Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, OEDIPUS AT COLONUS, by SOPHOCLES



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

OEDIPUS AT COLONUS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Child of an old blind sire, antigone
Last Line: From his own lips; so shall my part be brief.


Dramatis Personae

OEDIPUS, banished King of Thebes
ANTIGONE, his daughter
ISMENE, his daughter
THESEUS, King of Athens
CREON, brother of Jocasta, now reigning at Thebes
POLYNEICES, elder son of Oedipus
STRANGER, a native of Colonus
MESSENGER, an attendant of Theseus


Scene

In front of the grove of the Eumenides.


Enter the blind OEDIPUS led by his daughter, ANTIGONE.

OEDIPUS
Child of an old blind sire, Antigone,
What region, say, whose city have we reached?
Who will provide today with scanted dole
This wanderer? 'Tis little that he craves,
And less obtains--that less enough for me;
For I am taught by suffering to endure,
And the long years that have grown old with me,
And last not least, by true nobility.
My daughter, if thou seest a resting place
On common ground or by some sacred grove,
Stay me and set me down. Let us discover
Where we have come, for strangers must inquire
Of denizens, and do as they are bid.

ANTIGONE
Long-suffering father, Oedipus, the towers
That fence the city still are faint and far;
But where we stand is surely holy ground;
A wilderness of laurel, olive, vine;
Within a choir or songster nightingales
Are warbling. On this native seat of rock
Rest; for an old man thou hast traveled far.

OEDIPUS
Guide these dark steps and seat me there secure.

ANTIGONE
If time can teach, I need not to be told.

OEDIPUS
Say, prithee, if thou knowest, where we are.

ANTIGONE
Athens I recognize, but not the spot.

OEDIPUS
That much we heard from every wayfarer.

ANTIGONE
Shall I go on and ask about the place?

OEDIPUS
Yes, daughter, if it be inhabited.

ANTIGONE
Sure there are habitations; but no need
To leave thee; yonder is a man hard by.

OEDIPUS
What, moving hitherward and on his way?

ANTIGONE
Say rather, here already. Ask him straight
The needful questions, for the man is here.
Enter STRANGER

OEDIPUS
O stranger, as I learn from her whose eyes
Must serve both her and me, that thou art here
Sent by some happy chance to serve our doubts--

STRANGER
First quit that seat, then question me at large:
The spot thou treadest on is holy ground.

OEDIPUS
What is the site, to what god dedicate?

STRANGER
Inviolable, untrod; goddesses,
Dread brood of Earth and Darkness, here abide.

OEDIPUS
Tell me the awful name I should invoke?

STRANGER
The Gracious Ones, All-seeing, so our folk
Call them, but elsewhere other names are rife.

OEDIPUS
Then may they show their suppliant grace, for I
From this your sanctuary will ne'er depart.

STRANGER
What word is this?

OEDIPUS
The watchword of my fate.

STRANGER
Nay, 'tis not mine to bid thee hence without
Due warrant and instruction from the State.

OEDIPUS
Now in God's name, O stranger, scorn me not
As a wayfarer; tell me what I crave.

STRANGER
Ask; your request shall not be scorned by me.

OEDIPUS
How call you then the place wherein we bide?

STRANGER
Whate'er I know thou too shalt know; the place
Is all to great Poseidon consecrate.
Hard by, the Titan, he who bears the torch,
Prometheus, has his worship; but the spot
Thou treadest, the Brass-footed Threshold named,
Is Athens' bastion, and the neighboring lands
Claim as their chief and patron yonder knight
Colonus, and in common bear his name.
Such, stranger, is the spot, to fame unknown,
But dear to us its native worshipers.

OEDIPUS
Thou sayest there are dwellers in these parts?

STRANGER
Surely; they bear the name of yonder god.

OEDIPUS
Ruled by a king or by the general voice?

STRANGER
The lord of Athens is our over-lord.

OEDIPUS
Who is this monarch, great in word and might?

STRANGER
Theseus, the son of Aegeus our late king.

OEDIPUS
Might one be sent from you to summon him?

STRANGER
Wherefore? To tell him aught or urge his coming?

OEDIPUS
Say a slight service may avail him much.

STRANGER
How can he profit from a sightless man?

OEDIPUS
The blind man's words will be instinct with sight.

STRANGER
Heed then; I fain would see thee out of harm;
For by the looks, marred though they be by fate,
I judge thee noble; tarry where thou art,
While I go seek the burghers--those at hand,
Not in the city. They will soon decide
Whether thou art to rest or go thy way.
Exit STRANGER

OEDIPUS
Tell me, my daughter, has the stranger gone?

ANTIGONE
Yes, he has gone; now we are all alone,
And thou may'st speak, dear father, without fear.

OEDIPUS
Stern-visaged queens, since coming to this land
First in your sanctuary I bent the knee,
Frown not on me or Phoebus, who, when erst
He told me all my miseries to come,
Spake of this respite after many years,
Some haven in a far-off land, a rest
Vouchsafed at last by dread divinities.
"There," said he, "shalt thou round thy weary life,
A blessing to the land wherein thou dwell'st,
But to the land that cast thee forth, a curse."
And of my weird he promised signs should come,
Earthquake, or thunderclap, or lightning flash.
And now I recognize as yours the sign
That led my wanderings to this your grove;
Else had I never lighted on you first,
A wineless man on your seat of native rock.
O goddesses, fulfill Apollo's word,
Grant me some consummation of my life,
If haply I appear not all too vile,
A thrall to sorrow worse than any slave.
Hear, gentle daughters of primeval Night,
Hear, namesake of great Pallas; Athens, first
Of cities, pity this dishonored shade,
The ghost of him who once was Oedipus.

ANTIGONE
Hush! for I see some grey-beards on their way,
Their errand to spy out our resting-place.

OEDIPUS
I will be mute, and thou shalt guide my steps
Into the covert from the public road,
Till I have learned their drift. A prudent man
Will ever shape his course by what he learns.
Enter CHORUS

CHORUS
strophe 1

Ha! Where is he? Look around!
Every nook and corner scan!
He the all-presumptuous man,
Whither vanished? search the ground!
A wayfarer, I ween,
A wayfarer, no countryman of ours,
That old man must have been;
Never had native dared to tempt the Powers,
Or enter their demesne,
The Maids in awe of whom each mortal cowers,
Whose name no voice betrays nor cry,
And as we pass them with averted eye,
We move hushed lips in reverent piety.
But now some godless man,
'Tis rumored, here abides;
The precincts through I scan,
Yet wot not where he hides,
The wretch profane!
I search and search in vain.

OEDIPUS
I am that man; I know you near
Ears to the blind, they say, are eyes.

CHORUS
O dread to see and dread to hear!

OEDIPUS
Oh sirs, I am no outlaw under ban.

CHORUS
Who can he be--Zeus save us!--this old man?

OEDIPUS
No favorite of fate,
That ye should envy his estate,
O, Sirs, would any happy mortal, say,
Grope by the light of other eyes his way,
Or face the storm upon so frail a stay?

CHORUS
antistrophe 1

Wast thou then sightless from thy birth?
Evil, methinks, and long
Thy pilgrimage on earth.
Yet add not curse to curse and wrong to wrong.
I warn thee, trespass not
Within this hallowed spot,
Lest thou shouldst find the silent grassy glade
Where offerings are laid,
Bowls of spring water mingled with sweet mead.
Thou must not stay,
Come, come away,
Tired wanderer, dost thou heed?
(We are far off, but sure our voice can reach.)
If aught thou wouldst beseech,
Speak where 'tis right; till then refrain from speech.

OEDIPUS
Daughter, what counsel should we now pursue?

ANTIGONE
We must obey and do as here they do.

OEDIPUS
Thy hand then!

ANTIGONE
Here, O father, is my hand,

OEDIPUS
O Sirs, if I come forth at your command,
Let me not suffer for my confidence.

CHORUS
strophe 2

Against thy will no man shall drive thee hence.

OEDIPUS
Shall I go further?

CHORUS
Aye.

OEDIPUS
What further still?

CHORUS
Lead maiden, thou canst guide him where we will.

ANTIGONE
Follow with blind steps, father, as I lead.

CHORUS
In a strange land strange thou art;
To her will incline thy heart;
Honor whatso'er the State
Honors, all she frowns on hate.

OEDIPUS
Guide me child, where we may range
Safe within the paths of right;
Counsel freely may exchange
Nor with fate and fortune fight.

CHORUS
antistrophe 2

Halt! Go no further than that rocky floor.

OEDIPUS
Stay where I now am?

CHORUS
Yes, advance no more.

OEDIPUS
May I sit down?

CHORUS
Move sideways towards the ledge,
And sit thee crouching on the scarped edge.

ANTIGONE
This is my office, father, O incline--

OEDIPUS
Ah me! ah me!

ANTIGONE
Thy steps to my steps, lean thine aged frame on mine.

OEDIPUS
Woe on my fate unblest!

CHORUS
Wanderer, now thou art at rest,
Tell me of thy birth and home,
From what far country art thou come,
Led on thy weary way, declare!

OEDIPUS
Strangers, I have no country. O forbear--

CHORUS
What is it, old man, that thou wouldst conceal?

OEDIPUS
Forbear, nor urge me further to reveal--

CHORUS
Why this reluctance?

OEDIPUS
Dread my lineage.

CHORUS
Say!

OEDIPUS
What must I answer, child, ah welladay!

CHORUS
Say of what stock thou comest, what man's son--

OEDIPUS
Ah me, my daughter, now we are undone!

ANTIGONE
Speak, for thou standest on the slippery verge.

OEDIPUS
I will; no plea for silence can I urge.

CHORUS
Will neither speak? Come, Sir, why dally thus!

OEDIPUS
Know'st one of Laius'--

CHORUS
Ha? Who!

OEDIPUS
Seed of Labdacus--

CHORUS
Oh Zeus!

OEDIPUS
The hapless Oedipus.

CHORUS
Art he?

OEDIPUS
Whate'er I utter, have no fear of me.

CHORUS
Begone!

OEDIPUS
O wretched me!

CHORUS
Begone!

OEDIPUS
O daughter, what will hap anon?

CHORUS
Forth from our borders speed ye both!

OEDIPUS
How keep you then your troth?

CHORUS
Heaven's justice never smites
Him who ill with ill requites.
But if guile with guile contend,
Bane, not blessing, is the end.
Arise, begone and take thee hence straightway,
Lest on our land a heavier curse thou lay.

ANTIGONE
O sirs! ye suffered not my father blind,
Albeit gracious and to ruth inclined,
Knowing the deeds he wrought, not innocent,
But with no ill intent;
Yet heed a maiden's moan
Who pleads for him alone;

My eyes, not reft of sight,
Plead with you as a daughter's might
You are our providence,
O make us not go hence!
O with a gracious nod
Grant us the nigh despaired-of boon we crave?

Hear us, O hear,
But all that ye hold dear,
Wife, children, homestead, hearth and God!
Where will you find one, search ye ne'er so well.
Who 'scapes perdition if a god impel!

CHORUS
Surely we pity thee and him alike
Daughter of Oedipus, for your distress;
But as we reverence the decrees of Heaven
We cannot say aught other than we said.

OEDIPUS
O what avails renown or fair repute?
Are they not vanity? For, look you, now
Athens is held of States the most devout,
Athens alone gives hospitality
And shelters the vexed stranger, so men say.
Have I found so? I whom ye dislodged
First from my seat of rock and now would drive
Forth from your land, dreading my name alone;
For me you surely dread not, nor my deeds,
Deeds of a man more sinned against than sinning,
As I might well convince you, were it meet
To tell my mother's story and my sire's,
The cause of this your fear. Yet am I then
A villain born because in self-defense,
Striken, I struck the striker back again?
E'en had I known, no villainy 'twould prove:
But all unwitting whither I went, I went--
To ruin; my destroyers knew it well,
Wherefore, I pray you, sirs, in Heaven's name,
Even as ye bade me quit my seat, defend me.
O pay not a lip service to the gods
And wrong them of their dues. Bethink ye well,
The eye of Heaven beholds the just of men,
And the unjust, nor ever in this world
Has one sole godless sinner found escape.
Stand then on Heaven's side and never blot
Athens' fair scutcheon by abetting wrong.
I came to you a suppliant, and you pledged
Your honor; O preserve me to the end,
O let not this marred visage do me wrong!
A holy and god-fearing man is here
Whose coming purports comfort for your folk.
And when your chief arrives, whoe'er he be,
Then shall ye have my story and know all.
Meanwhile I pray you do me no despite.

CHORUS
The plea thou urgest, needs must give us pause,
Set forth in weighty argument, but we
Must leave the issue with the ruling powers.

OEDIPUS
Where is he, strangers, he who sways the realm?

CHORUS
In his ancestral seat; a messenger,
The same who sent us here, is gone for him.

OEDIPUS
And think you he will have such care or thought
For the blind stranger as to come himself?

CHORUS
Aye, that he will, when once he learns thy name.

OEDIPUS
But who will bear him word!

CHORUS
The way is long,
And many travelers pass to speed the news.
Be sure he'll hear and hasten, never fear;
So wide and far thy name is noised abroad,
That, were he ne'er so spent and loth to move,
He would bestir him when he hears of thee.

OEDIPUS
Well, may he come with blessing to his State
And me! Who serves his neighbor serves himself.

ANTIGONE
Zeus! What is this? What can I say or think?

OEDIPUS
What now, Antigone?

ANTIGONE
I see a woman
Riding upon a colt of Aetna's breed;
She wears for headgear a Thessalian hat
To shade her from the sun. Who can it be?
She or a stranger? Do I wake or dream?
'This she; 'tis not--I cannot tell, alack;
It is no other! Now her bright'ning glance
Greets me with recognition, yes, 'tis she,
Herself, Ismene!

OEDIPUS
Ha! what say ye, child?

ANTIGONE
That I behold thy daughter and my sister,
And thou wilt know her straightway by her voice.
Enter ISMENE

ISMENE
Father and sister, names to me most sweet,
How hardly have I found you, hardly now
When found at last can see you through my tears!

OEDIPUS
Art come, my child?

ISMENE
O father, sad thy plight!

OEDIPUS
Child, thou art here?

ISMENE
Yes, 'twas a weary way.

OEDIPUS
Touch me, my child.

ISMENE
I give a hand to both.

OEDIPUS
O children--sisters!

ISMENE
O disastrous plight!

OEDIPUS
Her plight and mine?

ISMENE
Aye, and my own no less.

OEDIPUS
What brought thee, daughter?

ISMENE
Father, care for thee.

OEDIPUS
A daughter's yearning?

ISMENE
Yes, and I had news
I would myself deliver, so I came
With the one thrall who yet is true to me.

OEDIPUS
Thy valiant brothers, where are they at need?

ISMENE
They are--enough, 'tis now their darkest hour.

OEDIPUS
Out on the twain! The thoughts and actions all
Are framed and modeled on Egyptian ways.
For there the men sit at the loom indoors
While the wives slave abroad for daily bread.
So you, my children--those whom I behooved
To bear the burden, stay at home like girls,
While in their stead my daughters moil and drudge,
Lightening their father's misery. The one
Since first she grew from girlish feebleness
To womanhood has been the old man's guide
And shared my weary wandering, roaming oft
Hungry and footsore through wild forest ways,
In drenching rains and under scorching suns,
Careless herself of home and ease, if so
Her sire might have her tender ministry.
And thou, my child, whilom thou wentest forth,
Eluding the Cadmeians' vigilance,
To bring thy father all the oracles
Concerning Oedipus, and didst make thyself
My faithful lieger, when they banished me.
And now what mission summons thee from home,
What news, Ismene, hast thou for thy father?
This much I know, thou com'st not empty-handed,
Without a warning of some new alarm.

ISMENE
The toil and trouble, father, that I bore
To find thy lodging-place and how thou faredst,
I spare thee; surely 'twere a double pain
To suffer, first in act and then in telling;
'Tis the misfortune of thine ill-starred sons
I come to tell thee. At the first they willed
To leave the throne to Creon, minded well
Thus to remove the inveterate curse of old,
A canker that infected all thy race.
But now some god and an infatuate soul
Have stirred betwixt them a mad rivalry
To grasp at sovereignty and kingly power.
Today the hot-branded youth, the younger born,
Is keeping Polyneices from the throne,
His elder, and has thrust him from the land.
The banished brother (so all Thebes reports)
Fled to the vale of Argos, and by help
Of new alliance there and friends in arms,
Swears he will stablish Argos straight as lord
Of the Cadmeian land, or, if he fail,
Exalt the victor to the stars of heaven.
This is no empty tale, but deadly truth,
My father; and how long thy agony,
Ere the gods pity thee, I cannot tell.

OEDIPUS
Hast thou indeed then entertained a hope
The gods at last will turn and rescue me?

ISMENE
Yea, so I read these latest oracles.

OEDIPUS
What oracles? What hath been uttered, child?

ISMENE
Thy country (so it runs) shall yearn in time
To have thee for their weal alive or dead.

OEDIPUS
And who could gain by such a one as I?

ISMENE
On thee, 'tis said, their sovereignty depends.

OEDIPUS
So, when I cease to be, my worth begins.

ISMENE
The gods, who once abased, uplift thee now.

OEDIPUS
Poor help to raise an old man fallen in youth.

ISMENE
Howe'er that be, 'tis for this cause alone
That Creon comes to thee--and comes anon.

OEDIPUS
With what intent, my daughter? Tell me plainly.

ISMENE
To plant thee near the Theban land, and so
Keep thee within their grasp, yet now allow
Thy foot to pass beyond their boundaries.

OEDIPUS
What gain they, if I lay outside?

OEDIPUS
Thy tomb, If disappointed, brings on them a curse.

OEDIPUS
It needs no god to tell what's plain to sense.

ISMENE
Therefore they fain would have thee close at hand,
Not where thou wouldst be master of thyself.

OEDIPUS
Mean they to shroud my bones in Theban dust?

ISMENE
Nay, father, guilt of kinsman's blood forbids.

OEDIPUS
Then never shall they be my masters, never!

ISMENE
Thebes, thou shalt rue this bitterly some day!

OEDIPUS
When what conjunction comes to pass, my child?

ISMENE
Thy angry wraith, when at thy tomb they stand.

OEDIPUS
And who hath told thee what thou tell'st me, child?

ISMENE
Envoys who visited the Delphic hearth.

OEDIPUS
Hath Phoebus spoken thus concerning me?

ISMENE
So say the envoys who returned to Thebes.

OEDIPUS
And can a son of mine have heard of this?

ISMENE
Yea, both alike, and know its import well.

OEDIPUS
They knew it, yet the ignoble greed of rule
Outweighed all longing for their sire's return.

ISMENE
Grievous thy words, yet I must own them true.

OEDIPUS
Then may the gods ne'er quench their fatal feud,
And mine be the arbitrament of the fight,
For which they now are arming, spear to spear;
That neither he who holds the scepter now
May keep this throne, nor he who fled the realm
Return again. They never raised a hand,
When I their sire was thrust from hearth and home,
When I was banned and banished, what recked they?
Say you 'twas done at my desire, a grace
Which the state, yielding to my wish, allowed?
Not so; for, mark you, on that very day
When in the tempest of my soul I craved
Death, even death by stoning, none appeared
To further that wild longing, but anon,
When time had numbed my anguish and I felt
My wrath had all outrun those errors past,
Then, then it was the city went about
By force to oust me, respited for years;
And then my sons, who should as sons have helped,
Did nothing: and, one little word from them
Was all I needed, and they spoke no word,
But let me wander on for evermore,
A banished man, a beggar. These two maids
Their sisters, girls, gave all their sex could give,
Food and safe harborage and filial care;
While their two brethren sacrificed their sire
For lust of power and sceptred sovereignty.
No! me they ne'er shall win for an ally,
Nor will this Theban kingship bring them gain;
That know I from this maiden's oracles,
And those old prophecies concerning me,
Which Phoebus now at length has brought to pass.
Come Creon then, come all the mightiest
In Thebes to seek me; for if ye my friends,
Championed by those dread Powers indigenous,
Espouse my cause; then for the State ye gain
A great deliverer, for my foemen bane.

CHORUS
Our pity, Oedipus, thou needs must move,
Thou and these maidens; and the stronger plea
Thou urgest, as the savior of our land,
Disposes me to counsel for thy weal.

OEDIPUS
Aid me, kind sirs; I will do all you bid.

CHORUS
First make atonement to the deities,
Whose grove by trespass thou didst first profane.

OEDIPUS
After what manner, stranger? Teach me, pray.

CHORUS
Make a libation first of water fetched
With undefiled hands from living spring.

OEDIPUS
And after I have gotten this pure draught?

CHORUS
Bowls thou wilt find, the carver's handiwork;
Crown thou the rims and both the handles crown--

OEDIPUS
With olive shoots or blocks of wool, or how?

CHORUS
With wool from fleece of yearling freshly shorn.

OEDIPUS
What next? how must I end the ritual?

CHORUS
Pour thy libation, turning to the dawn.

OEDIPUS
Pouring it from the urns whereof ye spake?

CHORUS
Yea, in three streams; and be the last bowl drained
To the last drop.

OEDIPUS
And wherewith shall I fill it,
Ere in its place I set it? This too tell.

CHORUS
With water and with honey; add no wine.

OEDIPUS
And when the embowered earth hath drunk thereof?

CHORUS
Then lay upon it thrice nine olive sprays
With both thy hands, and offer up this prayer.

OEDIPUS
I fain would hear it; that imports the most.

CHORUS
That, as we call them Gracious, they would deign
To grant the suppliant their saving grace.
So pray thyself or whoso pray for thee,
In whispered accents, not with lifted voice;
Then go and look back. Do as I bid,
And I shall then be bold to stand thy friend;
Else, stranger, I should have my fears for thee.

OEDIPUS
Hear ye, my daughters, what these strangers say?

ANTIGONE
We listened, and attend thy bidding, father.

OEDIPUS
I cannot go, disabled as I am
Doubly, by lack of strength and lack of sight;
But one of you may do it in my stead;
For one, I trow, may pay the sacrifice
Of thousands, if his heart be leal and true.
So to your work with speed, but leave me not
Untended; for this frame is all too week
To move without the help of guiding hand.

ISMENE
Then I will go perform these rites, but where
To find the spot, this have I yet to learn.

CHORUS
Beyond this grove; if thou hast need of aught,
The guardian of the close will lend his aid.

ISMENE
I go, and thou, Antigone, meanwhile
Must guard our father. In a parent's cause
Toil, if there be toil, is of no account.
Exit ISMENE

CHORUS
strophe 1

Ill it is, stranger, to awake
Pain that long since has ceased to ache,
And yet I fain would hear--

OEDIPUS
What thing?

CHORUS
Thy tale of cruel suffering
For which no cure was found,
The fate that held thee bound.

OEDIPUS
O bid me not (as guest I claim
This grace) expose my shame.

CHORUS
The tale is bruited far and near,
And echoes still from ear to ear.
The truth, I fain would hear.

OEDIPUS
Ah me!

CHORUS
I prithee yield.

OEDIPUS
Ah me!

CHORUS
Grant my request, I granted all to thee.

OEDIPUS
antistrophe 1

Know then I suffered ills most vile, but none
(So help me Heaven!) from acts in malice done.

CHORUS
Say how.

OEDIPUS
The State around
An all unwitting bridegroom bound
An impious marriage chain;
That was my bane.

CHORUS
Didst thou in sooth then share
A bed incestuous with her that bare--

OEDIPUS
It stabs me like a sword,
That two-edged word,
O stranger, but these maids--my own--

CHORUS
Say on.

OEDIPUS
Two daughters, curses twain.

CHORUS
Oh God!

OEDIPUS
Sprang from the wife and mother's travail-pain.

CHORUS
strophe 2

What, then thy offspring are at once--

OEDIPUS
Too true. Their father's very sister's too.

CHORUS
Oh horror!

OEDIPUS
Horrors from the boundless deep
Back on my soul in refluent surges sweep.

CHORUS
Thou hast endured--

OEDIPUS
Intolerable woe.

CHORUS
And sinned--

OEDIPUS
I sinned not.

CHORUS
How so?

OEDIPUS
I served the State; would I had never won
That graceless grace by which I was undone.

CHORUS
antistrophe 2

And next, unhappy man, thou hast shed blood?

OEDIPUS
Must ye hear more?

CHORUS
A father's?

OEDIPUS
Flood on flood
Whelms me; that word's a second mortal blow.

CHORUS
Murderer!

OEDIPUS
Yes, a murderer, but know--

CHORUS
What canst thou plead?

OEDIPUS
A plea of justice.

CHORUS
How?

OEDIPUS
I slew who else would me have slain;
I slew without intent,
A wretch, but innocent
In the law's eye, I stand, without a stain.

CHORUS
Behold our sovereign, Theseus, Aegeus' son,
Comes at thy summons to perform his part.
Enter THESEUS

THESEUS
Oft had I heard of thee in times gone by--
The bloody mutilation of thine eyes--
And therefore know thee, son of Laius.
All that I lately gathered on the way
Made my conjecture doubly sure; and now
Thy garb and that marred visage prove to me
That thou art he. So pitying thine estate,
Most ill-starred Oedipus, I fain would know
What is the suit ye urge on me and Athens,
Thou and the helpless maiden at thy side.
Declare it; dire indeed must be the tale
Whereat I should recoil. I too was reared,
Like thee, in exile, and in foreign lands
Wrestled with many perils, no man more.
Wherefore no alien in adversity
Shall seek in vain my succor, nor shalt thou;
I know myself a mortal, and my share
In what the morrow brings no more than thine.

OEDIPUS
Theseus, thy words so apt, so generous
So comfortable, need no long reply
Both who I am and of what lineage sprung,
And from what land I came, thou hast declared.
So without prologue I may utter now
My brief petition, and the tale is told.

THESEUS
Say on, and tell me what I fain would learn.

OEDIPUS
I come to offer thee this woe-worn frame,
A gift not fair to look on; yet its worth
More precious far than any outward show.

THESEUS
What profit dost thou proffer to have brought?

OEDIPUS
Hereafter thou shalt learn, not yet, methinks.

THESEUS
When may we hope to reap the benefit?

OEDIPUS
When I am dead and thou hast buried me.

THESEUS
Thou cravest life's last service; all before--
Is it forgotten or of no account?

OEDIPUS
Yea, the last boon is warrant for the rest.

THESEUS
The grace thou cravest then is small indeed.

OEDIPUS
Nay, weigh it well; the issue is not slight.

THESEUS
Thou meanest that betwixt thy sons and me?

OEDIPUS
Prince, they would fain convey me back to Thebes.

THESEUS
If there be no compulsion, then methinks
To rest in banishment befits not thee.

OEDIPUS
Nay, when I wished it they would not consent.

THESEUS
For shame! such temper misbecomes the faller.

OEDIPUS
Chide if thou wilt, but first attend my plea.

THESEUS
Say on, I wait full knowledge ere I judge.

OEDIPUS
O Theseus, I have suffered wrongs on wrongs.

THESEUS
Wouldst tell the old misfortune of thy race?

OEDIPUS
No, that has grown a byword throughout Greece.

THESEUS
What then can be this more than mortal grief?

OEDIPUS
My case stands thus; by my own flesh and blood
I was expelled my country, and can ne'er
Thither return again, a parricide.

THESEUS
Why fetch thee home if thou must needs obey.

THESEUS
What are they threatened by the oracle?

OEDIPUS
Destruction that awaits them in this land.

THESEUS
What can beget ill blood 'twixt them and me?

OEDIPUS
Dear son of Aegeus, to the gods alone
Is given immunity from eld and death;
But nothing else escapes all-ruinous time.
Earth's might decays, the might of men decays,
Honor grows cold, dishonor flourishes,
There is no constancy 'twixt friend and friend,
Or city and city; be it soon or late,
Sweet turns to bitter, hate once more to love.
If now 'tis sunshine betwixt Thebes and thee
And not a cloud, Time in his endless course
Gives birth to endless days and nights, wherein
The merest nothing shall suffice to cut
With serried spears your bonds of amity.
Then shall my slumbering and buried corpse
In its cold grave drink their warm life-blood up,
If Zeus be Zeus and Phoebus still speak true.
No more: 'tis ill to tear aside the veil
Of mysteries; let me cease as I began:
Enough if thou wilt keep thy plighted troth,
Then shall thou ne'er complain that Oedipus
Proved an unprofitable and thankless guest,
Except the gods themselves shall play me false.

CHORUS
The man, my lord, has from the very first
Declared his power to offer to our land
These and like benefits.

THESEUS
Who could reject
The proffered amity of such a friend?
First, he can claim the hospitality
To which by mutual contract we stand pledged:
Next, coming here, a suppliant to the gods,
He pays full tribute to the State and me;
His favors therefore never will I spurn,
But grant him the full rights of citizen;
And, if it suits the stranger here to bide,
I place him in your charge, or if he please
Rather to come with me--choose, Oedipus,
Which of the two thou wilt. Thy choice is mine.

OEDIPUS
Zeus, may the blessing fall on men like these!

THESEUS
What dost thou then decide--to come with me?

OEDIPUS
Yea, were it lawful--but 'tis rather here--

THESEUS
What wouldst thou here? I shall not thwart thy wish.

OEDIPUS
Here shall I vanquish those who cast me forth.

THESEUS
Then were thy presence here a boon indeed.

OEDIPUS
Such shall it prove, if thou fulfill'st thy pledge.

THESEUS
Fear not for me; I shall not play thee false.

OEDIPUS
No need to back thy promise with an oath.

THESEUS
An oath would be no surer than my word.

OEDIPUS
How wilt thou act then?

THESEUS
What is it thou fear'st?

OEDIPUS
My foes will come--

THESEUS
Our friends will look to that.

OEDIPUS
But if thou leave me?

THESEUS
Teach me not my duty.

OEDIPUS
'Tis fear constrains me.

THESEUS
My soul knows no fear!

OEDIPUS
Thou knowest not what threats--

THESEUS
I know that none
Shall hale thee hence in my despite. Such threats
Vented in anger oft, are blusterers,
An idle breath, forgot when sense returns.
And for thy foemen, though their words were brave,
Boasting to bring thee back, they are like to find
The seas between us wide and hard to sail.
Such my firm purpose, but in any case
Take heart, since Phoebus sent thee here. My name,
Though I be distant, warrants thee from harm.

CHORUS
strophe 1

Thou hast come to a steed-famed land for rest,
O stranger worn with toil,
To a land of all lands the goodliest
Colonus' glistening soil.
'Tis the haunt of the clear-voiced nightingale,
Who hid in her bower, among
The wine-dark ivy that wreathes the vale,
Trilleth her ceaseless song;
And she loves, where the clustering berries nod
O'er a sunless, windless glade,
The spot by no mortal footstep trod,
The pleasance kept for the Bacchic god,
Where he holds each night his revels wild
With the nymphs who fostered the lusty child.

antistrophe 1

And fed each morn by the pearly dew
The starred narcissi shine,
And a wreath with the crocus' golden hue
For the Mother and Daughter twine.
And never the sleepless fountains cease
That feed Cephisus' stream,
But they swell earth's bosom with quick increase,
And their wave hath a crystal gleam.
And the Muses' quire will never disdain
To visit this heaven-favored plain,
Nor the Cyprian queen of the golden rein.

strophe 2

And here there grows, unpruned, untamed,
Terror to foemen's spear,
A tree in Asian soil unnamed,
By Pelops' Dorian isle unclaimed,
Self-nurtured year by year;
'Tis the grey-leaved olive that feeds our boys;
Nor youth nor withering age destroys
The plant that the Olive Planter tends
And the Grey-eyed Goddess herself defends.

antistrophe 2

Yet another gift, of all gifts the most
Prized by our fatherland, we boast--
The might of the horse, the might of the sea;
Our fame, Poseidon, we owe to thee,
Son of Kronos, our king divine,
Who in these highways first didst fit
For the mouth of horses the iron bit;
Thou too hast taught us to fashion meet
For the arm of the rower the oar-blade fleet,
Swift as the Nereids' hundred feet
As they dance along the brine.

ANTIGONE
Oh land extolled above all lands, 'tis now
For thee to make these glorious titles good.

OEDIPUS
Why this appeal, my daughter?

ANTIGONE
Father, lo! Creon approaches with his company.

OEDIPUS
Fear not, it shall be so; if we are old,
This country's vigor has no touch of age.
Enter CREON with attendants

CREON
Burghers, my noble friends, ye take alarm
At my approach (I read it in your eyes),
Fear nothing and refrain from angry words.
I come with no ill purpose; I am old,
And know the city whither I am come,
Without a peer amongst the powers of Greece.
It was by reason of my years that I
Was chosen to persuade your guest and bring
Him back to Thebes; not the delegate
Of one man, but commissioned by the State,
Since of all Thebans I have most bewailed,
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.

OEDIPUS
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.

CREON
Which loses in this parley, I o'erthrown
By thee, or thou who overthrow'st thyself?

OEDIPUS
I shall be well contented if thy suit
Fails with these strangers, as it has with me.

CREON
Unhappy man, will years ne'er make thee wise?
Must thou live on to cast a slur on age?

OEDIPUS
Thou hast a glib tongue, but no honest man,
Methinks, can argue well on any side.

CREON
'Tis one thing to speak much, another well.

OEDIPUS
Thy words, forsooth, are few and all well aimed!

CREON
Not for a man indeed with wits like thine.

OEDIPUS
Depart! I bid thee in these burghers' name,
And prowl no longer round me to blockade
My destined harbor.

CREON
I protest to these,
Not thee, and for thine answer to thy kin,
If e'er I take thee--

OEDIPUS
Who against their will Could take me?

CREON
Though untaken thou shalt smart.

OEDIPUS
What power hast thou to execute this threat?

CREON
One of thy daughters is already seized,
The other I will carry off anon.

OEDIPUS
Woe, woe!

CREON
This is but prelude to thy woes.

OEDIPUS
Hast thou my child?

CREON
And soon shall have the other.

OEDIPUS
Ho, friends! ye will not surely play me false?
Chase this ungodly villain from your land.

CHORUS
Hence, stranger, hence avaunt! Thou doest wrong
In this, and wrong in all that thou hast done.

CREON to his guards
'Tis time by force to carry off the girl,
If she refuse of her free will to go.

ANTIGONE
Ah, woe is me! where shall I fly, where find
Succor from gods or men?

CHORUS
What would'st thou, stranger?

CREON
I meddle not with him, but her who is mine.

OEDIPUS
O princes of the land!

CHORUS
Sir, thou dost wrong.

CREON
Nay, right.

CHORUS
How right?

CREON
I take but what is mine.

OEDIPUS
Help, Athens!

CHORUS
What means this, sirrah? quick unhand her, or
We'll fight it out.

CREON
Back!

CHORUS
Not till thou forbear.

CREON
'Tis war with Thebes if I am touched or harmed.

OEDIPUS
Did I not warn thee?

CHORUS
Quick, unhand the maid!

CREON
Command your minions; I am not your slave.

CHORUS
Desist, I bid thee.

CREON to the guard
And O bid thee march!

CHORUS
To the rescue, one and all!
Rally, neighbors to my call!
See, the foe is at the gate!
Rally to defend the State.

ANTIGONE
Ah, woe is me, they drag me hence, O friends.

OEDIPUS
Where art thou, daughter?

ANTIGONE
Haled along by force.

OEDIPUS
Thy hands, my child!

ANTIGONE
They will not let me, father.

CREON
Away with her!

OEDIPUS
Ah, woe is me, ah woe!

CREON
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.

CHORUS
Hold there, sir stranger!

CREON
Hands off, have a care.

CHORUS
Restore the maidens, else thou goest not.

CREON
Then Thebes will take a dearer surety soon;
I will lay hands on more than these two maids.

CHORUS
What canst thou further?

CREON
Carry off this man.

CHORUS
Brave words!

CREON
And deeds forthwith shall make them good.

CHORUS
Unless perchance our sovereign intervene.

OEDIPUS
O shameless voice! Would'st lay an hand on me?

CREON
Silence, I bid thee!

OEDIPUS
Goddesses, allow
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.

CREON
Listen, O men of Athens, mark ye this?

OEDIPUS
They mark us both and understand that I
Wronged by the deeds defend myself with words.

CREON
Nothing shall curb my will; though I be old
And single-handed, I will have this man.

OEDIPUS
O woe is me!

CHORUS
Thou art a bold man, stranger, if thou think'st
To execute thy purpose.

CREON
So I do.

CHORUS
Then shall I deem this State no more a State.

CREON
With a just quarrel weakness conquers might.

OEDIPUS
Ye hear his words?

CHORUS
Aye words, but not yet deeds,
Zeus knoweth!

CREON
Zeus may haply know, not thou.

CHORUS
Insolence!

CREON
Insolence that thou must bear.

CHORUS
Haste ye princes, sound the alarm!
Men of Athens, arm ye, arm!
Quickly to the rescue come
Ere the robbers get them home.
Enter THESEUS

THESEUS
Why this outcry? What is forward? wherefore was I called away
From the altar of Poseidon, lord of your Colonus? Say!
On what errand have I hurried hither without stop or stay.

OEDIPUS
Dear friend--those accents tell me who thou art--
Yon man but now hath done me a foul wrong.

THESEUS
What is this wrong and who hath wrought it? Speak.

OEDIPUS
Creon who stands before thee. He it is
Hath robbed me of my all, my daughters twain.

THESEUS
What means this?

OEDIPUS
Thou hast heard my tale of wrongs.

THESEUS
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.

CHORUS
Thy case is perilous; though by birth and race
Thou should'st be just, thou plainly doest wrong.

CREON
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.

OEDIPUS
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.

CHORUS
An honest man, my liege, one sore bestead
By fortune, and so worthy our support.

THESEUS
Enough of words; the captors speed amain,
While we the victims stand debating here.

CREON
What would'st thou? What can I, a feeble man?

THESEUS
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?

CREON
Nothing thou sayest can I here dispute,
But once at home I too shall act my part.

THESEUS
Threaten us and--begone! Thou, Oedipus,
Stay here assured that nothing save my death
Will stay my purpose to restore the maids.

OEDIPUS
Heaven bless thee, Theseus, for thy nobleness
And all thy loving care in my behalf.
Exeunt THESEUS and CREON

CHORUS
strophe 1

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,
Priestly Eumolpidae.

There I might chance behold
Theseus our captain bold
Meet with the robber band,
Ere they have fled the land,
Rescue by might and main
Maidens, the captives twain.

antistrophe 1

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.

strophe 2

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.

antistrophe 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

OEDIPUS
Where, where? what sayest thou?

ANTIGONE
O father, father,
Would that some god might grant thee eyes to see
This best of men who brings us back again.

OEDIPUS
My child! and are ye back indeed!

ANTIGONE
Yes, saved By Theseus and his gallant followers.

OEDIPUS
Come to your father's arms, O let me feel
A child's embrace I never hoped for more.

ANTIGONE
Thou askest what is doubly sweet to give.

OEDIPUS
Where are ye then?

ANTIGONE
We come together both.

OEDIPUS
My precious nurslings!

ANTIGONE
Fathers aye were fond.

OEDIPUS
Props of my age!

ANTIGONE
So sorrow sorrow props.

OEDIPUS
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.

ANTIGONE
Here is our savior; thou should'st hear the tale
From his own lips; so shall my part be brief.




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