Being his kinsman, his most grievous woes. O listen to me, luckless Oedipus,
Come home! The whole Cadmeian people claim With right to have thee back, I most of all, For most of all (else were I vile indeed) I mourn for thy misfortunes, seeing thee An aged outcast, wandering on and on,
A beggar with one handmaid for thy stay. Ah! who had e’er imagined she could fall To such a depth of misery as this,
To tend in penury thy stricken frame, A virgin ripe for wedlock, but unwed,
A prey for any wanton ravisher?
Seems it not cruel this reproach I cast On thee and on myself and all the race?
Aye, but an open shame cannot be hid. Hide it, O hide it, Oedipus, thou canst. O, by our fathers’ gods, consent I pray; Come back to Thebes, come to thy father’s home, Bid Athens, as is meet, a fond farewell; Thebes thy old foster-mother claims thee first.
O front of brass, thy subtle tongue would twist To thy advantage every plea of right
Why try thy arts on me, why spread again Toils where ‘twould gall me sorest to be snared? In old days when by self-wrought woes distraught, I yearned for exile as a glad release,
Thy will refused the favor then I craved. But when my frenzied grief had spent its force, And I was fain to taste the sweets of home, Then thou wouldst thrust me from my country, then These ties of kindred were by thee ignored; And now again when thou behold’st this State And all its kindly people welcome me,
Thou seek’st to part us, wrapping in soft words Hard thoughts. And yet what pleasure canst thou find In forcing friendship on unwilling foes? Suppose a man refused to grant some boon When you importuned him, and afterwards
When you had got your heart’s desire, consented, Granting a grace from which all grace had fled, Would not such favor seem an empty boon? Yet such the boon thou profferest now to me, Fair in appearance, but when tested false. Yea, I will proved thee false, that these may hear; Thou art come to take me, not to take me home, But plant me on thy borders, that thy State May so escape annoyance from this land.
_That_ thou shalt never gain, but _this_ instead– My ghost to haunt thy country without end; And for my sons, this heritage–no more– Just room to die in. Have not I more skill Than thou to draw the horoscope of Thebes? Are not my teachers surer guides than thine– Great Phoebus and the sire of Phoebus, Zeus? Thou art a messenger suborned, thy tongue Is sharper than a sword’s edge, yet thy speech Will bring thee more defeats than victories. Howbeit, I know I waste my words–begone, And leave me here; whate’er may be my lot, He lives not ill who lives withal content.
So those two crutches shall no longer serve thee For further roaming. Since it pleaseth thee To triumph o’er thy country and thy friends Who mandate, though a prince, I here discharge, Enjoy thy triumph; soon or late thou’lt find Thou art an enemy to thyself, both now
And in time past, when in despite of friends Thou gav’st the rein to passion, still thy bane.
Thy suppliant to utter yet one curse! Wretch, now my eyes are gone thou hast torn away The helpless maiden who was eyes to me;
For these to thee and all thy cursed race May the great Sun, whose eye is everywhere, Grant length of days and old age like to mine.
Ho! hasten to the altars, one of you. Command my liegemen leave the sacrifice
And hurry, foot and horse, with rein unchecked, To where the paths that packmen use diverge, Lest the two maidens slip away, and I
Become a mockery to this my guest,
As one despoiled by force. Quick, as I bid. As for this stranger, had I let my rage, Justly provoked, have play, he had not ‘scaped Scathless and uncorrected at my hands.
But now the laws to which himself appealed, These and none others shall adjudicate.
Thou shalt not quit this land, till thou hast fetched The maidens and produced them in my sight. Thou hast offended both against myself
And thine own race and country. Having come Unto a State that champions right and asks For every action warranty of law,
Thou hast set aside the custom of the land, And like some freebooter art carrying off What plunder pleases thee, as if forsooth Thou thoughtest this a city without men, Or manned by slaves, and me a thing of naught. Yet not from Thebes this villainy was learnt; Thebes is not wont to breed unrighteous sons, Nor would she praise thee, if she learnt that thou Wert robbing me–aye and the gods to boot, Haling by force their suppliants, poor maids. Were I on Theban soil, to prosecute
The justest claim imaginable, I
Would never wrest by violence my own Without sanction of your State or King;
I should behave as fits an outlander Living amongst a foreign folk, but thou
Shamest a city that deserves it not, Even thine own, and plentitude of years
Have made of thee an old man and a fool. Therefore again I charge thee as before, See that the maidens are restored at once, Unless thou would’st continue here by force And not by choice a sojourner; so much
I tell thee home and what I say, I mean.
Not deeming this city void of men
Or counsel, son of Aegeus, as thou say’st I did what I have done; rather I thought Your people were not like to set such store by kin of mine and keep them ‘gainst my will. Nor would they harbor, so I stood assured, A godless parricide, a reprobate
Convicted of incestuous marriage ties. For on her native hill of Ares here
(I knew your far-famed Areopagus)
Sits Justice, and permits not vagrant folk To stay within your borders. In that faith I hunted down my quarry; and e’en then
i had refrained but for the curses dire Wherewith he banned my kinsfolk and myself: Such wrong, methought, had warrant for my act. Anger has no old age but only death;
The dead alone can feel no touch of spite. So thou must work thy will; my cause is just But weak without allies; yet will I try, Old as I am, to answer deeds with deeds.
O shameless railer, think’st thou this abuse Defames my grey hairs rather than thine own? Murder and incest, deeds of horror, all
Thou blurtest forth against me, all I have borne, No willing sinner; so it pleased the gods Wrath haply with my sinful race of old,
Since thou could’st find no sin in me myself For which in retribution I was doomed
To trespass thus against myself and mine. Answer me now, if by some oracle
My sire was destined to a bloody end By a son’s hand, can this reflect on me, Me then unborn, begotten by no sire,
Conceived in no mother’s womb? And if When born to misery, as born I was,
I met my sire, not knowing whom I met or what I did, and slew him, how canst thou With justice blame the all-unconscious hand? And for my mother, wretch, art not ashamed, Seeing she was thy sister, to extort
From me the story of her marriage, such A marriage as I straightway will proclaim. For I will speak; thy lewd and impious speech Has broken all the bonds of reticence.
She was, ah woe is me! she was my mother; I knew it not, nor she; and she my mother Bare children to the son whom she had borne, A birth of shame. But this at least I know Wittingly thou aspersest her and me;
But I unwitting wed, unwilling speak. Nay neither in this marriage or this deed Which thou art ever casting in my teeth– A murdered sire–shall I be held to blame. Come, answer me one question, if thou canst: If one should presently attempt thy life, Would’st thou, O man of justice, first inquire If the assassin was perchance thy sire,
Or turn upon him? As thou lov’st thy life, On thy aggressor thou would’st turn, no stay Debating, if the law would bear thee out. Such was my case, and such the pass whereto The gods reduced me; and methinks my sire, Could he come back to life, would not dissent. Yet thou, for just thou art not, but a man Who sticks at nothing, if it serve his plea, Reproachest me with this before these men. It serves thy turn to laud great Theseus’ name, And Athens as a wisely governed State;
Yet in thy flatteries one thing is to seek: If any land knows how to pay the gods
Their proper rites, ’tis Athens most of all. This is the land whence thou wast fain to steal Their aged suppliant and hast carried off My daughters. Therefore to yon goddesses, I turn, adjure them and invoke their aid To champion my cause, that thou mayest learn What is the breed of men who guard this State.
Show us the trail, and I’ll attend thee too, That, if thou hast the maidens hereabouts, Thou mayest thyself discover them to me; But if thy guards outstrip us with their spoil, We may draw rein; for others speed, from whom They will not ‘scape to thank the gods at home. Lead on, I say, the captor’s caught, and fate Hath ta’en the fowler in the toils he spread; So soon are lost gains gotten by deceit. And look not for allies; I know indeed
Such height of insolence was never reached Without abettors or accomplices;
Thou hast some backer in thy bold essay, But I will search this matter home and see One man doth not prevail against the State. Dost take my drift, or seem these words as vain As seemed our warnings when the plot was hatched?
O when the flying foe,
Turning at last to bay,
Soon will give blow for blow,
Might I behold the fray;
Hear the loud battle roar
Swell, on the Pythian shore,
Or by the torch-lit bay,
Where the dread Queen and Maid Cherish the mystic rites,
Rites they to none betray,
Ere on his lips is laid
Secrecy’s golden key
By their own acolytes,
Haply on swiftest steed,
Or in the flying car,
Now they approach the glen,
West of white Oea’s scaur.
They will be vanquished:
Dread are our warriors, dread
Theseus our chieftain’s men.
Flashes each bridle bright,
Charges each gallant knight,
All that our Queen adore,
Pallas their patron, or
Him whose wide floods enring
Earth, the great Ocean-king
Whom Rhea bore.
Fight they or now prepare
To fight? a vision rare
Tells me that soon again
I shall behold the twain
Maidens so ill bestead,
By their kin buffeted.
Today, today Zeus worketh some great thing This day shall victory bring.
O for the wings, the wings of a dove, To be borne with the speed of the gale,
Up and still upwards to sail
And gaze on the fray from the clouds above. (Ant. 2)
All-seeing Zeus, O lord of heaven,
To our guardian host be given
Might triumphant to surprise
Flying foes and win their prize.
Hear us, Zeus, and hear us, child
Of Zeus, Athene undefiled,
Hear, Apollo, hunter, hear,
Huntress, sister of Apollo,
Who the dappled swift-foot deer
O’er the wooded glade dost follow;
Help with your two-fold power
Athens in danger’s hour!
O wayfarer, thou wilt not have to tax The friends who watch for thee with false presage, For lo, an escort with the maids draws near. [Enter ANTIGONE and ISMENE with THESEUS]
I have my darlings, and if death should come, Death were not wholly bitter with you near. Cling to me, press me close on either side, There rest ye from your dreary wayfaring. Now tell me of your ventures, but in brief; Brief speech suffices for young maids like you.
I pray thee do not wonder if the sight Of children, given o’er for lost, has made My converse somewhat long and tedious.
Full well I know the joy I have of them Is due to thee, to thee and no man else; Thou wast their sole deliverer, none else. The gods deal with thee after my desire, With thee and with this land! for fear of heaven I found above all peoples most with you, And righteousness and lips that cannot lie. I speak in gratitude of what I know,
For all I have I owe to thee alone. Give me thy hand, O Prince, that I may touch it, And if thou wilt permit me, kiss thy cheek. What say I? Can I wish that thou should’st touch One fallen like me to utter wretchedness, Corrupt and tainted with a thousand ills? Oh no, I would not let thee if thou would’st. They only who have known calamity
Can share it. Let me greet thee where thou art, And still befriend me as thou hast till now.
I marvel not if thou hast dallied long In converse with thy children and preferred Their speech to mine; I feel no jealousy, I would be famous more by deeds than words. Of this, old friend, thou hast had proof; my oath I have fulfilled and brought thee back the maids Alive and nothing harmed for all those threats. And how the fight was won, ’twere waste of words To boast–thy daughters here will tell thee all. But of a matter that has lately chanced
On my way hitherward, I fain would have Thy counsel–slight ‘twould seem, yet worthy thought. A wise man heeds all matters great or small.
O heed me, father, though I am young in years. Let the prince have his will and pay withal What in his eyes is service to the god;
For our sake also let our brother come. If what he urges tend not to thy good
He cannot surely wrest perforce thy will. To hear him then, what harm? By open words A scheme of villainy is soon bewrayed.
Thou art his father, therefore canst not pay In kind a son’s most impious outrages.
O listen to him; other men like thee Have thankless children and are choleric, But yielding to persuasion’s gentle spell They let their savage mood be exorcised. Look thou to the past, forget the present, think On all the woe thy sire and mother brought thee; Thence wilt thou draw this lesson without fail, Of evil passion evil is the end.
Thou hast, alas, to prick thy memory, Stern monitors, these ever-sightless orbs. O yield to us; just suitors should not need To be importunate, nor he that takes
A favor lack the grace to make return.
Who craves excess of days,
Scorning the common span
Of life, I judge that man
A giddy wight who walks in folly’s ways. For the long years heap up a grievous load, Scant pleasures, heavier pains,
Till not one joy remains
For him who lingers on life’s weary road And come it slow or fast,
One doom of fate
Doth all await,
For dance and marriage bell,
The dirge and funeral knell.
Death the deliverer freeth all at last. (Ant.)
Not to be born at all
Is best, far best that can befall, Next best, when born, with least delay To trace the backward way.
For when youth passes with its giddy train, Troubles on troubles follow, toils on toils, Pain, pain for ever pain;
And none escapes life’s coils. Envy, sedition, strife,
Carnage and war, make up the tale of life. Last comes the worst and most abhorred stage Of unregarded age,
Joyless, companionless and slow,
Of woes the crowning woe.
Such ills not I alone,
He too our guest hath known,
E’en as some headland on an iron-bound shore, Lashed by the wintry blasts and surge’s roar, So is he buffeted on every side
By drear misfortune’s whelming tide, By every wind of heaven o’erborne
Some from the sunset, some from orient morn, Some from the noonday glow.
Some from Rhipean gloom of everlasting snow.
Ah me, my sisters, shall I first lament My own afflictions, or my aged sire’s,
Whom here I find a castaway, with you, In a strange land, an ancient beggar clad In antic tatters, marring all his frame, While o’er the sightless orbs his unkept locks Float in the breeze; and, as it were to match, He bears a wallet against hunger’s pinch. All this too late I learn, wretch that I am, Alas! I own it, and am proved most vile
In my neglect of thee: I scorn myself. But as almighty Zeus in all he doth
Hath Mercy for co-partner of this throne, Let Mercy, father, also sit enthroned
In thy heart likewise. For transgressions past May be amended, cannot be made worse.
Why silent? Father, speak, nor turn away, Hast thou no word, wilt thou dismiss me then In mute disdain, nor tell me why thou art wrath? O ye his daughters, sisters mine, do ye
This sullen, obstinate silence try to move. Let him not spurn, without a single word Of answer, me the suppliant of the god.
Well dost thou counsel, and I will speak out. First will I call in aid the god himself, Poseidon, from whose altar I was raised, With warrant from the monarch of this land, To parley with you, and depart unscathed. These pledges, strangers, I would see observed By you and by my sisters and my sire.
Now, father, let me tell thee why I came. I have been banished from my native land Because by right of primogeniture
I claimed possession of thy sovereign throne Wherefrom Etocles, my younger brother,
Ousted me, not by weight of precedent, Nor by the last arbitrament of war,
But by his popular acts; and the prime cause Of this I deem the curse that rests on thee. So likewise hold the soothsayers, for when I came to Argos in the Dorian land
And took the king Adrastus’ child to wife, Under my standard I enlisted all
The foremost captains of the Apian isle, To levy with their aid that sevenfold host Of spearmen against Thebes, determining
To oust my foes or die in a just cause. Why then, thou askest, am I here today?
Father, I come a suppliant to thee
Both for myself and my allies who now With squadrons seven beneath their seven spears Beleaguer all the plain that circles Thebes. Foremost the peerless warrior, peerless seer, Amphiaraiis with his lightning lance;
Next an Aetolian, Tydeus, Oeneus’ son; Eteoclus of Argive birth the third;
The fourth Hippomedon, sent to the war By his sire Talaos; Capaneus, the fifth, Vaunts he will fire and raze the town; the sixth Parthenopaeus, an Arcadian born
Named of that maid, longtime a maid and late Espoused, Atalanta’s true-born child;
Last I thy son, or thine at least in name, If but the bastard of an evil fate,
Lead against Thebes the fearless Argive host. Thus by thy children and thy life, my sire, We all adjure thee to remit thy wrath
And favor one who seeks a just revenge Against a brother who has banned and robbed him. For victory, if oracles speak true,
Will fall to those who have thee for ally. So, by our fountains and familiar gods
I pray thee, yield and hear; a beggar I And exile, thou an exile likewise; both
Involved in one misfortune find a home As pensioners, while he, the lord of Thebes, O agony! makes a mock of thee and me.
I’ll scatter with a breath the upstart’s might, And bring thee home again and stablish thee, And stablish, having cast him out, myself. This will thy goodwill I will undertake, Without it I can scare return alive.
Nay, worthy seniors, but for Theseus’ sake Who sent him hither to have word of me.
Never again would he have heard my voice; But now he shall obtain this parting grace, An answer that will bring him little joy. O villain, when thou hadst the sovereignty That now thy brother holdeth in thy stead, Didst thou not drive me, thine own father, out, An exile, cityless, and make we wear
This beggar’s garb thou weepest to behold, Now thou art come thyself to my sad plight? Nothing is here for tears; it must be borne By _me_ till death, and I shall think of thee As of my murderer; thou didst thrust me out; ‘Tis thou hast made me conversant with woe, Through thee I beg my bread in a strange land; And had not these my daughters tended me I had been dead for aught of aid from thee. They tend me, they preserve me, they are men Not women in true service to their sire; But ye are bastards, and no sons of mine. Therefore just Heaven hath an eye on thee; Howbeit not yet with aspect so austere
As thou shalt soon experience, if indeed These banded hosts are moving against Thebes. That city thou canst never storm, but first Shall fall, thou and thy brother, blood-imbrued. Such curse I lately launched against you twain, Such curse I now invoke to fight for me, That ye may learn to honor those who bear thee Nor flout a sightless father who begat
Degenerate sons–these maidens did not so. Therefore my curse is stronger than thy “throne,” Thy “suppliance,” if by right of laws eterne Primeval Justice sits enthroned with Zeus. Begone, abhorred, disowned, no son of mine, Thou vilest of the vile! and take with thee This curse I leave thee as my last bequest:– Never to win by arms thy native land,
No, nor return to Argos in the Vale, But by a kinsman’s hand to die and slay
Him who expelled thee. So I pray and call On the ancestral gloom of Tartarus
To snatch thee hence, on these dread goddesses I call, and Ares who incensed you both
To mortal enmity. Go now proclaim
What thou hast heard to the Cadmeians all, Thy staunch confederates–this the heritage that Oedipus divideth to his sons.
Woe worth my journey and my baffled hopes! Woe worth my comrades! What a desperate end To that glad march from Argos! Woe is me! I dare not whisper it to my allies
Or turn them back, but mute must meet my doom. My sisters, ye his daughters, ye have heard The prayers of our stern father, if his curse Should come to pass and ye some day return To Thebes, O then disown me not, I pray, But grant me burial and due funeral rites. So shall the praise your filial care now wins Be doubled for the service wrought for me.
‘Tis so, and stay me not. The road I choose, Dogged by my sire and his avenging spirit, Leads me to ruin; but for you may Zeus
Make your path bright if ye fulfill my hest When dead; in life ye cannot serve me more. Now let me go, farewell, a long farewell! Ye ne’er shall see my living face again.
Ills on ills! no pause or rest!
Come they from our sightless guest? Or haply now we see fulfilled
What fate long time hath willed? For ne’er have I proved vain
Aught that the heavenly powers ordain. Time with never sleeping eye
Watches what is writ on high,
Overthrowing now the great,
Raising now from low estate.
Hark! How the thunder rumbles! Zeus defend us!
Hark! with louder, nearer roar
The bolt of Zeus descends once more. My spirit quails and cowers: my hair
Bristles for fear. Again that flare! What doth the lightning-flash portend?
Ever it points to issues grave.
Dread powers of air! Save, Zeus, O save!
Ha! once more the deafening sound
Peals yet louder all around
If thou darkenest our land,
Lightly, lightly lay thy hand;
Grace, not anger, let me win,
If upon a man of sin
I have looked with pitying eye,
Zeus, our king, to thee I cry!
Hither haste, my son, arise,
Altar leave and sacrifice,
If haply to Poseidon now
In the far glade thou pay’st thy vow. For our guest to thee would bring
And thy folk and offering,
Thy due guerdon. Haste, O King! [Enter THESEUS]
Wherefore again this general din? at once My people call me and the stranger calls. Is it a thunderbolt of Zeus or sleet
Of arrowy hail? a storm so fierce as this Would warrant all surmises of mischance.
O son of Aegeus, for this state will I Unfold a treasure age cannot corrupt.
Myself anon without a guiding hand
Will take thee to the spot where I must end. This secret ne’er reveal to mortal man,
Neither the spot nor whereabouts it lies, So shall it ever serve thee for defense
Better than native shields and near allies. But those dread mysteries speech may not profane Thyself shalt gather coming there alone; Since not to any of thy subjects, nor
To my own children, though I love them dearly, Can I reveal what thou must guard alone, And whisper to thy chosen heir alone,
So to be handed down from heir to heir. Thus shalt thou hold this land inviolate From the dread Dragon’s brood.  The justest State By countless wanton neighbors may be wronged, For the gods, though they tarry, mark for doom The godless sinner in his mad career.
Far from thee, son of Aegeus, be such fate! But to the spot–the god within me goads– Let us set forth no longer hesitate.
Follow me, daughters, this way. Strange that I Whom you have led so long should lead you now. Oh, touch me not, but let me all alone
Find out the sepulcher that destiny Appoints me in this land. Hither, this way, For this way Hermes leads, the spirit guide, And Persephassa, empress of the dead.
O light, no light to me, but mine erewhile, Now the last time I feel thee palpable,
For I am drawing near the final gloom Of Hades. Blessing on thee, dearest friend, On thee and on thy land and followers!
Live prosperous and in your happy state Still for your welfare think on me, the dead. [Exit THESEUS followed by ANTIGONE and ISMENE]
If mortal prayers are heard in hell, Hear, Goddess dread, invisible!
Monarch of the regions drear,
Aidoneus, hear, O hear!
By a gentle, tearless doom
Speed this stranger to the gloom, Let him enter without pain
The all-shrouding Stygian plain. Wrongfully in life oppressed,
Be he now by Justice blessed.
Queen infernal, and thou fell
Watch-dog of the gates of hell, Who, as legends tell, dost glare,
Gnarling in thy cavernous lair At all comers, let him go
Scathless to the fields below. For thy master orders thus,
The son of earth and Tartarus; In his den the monster keep,
Giver of eternal sleep.
Thy question hits the marvel of the tale. How he moved hence, you saw him and must know; Without a friend to lead the way, himself Guiding us all. So having reached the abrupt Earth-rooted Threshold with its brazen stairs, He paused at one of the converging paths, Hard by the rocky basin which records
The pact of Theseus and Peirithous. Betwixt that rift and the Thorician rock, The hollow pear-tree and the marble tomb, Midway he sat and loosed his beggar’s weeds; Then calling to his daughters bade them fetch Of running water, both to wash withal
And make libation; so they clomb the steep; And in brief space brought what their father bade, Then laved and dressed him with observance due. But when he had his will in everything,
And no desire was left unsatisfied, It thundered from the netherworld; the maids Shivered, and crouching at their father’s knees Wept, beat their breast and uttered a long wail. He, as he heard their sudden bitter cry, Folded his arms about them both and said, “My children, ye will lose your sire today, For all of me has perished, and no more
Have ye to bear your long, long ministry; A heavy load, I know, and yet one word
Wipes out all score of tribulations–_love_. And love from me ye had–from no man more; But now must live without me all your days.” So clinging to each other sobbed and wept Father and daughters both, but when at last Their mourning had an end and no wail rose, A moment there was silence; suddenly
A voice that summoned him; with sudden dread The hair of all stood up and all were ‘mazed; For the call came, now loud, now low, and oft. “Oedipus, Oedipus, why tarry we?
Too long, too long thy passing is delayed.” But when he heard the summons of the god, He prayed that Theseus might be brought, and when The Prince came nearer: “O my friend,” he cried, “Pledge ye my daughters, giving thy right hand– And, daughters, give him yours–and promise me Thou never wilt forsake them, but do all That time and friendship prompt in their behoof.” And he of his nobility repressed
His tears and swore to be their constant friend. This promise given, Oedipus put forth
Blind hands and laid them on his children, saying, “O children, prove your true nobility
And hence depart nor seek to witness sights Unlawful or to hear unlawful words.
Nay, go with speed; let none but Theseus stay, Our ruler, to behold what next shall hap.” So we all heard him speak, and weeping sore We companied the maidens on their way.
After brief space we looked again, and lo The man was gone, evanished from our eyes; Only the king we saw with upraised hand
Shading his eyes as from some awful sight, That no man might endure to look upon.
A moment later, and we saw him bend In prayer to Earth and prayer to Heaven at once. But by what doom the stranger met his end No man save Theseus knoweth. For there fell No fiery bold that reft him in that hour, Nor whirlwind from the sea, but he was taken. It was a messenger from heaven, or else
Some gentle, painless cleaving of earth’s base; For without wailing or disease or pain
He passed away–and end most marvelous. And if to some my tale seems foolishness I am content that such could count me fool.
Woe, woe! on this sad day
We sisters of one blasted stock
must bow beneath the shock,
Must weep and weep the curse that lay On him our sire, for whom
In life, a life-long world of care
‘Twas ours to bear,
In death must face the gloom
That wraps his tomb.
What tongue can tell
That sight ineffable?
Gone as ye most might wish. Not in battle or sea storm,
But reft from sight,
By hands invisible borne
To viewless fields of night.
Ah me! on us too night has come,
The night of mourning. Wither roam
O’er land or sea in our distress
Eating the bread of bitterness?
Love can turn past pain to bliss,
What seemed bitter now is sweet. Ah me! that happy toil is sweet.
The guidance of those dear blind feet. Dear father, wrapt for aye in nether gloom, E’en in the tomb
Never shalt thou lack of love repine, Her love and mine.
He died, so willed he, in a foreign land. Lapped in kind earth he sleeps his long last sleep, And o’er his grave friends weep.
How great our lost these streaming eyes can tell, This sorrow naught can quell.
Thou hadst thy wish ‘mid strangers thus to die, But I, ah me, not by.
My children, he
Charged me straitly that no moral
Should approach the sacred portal,
Or greet with funeral litanies
The hidden tomb wherein he lies;
Saying, “If thou keep’st my hest
Thou shalt hold thy realm at rest.” The God of Oaths this promise heard,
And to Zeus I pledged my word.
3. Creon desires to bury Oedipus on the confines of Thebes so as to avoid the pollution and yet offer due rites at his tomb. Ismene tells him of the latest oracle and interprets to him its purport, that some day the Theban invaders of Athens will be routed in a battle near the grave of Oedipus.
Translation by F. Storr, BA Formerly Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge From the Loeb Library Edition
Originally published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and
William Heinemann Ltd, London
Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, the late king of Thebes, in defiance of Creon who rules in his stead, resolves to bury her brother Polyneices, slain in his attack on Thebes. She is caught in the act by Creon’s watchmen and brought before the king. She justifies her action, asserting that she was bound to obey the eternal laws of right and wrong in spite of any human ordinance. Creon, unrelenting, condemns her to be immured in a rock-hewn chamber. His son Haemon, to whom Antigone is betrothed, pleads in vain for her life and threatens to die with her. Warned by the seer Teiresias Creon repents him and hurries to release Antigone from her rocky prison. But he is too late: he finds lying side by side Antigone who had hanged herself and Haemon who also has perished by his own hand. Returning to the palace he sees within the dead body of his queen who on learning of her son’s death has stabbed herself to the heart.
Ismene, sister of my blood and heart, See’st thou how Zeus would in our lives fulfill The weird of Oedipus, a world of woes!
For what of pain, affliction, outrage, shame, Is lacking in our fortunes, thine and mine? And now this proclamation of today
Made by our Captain-General to the State, What can its purport be? Didst hear and heed, Or art thou deaf when friends are banned as foes?
To me, Antigone, no word of friends Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain Were reft of our two brethren in one day By double fratricide; and since i’ the night Our Argive leaguers fled, no later news
Has reached me, to inspirit or deject.
What but the thought of our two brothers dead, The one by Creon graced with funeral rites, The other disappointed? Eteocles
He hath consigned to earth (as fame reports) With obsequies that use and wont ordain, So gracing him among the dead below.
But Polyneices, a dishonored corse, (So by report the royal edict runs)
No man may bury him or make lament– Must leave him tombless and unwept, a feast For kites to scent afar and swoop upon.
Such is the edict (if report speak true) Of Creon, our most noble Creon, aimed
At thee and me, aye me too; and anon He will be here to promulgate, for such
As have not heard, his mandate; ’tis in sooth No passing humor, for the edict says
Whoe’er transgresses shall be stoned to death. So stands it with us; now ’tis thine to show If thou art worthy of thy blood or base.
Bethink thee, sister, of our father’s fate, Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin, Blinded, himself his executioner.
Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names) Done by a noose herself had twined to death And last, our hapless brethren in one day, Both in a mutual destiny involved,
Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain. Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone; Shall we not perish wretchedest of all,
If in defiance of the law we cross
A monarch’s will?–weak women, think of that, Not framed by nature to contend with men. Remember this too that the stronger rules; We must obey his orders, these or worse. Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat The dead to pardon. I perforce obey
The powers that be. ‘Tis foolishness, I ween, To overstep in aught the golden mean.
I urge no more; nay, wert thou willing still, I would not welcome such a fellowship.
Go thine own way; myself will bury him. How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,– Sister and brother linked in love’s embrace– A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth, But by the dead commended; and with them I shall abide for ever. As for thee,
Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven.
Sister, forbear, or I shall hate thee soon, And the dead man will hate thee too, with cause. Say I am mad and give my madness rein
To wreck itself; the worst that can befall Is but to die an honorable death.
Sunbeam, of all that ever dawn upon Our seven-gated Thebes the brightest ray, O eye of golden day,
How fair thy light o’er Dirce’s fountain shone, Speeding upon their headlong homeward course, Far quicker than they came, the Argive force; Putting to flight
The argent shields, the host with scutcheons white. Against our land the proud invader came
To vindicate fell Polyneices’ claim. Like to an eagle swooping low,
On pinions white as new fall’n snow. With clanging scream, a horsetail plume his crest, The aspiring lord of Argos onward pressed.
Hovering around our city walls he waits, His spearmen raven at our seven gates.
But ere a torch our crown of towers could burn, Ere they had tasted of our blood, they turn Forced by the Dragon; in their rear
The din of Ares panic-struck they hear. For Zeus who hates the braggart’s boast
Beheld that gold-bespangled host;
As at the goal the paean they upraise, He struck them with his forked lightning blaze.
To earthy from earth rebounding, down he crashed; The fire-brand from his impious hand was dashed, As like a Bacchic reveler on he came,
Outbreathing hate and flame,
And tottered. Elsewhere in the field, Here, there, great Area like a war-horse wheeled; Beneath his car down thrust
Our foemen bit the dust.
Seven captains at our seven gates
Thundered; for each a champion waits, Each left behind his armor bright,
Trophy for Zeus who turns the fight; Save two alone, that ill-starred pair
One mother to one father bare,
Who lance in rest, one ‘gainst the other Drave, and both perished, brother slain by brother.
Now Victory to Thebes returns again And smiles upon her chariot-circled plain. Now let feast and festal should
Memories of war blot out.
Let us to the temples throng,
Dance and sing the live night long. God of Thebes, lead thou the round. Bacchus, shaker of the ground!
Let us end our revels here;
Lo! Creon our new lord draws near, Crowned by this strange chance, our king. What, I marvel, pondering?
Why this summons? Wherefore call Us, his elders, one and all,
Bidding us with him debate,
On some grave concern of State? [Enter CREON]
Elders, the gods have righted one again Our storm-tossed ship of state, now safe in port. But you by special summons I convened
As my most trusted councilors; first, because I knew you loyal to Laius of old;
Again, when Oedipus restored our State, Both while he ruled and when his rule was o’er, Ye still were constant to the royal line. Now that his two sons perished in one day, Brother by brother murderously slain,
By right of kinship to the Princes dead, I claim and hold the throne and sovereignty. Yet ’tis no easy matter to discern
The temper of a man, his mind and will, Till he be proved by exercise of power;
And in my case, if one who reigns supreme Swerve from the highest policy, tongue-tied By fear of consequence, that man I hold, And ever held, the basest of the base.
And I contemn the man who sets his friend Before his country. For myself, I call
To witness Zeus, whose eyes are everywhere, If I perceive some mischievous design
To sap the State, I will not hold my tongue; Nor would I reckon as my private friend
A public foe, well knowing that the State Is the good ship that holds our fortunes all: Farewell to friendship, if she suffers wreck. Such is the policy by which I seek
To serve the Commons and conformably I have proclaimed an edict as concerns
The sons of Oedipus; Eteocles
Who in his country’s battle fought and fell, The foremost champion–duly bury him
With all observances and ceremonies That are the guerdon of the heroic dead. But for the miscreant exile who returned Minded in flames and ashes to blot out
His father’s city and his father’s gods, And glut his vengeance with his kinsmen’s blood, Or drag them captive at his chariot wheels– For Polyneices ’tis ordained that none
Shall give him burial or make mourn for him, But leave his corpse unburied, to be meat For dogs and carrion crows, a ghastly sight. So am I purposed; never by my will
Shall miscreants take precedence of true men, But all good patriots, alive or dead,
Shall be by me preferred and honored.
My lord, I will not make pretense to pant And puff as some light-footed messenger. In sooth my soul beneath its pack of thought Made many a halt and turned and turned again; For conscience plied her spur and curb by turns. “Why hurry headlong to thy fate, poor fool?” She whispered. Then again, “If Creon learn This from another, thou wilt rue it worse.” Thus leisurely I hastened on my road;