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The Theban Plays
Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone
By SOPHOCLES, T. N. R. ROGERS, George Young
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Scene, before the Royal Palace at Thebes. Enter OEDIPUS; to him the Priest of Zeus, and Inhabitants of Thebes.
OEDIPUS Children, you modern brood of Cadmus old,
What mean you, sitting in your sessions here,
High-coronalled with votive olive-boughs,
While the whole city teems with incense-smoke,
And paean hymns, and sounds of woe the while?
Deeming unmeet, my children, this to learn
From others, by the mouth of messengers,
I have myself come hither, Oedipus,
Known far and wide by name. Do thou, old man,
Since 'tis thy privilege to speak for these,
Say in what case ye stand; if of alarm,
Or satisfaction with my readiness
To afford all aid; hard-hearted must I be,
Did I not pity such petitioners.
PRIEST Great Oedipus, my country's governor,
Thou seest our generations, who besiege
Thy altars here; some not yet strong enough
To flutter far; some priests, with weight of years
Heavy, myself of Zeus; and these, the flower
Of our young manhood; all the other folk
Sit, with like branches, in the market-place,
By the Ismenian hearth oracular
And the twin shrines of Pallas. Lo, the city
Labours—thyself art witness—over—deep
Already, powerless to uprear her head
Out of the abysses of a surge of blood;
Stricken in the budding harvest of her soil,
Stricken in her pastured herds, and barren travail
Of women; and He, the God with spear of fire,
Leaps on the city, a cruel pestilence,
And harries it; whereby the Cadmean home
Is all dispeopled, and with groan and wail
The blackness of the Grave made opulent.
Not that we count thee as the peer of Heaven,
I, nor these children, seat us at thy hearth;
But as of men found foremost in affairs,
Chances of life and shifts of Providence;
Whose coming to our Cadmean town released
The toll we paid, of a hard Sorceress,
And that, without instruction or advice
Of our imparting; but of Heaven it came
Thou art named, and known, our life's establisher.
Thee therefore, Oedipus, the mightiest head
Among us all, all we thy supplicants
Implore to find some way to succour us,
Whether thou knowest it through some voice from heaven,
Or, haply of some man; for I perceive
In men experienced that their counsels best
Find correspondence in things actual.
Haste thee, most absolute sir, be the state's builder!
Haste thee, look to it; doth not our country now
Call thee deliverer, for thy zeal of yore?
Never let us remember of thy rule
That we stood once erectly, and then fell;
But build this city in stability!
With a fair augury didst thou shape for us
Our fortune then; like be thy prowess now!
If thou wilt rule this land (which thou art lord of),
It were a fairer lordship filled with folk
Than empty; towers and ships are nothingness,
Void of our fellow men to inhabit them.
OEDIPUS Ah my poor children, what you come to seek
Is known already—not unknown to me.
You are all sick, I know it; and in your sickness
There is not one of you so sick as I.
For in your case his own particular pain
Comes to each singly; but my heart at once
Groans for the city, and for myself, and you.
Not therefore as one taking rest in sleep
Do you uprouse me; rather deem of me
As one that wept often, and often came
By many ways through labyrinths of care;
And the one remedy that I could find
By careful seeking—I supplied it. Creon,
Menoeceus' son, the brother of my queen,
I sent to Pytho, to Apollo's house,
To ask him by what act or word of mine
I might redeem this city; and the hours
Already measured even with today
Make me solicitous how he has sped;
For he is longer absent than the time
Sufficient, which is strange. When he shall come,
I were a wretch did I not then do all
As the God shews.
PRIEST In happy time thou speak'st;
As these, who tell me Creon is at hand.
OEDIPUS Ah King Apollo, might he but bring grace,
Radiant in fortune, as he is in face!
PRIEST I think he comes with cheer; he would not, else,
Thus be approaching us with crown on brow, All berries of the bay.
OEDIPUS We shall know soon;
He is within hearing.
Enter CREON, attended.
My good lord and cousin,
Son of Menoeceus,
What answer of the God have you brought home?
CREON Favourable; I mean, even what sounds ominously,
If it have issue in the way forthright,
May all end well.
OEDIPUS How runs the oracle?
I am not confident, nor prone to fear
At what you say, so far.
CREON If you desire
To hear while these stand near us, I am ready
To speak at once—or to go in with you.
OEDIPUS Speak before all! My heavy load of care
More for their sake than for my own I bear.
CREON What the God told me, that will I declare.
Phoebus our Lord gives us express command
To drive pollution, bred within this land,
Out of the country, and not cherish it
Beyond the power of healing.
OEDIPUS By what purge?
What is the tenor of your tragedy?
CREON Exile, or recompense of death for death;
Since 'tis this blood makes winter to the city.
OEDIPUS Whose fate is this he signifies?
CREON My liege,
We had a leader, once, over this land,
Called Laius—ere you held the helm of state.
OEDIPUS So I did hear; I never saw the man.
CREON The man is dead; and now, we are clearly bidden
To bring to account certain his murderers.
OEDIPUS And where on earth are they? Where shall be found
This dim-seen track-mark of an ancient crime?
CREON "Within this land," it ran. That which is sought,
That may be caught. What is unheeded scapes us.
OEDIPUS Was it at home, afield, or anywhere
Abroad, that Laius met this violent end?
CREON He went professedly on pilgrimage;
But since he started, came back home no more.
OEDIPUS Nor any messenger nor way-fellow
Looked on, from whom one might have learnt his story
And used it?
CREON No, they perished, all but one;
He fled, affrighted; and of what he saw
Had but one thing to say for certain.
And what was that? one thing might be the means
Of our discovering many, could we gain
Some narrow ground for hope.
CREON Robbers, he said,
Met them, and slew him; by no single strength,
But multitude of hands.
OEDIPUS How could your robber
Have dared so far—except there were some practice
With gold from hence?
CREON Why, it seemed probable.
But, Laius dead, no man stood up to help
Amid our ills.
OEDIPUS What ill was in the way,
Which, when a sovereignty had lapsed like this,
Kept you from searching of it out?
CREON The Sphinx
With her enigma forced us to dismiss
Things out of sight, and look to our own steps.
OEDIPUS Well, I will have it all to light again.
Right well did Phoebus, yea and well may you
Insist on this observance toward the dead;
So shall you see me, as of right, with you,
Venging this country and the God together.
Why, 'tis not for my neighbours' sake, but mine,
I shall dispel this plague-spot; for the man,
Whoever it may be, who murdered him,
Lightly might hanker to serve me the same.
I benefit myself in aiding him.
Up then, my children, straightway, from the floor;
Take up your votive branches; let some other
Gather the tribes of Cadmus hitherward;
Say, I will make clean work. Please Heaven, our state
Shall soon appear happy, or desperate.
PRIEST Come children, let us rise; it was for this,
Which he himself proclaims, that we came hither.
Now may the sender of these oracles,
In saving and in plague-staying, Phoebus, come!
[Exeunt CREON, PRIEST and THEBANS. OEDIPUS retires.
Enter THEBAN SENATORS, as Chorus.
O Prophecy of Jove, whose words are sweet,
With what doom art thou sent
To glorious Thebes, from Pytho's gilded seat?
I am distraught with fearful wonderment,
I thrill with terror, and wait reverently—
Yea, Io Paean, Delian lord, on thee!
What matter thou wilt compass—either strange,
Or once again recurrent as the seasons change,
Offspring of golden Hope, immortal Oracle,
Tell me, O tell!
Athena first I greet with invocation,
Daughter of Jove, divine!
Next Artemis thy sister, of this nation
Keeper, high seated in the encircling shrine,
Filled with her praises, of our market-place,
And Phoebus, shooting arrows far through space;
Appear ye Three, the averters of my fate!
If e'er before, when mischief rose upon the state,
Ye quenched the flames of evil, putting them away,
Woe, for unnumbered are the ills we bear!
Sickness pervades our hosts;
Nor is there any spear of guardian care,
Wherewith a man might save us, found in all our
For all the fair soil's produce now no longer springs;
Nor women from the labour and loud cries
Of their child-births arise;
And you may see, flying like a bird with wings,
One after one, outspeeding the resistless brand,
Pass—to the Evening Land.
In countless hosts our city perisheth.
Her children on the plain
Lie all unpitied—pitiless—breeding death.
Our wives meanwhile, and white-haired mothers in
This way and that, suppliant, along the altar-side
Sit, and bemoan their doleful maladies;
Like flame their paeans rise,
With wailing and lament accompanied;
For whose dear sake O Goddess, O Jove's golden child,
Send Help with favour mild!
And Ares the Destroyer, him who thus—
Not now in harness of brass shields, as wont—
Ringed round with clamour, meets us front to front
And fevers us,
O banish from our country! Drive him back,
With winds upon his track,
On to the chamber vast of Amphitrite,
Or that lone anchorage, the Thracian main;
For now, if night leave bounds to our annoy,
Day levels all again;
Wherefore, O father, Zeus, thou that dost wield the
Of fire-fraught light,
Him with thy bolt destroy!
Next, from the bendings of thy golden string
I would see showered thy artillery
Invincible, marshalled to succour me,
Next, those flame-bearing beams, arrows most bright,
Which Artemis by night
Through Lycian highlands speeds her scattering;
Thou too, the Evian, with thy Maenad band,
Thou golden-braided patron of this land
Whose visage glows with wine,
O save us from the god whom no gods honour! Hear,
Bacchus! Draw near,
And light thy torch of pine!
Enter OEDIPUS, attended.
OEDIPUS You are at prayers; but for your prayers' intent
You may gain help, and of your ills relief,
If you will minister to the pestilence,
And hearken and receive my words, which I—
A stranger to this tale, and to the deed
A stranger—shall pronounce; for of myself
I could not follow up the traces far,
Not having any key. But, made since then
A fellow-townsman to the townsmen here,
To all you Cadmeans I thus proclaim;
Whichever of you knows the man, by whom
Laius the son of Labdacus was slain,
Even if he is afraid, seeing he himself
Suppressed the facts that made against himself,
I bid that man shew the whole truth to me;
For he shall suffer no disparagement,
Except to quit the land, unscathed. Again,
If any knows another—say some stranger
To have been guilty, let him not keep silence;
For I will pay him the reward, and favour
Shall be his due beside it. But again,
If you will hold your peace, and any man
From self or friend in terror shall repel
This word of mine, then—you must hear me say
What I shall do. Whoe'er he be, I order
That of this land, whose power and throne are mine,
None entertain him, none accost him, none
Cause him to share in prayers or sacrifice
Offered to Heaven, or pour him lustral wave,
But all men from their houses banish him;
Since it is he contaminates us all,
Even as the Pythian oracle divine
Revealed but now to me. Such is my succour
Of him that's dead, and of the Deity.
And on the guilty head I imprecate
That whether by himself he has lain covert,
Or joined with others, without happiness,
Evil, in evil, he may pine and die.
And for myself I pray, if with my knowledge
He should become an inmate of my dwelling,
That I may suffer all that I invoked
On these just now. Moreover all these things
I charge you to accomplish, in behalf
Of me, and of the God, and of this land,
So ruined, barren and forsaken of Heaven.
For even though the matter were not now
By Heaven enjoined you, 'twas unnatural
For you to suffer it to pass uncleansed,
A man most noble having been slain, a king too!
Rather, you should have searched it out; but now,
Since I am vested with the government
Which he held once, and have his marriage-bed,
And the same wife; and since our progeny—
If his had not miscarried—had sprung from us
With common ties of common motherhood—
Only that Fate came heavy upon his head—
On these accounts I, as for my own father,
Will fight this fight, and follow out every clue,
Seeking to seize the author of his murder—
The scion of Labdacus and Polydore
And earlier Cadmus and Agenor old;
And such as disobey—the Gods I ask
Neither to raise them harvest from the ground
Nor children from the womb, but that they perish
By this fate present, and yet worse than this;
While you, the other Cadmeans, who approve,
May succouring Justice and all Gods in heaven
Accompany for good for evermore!
1 SENATOR Even as thou didst adjure me, so, my king,
I will reply. I neither murdered him,
Nor can point out the murderer. For the quest—
To tell us who on earth has done this deed
Belonged to Phoebus, by whose word it came.
OEDIPUS Your words are just; but to constrain the Gods
To what they will not, passes all men's power.
1 SENATOR I would say something which appears to me
The second chance to this:
OEDIPUS And your third, also—
If such you have—by all means tell it.
1 SENATOR Sir,
Tiresias above all men, I am sure,
Ranks as a seer next Phoebus, king with king;
Of him we might enquire and learn the truth
With all assurance.
OEDIPUS That is what I did;
And with no slackness; for by Creon's advice
I sent, twice over; and for some time, now,
'Tis strange he is not here.
1 SENATOR Then all the rest
Are but stale words and dumb.
OEDIPUS What sort of words?
I am weighing every utterance.
1 SENATOR He was said
To have been killed by footpads.
OEDIPUS So I heard;
But he who saw it is himself unseen.
1 SENATOR Well, if his bosom holds a grain of fear,
Curses like yours he never will abide!
OEDIPUS Whom the doing awes not, speaking cannot scare.
1 SENATOR Then there is one to expose him: here they come,
Bringing the godlike seer, the only man
Who has in him the tongue that cannot lie.
Enter TIRESIAS, led by a boy.
OEDIPUS Tiresias, thou who searchest everything,
Communicable or nameless, both in heaven
And on the earth—thou canst not see the city,
But knowest no less what pestilence visits it,
Wherefrom our only saviour and defence
We find, sir king, in thee. For Phoebus—if
Thou dost not know it from the messengers—
To us, who sent to ask him, sent word back,
That from this sickness no release should come,
Till we had found and slain the men who slew
Laius, or driven them, banished, from the land.
Wherefore do thou—not sparing augury,
Either through birds, or any other way
Thou hast of divination—save thyself,
And save the city, and me; save the whole mass
By this dead corpse infected; for in thee
Stands our existence; and for men, to help
With might and main is of all tasks the highest.
TIRESIAS Alas! How terrible it is to know,
Where no good comes of knowing! Of these matters
I was full well aware, but let them slip me;
Else I had not come hither.
OEDIPUS But what is it?
How out of heart thou hast come!
TIRESIAS Let me go home;
So shalt thou bear thy load most easily—
If thou wilt take my counsel—and I mine.
OEDIPUS Thou hast not spoken loyally, nor friendly
Toward the State that bred thee, cheating her
Of this response!
TIRESIAS Because I do not see
Thy words, not even thine, going to the mark;
So, not to be in the same ptight—
1 SENATOR For Heaven's sake,
If thou hast knowledge, do not turn away,
When all of us implore thee suppliant!
Are all unknowing; my say, in any sort,
I will not say, lest I display thy sorrow.
OEDIPUS What, you do know, and will not speak? Your mind
Is to betray us, and destroy the city?
TIRESIAS I will not bring remorse upon myself
And upon you. Why do you search these matters?
Vain, vain! I will not tell you.
OEDIPUS Worst of traitors!
For you would rouse a very stone to wrath—
Will you not speak out ever, but stand thus
Relentless and persistent?
TIRESIAS My offence
You censure; but your own, at home, you see not,
And yet blame me!
OEDIPUS Who would not take offence,
Hearing the words in which you flout the city?
TIRESIAS Well, it will come, keep silence as I may.
OEDIPUS And what will come should I not hear from you?
TIRESIAS I will declare no further. Storm at this,
If't please you, to the wildest height of anger!
OEDIPUS At least I will not, being so far in anger,
Spare anything of what is clear to me:
Know, I suspect you joined to hatch the deed;
Yea, did it—all but slaying with your own hands;
And if you were not blind, I should aver
The act was your work only!
TIRESIAS Was it so?
I charge you to abide by your decree
As you proclaimed it; nor from this day forth
Speak word to these, or me; being of this land
Yourself the abominable contaminator!
OEDIPUS So shamelessly set you this story on foot,
And think, perhaps, you shall go free?
TIRESIAS I am
Free! for I have in me the strength of truth.
OEDIPUS Who prompted you? for from your art it was not!
TIRESIAS Yourself! You made me speak, against my will.
OEDIPUS Speak! What? Repeat, that I may learn it better!
TIRESIAS Did you not understand me at first hearing,
Or are you tempting me, when you say "Speak!"
OEDIPUS Not so to say for certain; speak again.
TIRESIAS I say that you are Laius' murderer—
He whom you seek.
OEDIPUS Not without chastisement
Excerpted from The Theban Plays by SOPHOCLES, T. N. R. ROGERS, George Young. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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