey.
He must himself for battle ready,
Yet soon his wearied hand sinks low,
It had the lyre's strings drawn so gently,
Yet ne'er the power of the bow.
He calls on men, and on the godly.
No savior answers his entreaty,
However wide his voice he sends,
No living thing him here attends.
So must I here foresaken perish, -
On foreign soil, unwept-for be,
Through evil scoundrels' hands thus vanish,
Where no avenger do I see!"
And gravely struck he sinketh under,
The feathers of the cranes then thunder,
He hears, though he can see no more,
Their nearing voices dreadful roar.
"From you, ye cranes that are up yonder,
If not another voice doth rise,
Be rais'd indictments for my murder!"
He calls it out, and then he dies.
The naked body is discover'd,
And soon, though 'tis from wounds disfigur'd,
The host in Corinth doth discern
Those traits, which are his dear concern.
"And must I thee so rediscover
And I had hop'd with wreath of pine
To crown the temples of the singer,
Which from his glow of fame do shine!"
And all the guests hear it lamenting,
While at Poseidon's fest assembling,
The whole of Greece with pain doth toss,
Each heart doth suffer from his loss;
The people crowd to the Prytanis
Astorm, his rage they supplicate
To vengeance of the slain man's tresses,
With murd'rers' blood to expiate.
Yet where's the clue, that from the crowding,
Of people streaming forth and thronging,
Enchanted by the pomp of sport,
The blacken'd culprit doth report?
Is't robbers, who him slew unbravely?
Was't envy of a secret foe?
That Helios can answer only,
Who on each earthly thing doth glow.
Perhaps with bold steps doth he saunter
Just now across the Grecian center,
While vengeance trails him in pursuit,
He savors his transgression's fruit;
Upon their very temple's op'ning
He spites perhaps the gods, and blends
Thus boldly in each human swelling,
Which towards the theater ascends.
For crowded bench to bench they're sitting,
The stage's pillars are near breaking,
Assembl'd from afar and near,
The folk of Greece are waiting here;
Just like the ocean waves' dull roaring,
With humans teeming, swells the place
In arched curves forever wid'ning
Into the heaven's bluish space.
Who names the names, who counts the people
Who gather'd here together cordial?
From Theseus' town, from Aulis' strand
From Phocis, from the Spartan's land
And from the distant Asian region,
From every island did they hie
And from the stage they pay attention
To th' chorus's dread melody,
Which, stern and grave, i'th' custom aged,
With footsteps lingering and gauged
Comes forward from the hinterground,
The theater thus strolling round.
Thus strideth forth no earthly woman,
They are no mortal progeny!
The giant size of each one's person
Transcends by far what's humanly.
Their loins a mantle black is striking,
Within their fleshless hands they're swinging
The torch's gloomy reddish glow,
Within their cheeks no blood doth flow;
And where the locks do lovely flutter,
And friendly wave o'er human brow,
There sees one snakes and here the adder
Whose bellies swell with poison now.
And in the circle ghastly twisted
The melody o'th' hymn they sounded,
Which through the heart so rending drives,
The fetters round the villain ties.
Reflection robbing, heart deluding
The song of Erinnyes doth sound, it sounds,
The hearer's marrow eating,
And suffers not the lyre to sound.
"He's blest, who free from guilt and failing
The child's pure spirit is preserving!
We may not near him vengingly,
He wanders on life's pathway free.
Yet woeful, woeful him, who hidden
Hath done the deed of murder base!
Upon his very soles we fasten,
The black of night's most dreadful race.
And hopes he to escape by fleeing,
On wings we're there, our nets ensnaring
Around his flying feet we throw,
That he is to the ground brought low.
So tiring never, him we follow,
Repentance ne'er can us appease,
Him on and on unto the Shadow
And give him even there no ease."
So singing are they roundly dancing,
And silence like the hush of dying
Lies o'er the whole house heavily,
As if had near'd the deity.
And solemnly, i'th' custom aged,
The theater thus strolling round,
With footsteps lingering and gauged
They vanish in the hinterground.
And 'twixt deceit and truth still hovers
Each hesitating breast, and quivers
And homage pays to that dread might,
That judging watches hid from sight,
Inscrutably, and fathomlessly,
The darksome coil of fate entwines,
Proclaims what's in the heart so deeply,
Yet runs from where the sunlight shines.
Then hears one from the highest footing
A voice which suddenly is crying:
"See there! See there, Timotheus,
Behold the cranes of Ibycus!"
And suddenly the sky is dark'ning,
And o'er the theater away,
One sees, within a blackish swarming,
A host of cranes pass on its way.
"Of Ibycus!" - That name beloved
Each breast with new grief bath affected,
As waves on waves in oceans rise,
From mouth to mouth it quickly flies:
0f Ibycus, whom we are mourning,
Whom by a murd'rer's hand was slain!
What is't with him? What is his meaning?
And what is't with this flock of crane?"
And louder still the question's growing,
With lightning strikes it flies foreboding
Through every heart: "Tis clear as light,
'Tis the Eumenides' great might!
The poet's vengeance is now granted,
The murderer hath self-confess'd!
Be him, who spoke the word, arrested,
And him, to whom it was address'd!"
But scarce the word had him departed,
Fain had he in his breast it guarded;
In vain! The mouth with horror white
Brings consciousness of guilt to light.
And 'fore the judge they're apprehended,
The scene becomes the justice hall,
And guilty have the villains pleaded,
Struck by the vengeance beam they fall.
translated by William F. Wertz
Ibykus was a famous poet who came from Rhegium in Southern Italy, one of many poets in the 6th Cenury BC, who was attracted to the court of Polycrates of Samos. Schiller writes about Polycrates' court elsewhere. Ibykus was known for his popular love poems, but he also wrote longer mythological poems, fragments of which survived.
It is called the "Ibykus principle," when, as even Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak." History delivers poetic justice, and as Truth appears, no more weapon than Truth itself, will render to the memories of such criminals, the dramatic justice of which Shakespeare and Schiller wrote.