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Theater 34.1 (2004) 66-123

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Heinrich von Kleist

Translated by Douglas Langworthy

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Figure 1
Scott Rabinowitz as Achilles, Jacqueline Gregg, Rohana Kenin, Carrie Bowen, and other Amazons in Penthesilea, translated by Douglas Langworthy, directed by David Herskovits. Tiny Mythic at HERE, New York City, 1994. Photo: Denise Hudson

[End Page 66]

PENTHESILEA, Queen of the Amazons
Amazon princesses:


Greek kings:



Setting: A battlefield near Troy. [End Page 67]

Scene 1

ODYSSEUS and DIOMEDES enter from one side, ANTILOCHUS enters from the other, both with their followers.

ANTILOCHUS My greetings to you, fellow kings of Greece.

How have you fared since we last met at Troy?

ODYSSEUS Badly, Antilochus. On these fields you can see
The armies of the Greeks and Amazons
Fighting with each other like two angry wolves:
And, by Zeus! they don't even know why!
Bring me a helmet full of water!


These Amazons—what do they want from us?

ODYSSEUS On Agamemnon's orders, we set out,
Achilles and myself, with the entire
Myrmidon contingent; Penthesilea,
It was rumored, had set off from Scythia
And led an army of Amazons—clad in snakeskins,
Hot with battle-lust—through the mountains
To strengthen Priam's forces here at Troy.
When we reach the banks of the Scamander
We hear that Deiphobus, Priam's son,
Has left Ilium with a regiment
To give a friendly greeting to the Queen
Who brings him aid. To block this dreaded union
We rush to place ourselves between these foes;
All night long we push along the road.
But by the early light of day
How shocked we are, Antilochus, to find
The Amazons before us in a distant valley
Fighting against the Trojans! Penthesilea
Blasts the Trojan soldiers in her path
As if she meant to blow them across the Hellespont
And then clear off the surface of the earth.

ANTILOCHUS By the gods, how strange!

ODYSSEUS We close our ranks
To stop the Trojans' thundering retreat,
Forming a blockade with our clustered spears.
The sight of this makes Priam's son stop short,
And after a brief conference, we Greeks decide
To greet the Amazon Queen immediately.
This seems the best, most obvious course of action.
This virgin, armed with weapons to the teeth,
Who drops out of the blue into the middle
Of our conflict and seems to want to join it,
Must favor either one side or the other;
And now we must assume she is our friend
Since she has proved to be the Trojan's enemy.

ANTILOCHUS What else could you conclude, by Styx?

Achilles and I find the Scythian Queen
Standing at the head of her army
Decked out from head to toe in battle armor.
Pensive for a moment, she stares blankly
At us, as if we were made of stone.
This open palm of mine, I swear to you,
Is more expressive than her face was then:
That is, until her eye fell on Achilles.
Suddenly her face turns burning red
Down to her throat, as if the world around her
Had become a fiery inferno.
Then suddenly she swings down from her horse
Shooting a threatening look in his direction,
And, handing off her reins to an attendant,
Asks us why we greet her with such pomp.
I answer her how glad the Argives are
To stumble on an enemy of Troy;
How long our hatred of the sons of Priam
Has been smoldering, how an alliance
Would be advantageous for us both;
And whatever else occurred to me to say.
But in my stream of speech, I'm shocked to notice [End Page 68]
She hasn't heard a single word I said.
Suddenly she turns to face her friend,
Flush with the wonder of a girl of sixteen
Returning from her first Olympic games,
And cries: "Oh Prothoe, I'm sure my mother
Never encountered such a man as this!"
Embarrassed by these words, her friend...


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pp. 66-123
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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