Oedipus Rex
AN ENGLISH VERSION
BY DUDLEY FITTS AND ROBERT FITZGERALD


Table of Contents:
 

PROLOGUE [Oedipus, Suppliants, Priest, Creon] 3
PARADOS [Chorus] 10
SCENE I [Oedipus, Choragos, Teiresias] 12
ODE I [Chorus] 25
SCENE II [Creon, Choragos, Oedipus, Iocaste] 27
ODE II [Chorus] 45
SCENE III [Iocaste, Messenger, Oedipus, Choragos] 47
ODE III [Chorus] 58
SCENE IV [Oedipus, Choragos, Messenger, Shepherd] 59
ODE IV [Chorus] 65
Exodos [Second Messenger, Choragos, Oedipus, Creon, Antigone, Ismene] 67


PERSONS REPRESENTED:

OEDIPUS
A PRIEST
CREON
TEIRESIAS
IOCASTE
MESSENGER
SECOND MESSENGER
CHORUS OF THEBAN ELDERS
SHEPHERD OF LAIOS
ANTIGONE, Daughter of Oedipus
ISMENE, Daughter of Oedipus

Page 3

PROLOGUE

 THE SCENE. Before the palace of Oedipus, King of Thebes. A central door and two lateral doors open onto a platform which runs the length of the facade. On the platform, right and left, are altars; and three steps lead down into the "orchestra," or chorus-ground. At the beginning of the action these steps are crowded by suppliants who have brought branches and chaplets of olive leaves and who lie in various attitudes of despair. OEDIPUS enters.

OEDIPUS:

My children, generations of the living
In the line of Kadmos, nursed at his ancient hearth:
Why have you strewn yourselves before these altars
In supplication, with your boughs and garlands?
The breath of incense rises from the city
With a sound of prayer and lamentation.                                               

Page 4

                                                           Children,
I would not have you speak through messengers,
And therefore I have come myself to hear you—
I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name.
                                                          [To a PRIEST:
You, there, since you are eldest in the company,
Speak for them all, tell me what preys upon you,
Whether you come in dread, or crave some blessing:
Tell me, and never doubt that I will help you
In every way I can; I should be heartless
Were I not moved to find you suppliant here.

PRIEST

Great Oedipus. O powerful King of Thebes!
You see how all the ages of our people
Cling to your altar steps: here are boys
Who can barely stand alone, and here are priests
By weight of age, as I am a priest of God,
And young men chosen from those yet unmarried;
As for the others. all that multitude,
They wait with olive chaplets in the squares,
At the two shrines of Pallas, and where Apollo
Speaks in the glowing embers.
                                              Your own eyes
Must tell you, Thebes is tossed on a murdering sea
And can not lift her head from the death surge.
A rust consumes the buds and fruits of the earth;
The herds are sick: children die unborn,
And labor is vain. The god of plague and pyre
Raids like detestable lightning through the city,
And all the house of Kadmos is laid waste,
All emptied, and all darkened: Death alone
Battens upon the misery of Thebes.

Page 5

You are not one of the immortal gods, we know;
Yet we have come to you to make our prayer
As to the man surest in mortal ways
And wisest in the ways of God. You saved us
From the Sphinx, that flinty singer, and the tribute
We paid to her so long; yet you were never
Better informed than we, nor could we teach you:
It was some god breathed in you to set us free.
Therefore, O mighty King, we turn to you:
Find us our safety, find us a remedy,
Whether by counsel of the gods or men.
A king of wisdom tested in the past
Can act in a time of troubles, and act well.
Noblest of men, restore
Life to your city! Think how all men call you
Liberator for your triumph long ago;
Ah, when your years of kingship are remembered,
Let them not say We rose, but later fell.
Keep the State from going down in the storm!
Once, years ago, with happy augury,
You brought us fortune; be the same again!
No man questions your power to rule the land:
But rule over men, not over a dead city!
Ships are only hulls, citadels are nothing,
When no life moves in the empty passageways.

OEDIPUS:

Poor children! You may be sure I know
All that you longed for in your coming here.
I know that you are deathly sick; and yet.
Sick as you are, not one is as sick as I.
Each of you suffers in himself alone
His anguish, not another's; but my spirit
Groans for the city, for myself, for you.

Page 6

I was not sleeping, you are not waking me.
No, I have been in tears for a long while
And in my restless thought walked many ways.
In all my search, I found one helpful course,
And that I have taken: I have sent Creon,
Son of Menoikeus, brother of the Queen,
To Delphi, Apollo's place of revelation,
To learn there, if he can,
What act or pledge of mine may save the city.
I have counted the days, and now, this very day,
I am troubled, for he has overstayed his time.
What is he doing? He has been gone too long.
Yet whenever he comes back, I should do ill
To scant whatever duty God reveals.

PRIEST:

It is a timely promise. At this instant
They tell me Creon is here.

OEDIPUS:

O, Lord Apollo!
May his news be fair as his face is radiant!

PRIEST:

It could not be otherwise: he is crowned with bay,
The chaplet is thick with berries.

OEDIPUS:

We shall soon know;
He is near enough to hear us now.
                                                        [Enter CREON]
O Prince:
Brother: son of Menoikeus:
What answer do you bring us from the god?

Page 7

CREON:

A strong one. I can tell you, great afflictions
Will turn out well, if they are taken well.

OEDIPUS:

What was the oracle? These vague words
Leave me still hanging between hope and fear.

CREON:

Is it your pleasure to hear me with all these
Gathered around us? I am prepared to speak,
But should we not go in? 

OEDIPUS:

                                    Let them all hear it.
It is for them I suffer, more than for myself. 

CREON:

Then I will tell you what I heard at Delphi.
                                        In plain words
The god commands us to expel from the land of Thebes
An old defilement we are sheltering.
It is a deathly thing, beyond cure;
We must not let it feed upon us longer. 

OEDIPUS:

What defilement? How shall we rid ourselves of it?

CREON:

By exile or death, blood for blood. It was
Murder that brought the plague-wind on the city.

OEDIPUS:

Murder of whom? Surely the god has named him?

Page 8

CREON:

My lord: long ago Laios was our king,
Before you came to govern us.

OEDIPUS:

                                                I know;
I learned of him from others; I never saw him.

CREON:

He was murdered; and Apollo commands us now
To take revenge upon whoever killed him.

OEDIPUS:

Upon whom? Where are they? Where shall we find a clue
To solve that crime, after so many years?

CREON:

Here in this land, he said.
                                      If we make enquiry,
We may touch things that otherwise escape us.

OEDIPUS:

Tell me: Was Laios murdered in his house,
Or in the fields, or in some foreign country?

CREON:

He said he planned to make a pilgrimage.
He did not come home again.

OEDIPUS:

                                     And was there no one,
No witness, no companion, to tell what happened?

CREON:

They were all killed but one, and he got away
So frightened that he could remember one thing only.

Page 9

OEDIPUS:

What was that one thing? One may be the key
To everything, if we resolve to use it.

CREON:

He said that a band of highwaymen attacked them,
Outnumbered them, and overwhelmed the King.

OEDIPUS:

Strange, that a highwayman should be so daring--
Unless some faction here bribed him to do it.

CREON:

We thought of that. But after Laios' death
New troubles arose and we had no avenger.

OEDIPUS:

What troubles could prevent your hunting down the killers?

CREON:

                      The riddling Sphinx's song
Made us deaf to all mysteries but her own.

OEDIPUS:

Then once more I must bring what is dark to light.
It is most fitting that Apollo shows,
As you do, this compunction for the dead.
You shall see how I stand by you, as I should,
To avenge the city and the city's god.
And not as though it were for some distant friend,
But for my own sake, to be rid of evil.
Whoever killed King Laios might-- who knows?-- 
Decide at any moment to kill me as well
By avenging the murdered king I protect myself.

Come, then, my children: leave the altar steps,

Page 10

Lift up your olive boughs!
                                      One of you go
And summon the people of Kadmos to gather here.
I will do all that I can; you may tell them that.
                                                                    [Exit a PAGE
So, with the help of God,
We shall be saved—or else indeed we are lost. 

PRIEST:

Let us rise, children. It was for this we came,
And now the King has promised it himself.
Phoibus has sent us an oracle; may he descend
Himself to save us and drive out the plague.

 

 [Exeunt OEDIPUS and CREON into the palace by the central door.
The PRIEST and the SUPPLIANTS disperse R and L.
After a short pause the CHORUS enters the orchestra.

PARODOS

CHORUS:

                                                                             [STROPHE I
What is God singing in his profound
Delphi of gold and shadow?
What oracle for Thebes, the sunwhipped city?

Fear unjoints me, the roots of my heart tremble.

Now I remember, O Healer, your power, and wonder:
Will you send doom like a sudden cloud, or weave it
Like nightfall of the past?

Speak, speak to us, issue of holy sound:
Dearest to our expectancy: be tender!

Page 11

                                                                                                                                                    [ANTISTROPHE
Let me pray to Athena, the immortal daughter of Zeus,
And to Artemis her sister
Who keeps her famous throne in the market ring,
And to Apollo, bowman at the far butts of heaven--

O gods, descend! Like three streams leap against
The fires of our grief, the fires of darkness;
Be swift to bring us rest!

As in the old time from the brilliant house
Of air you stepped to save us, come again!
.
                                                                        [STROPHE 2
Now our afflictions have no end
Now all our stricken host lies down
And no man fights off death with his mind;

The noble plowland bears no grain,
And groaning mothers can not bear.

See, how our lives like birds take wing,
Like sparks that fly when a fire soars,
To the shore of the god of evening.
                                                                     [ANTISTROPHE 2
The plague burns on, it is pitiless,
Though pallid children laden with death
Lie unwept in the stony ways.

And old gray women by every path
Flock to the strand about the altars

There to strike their breasts and cry
Worship of Phoibos in wailing prayers:
Be kind, God's golden child!

Page 12


                                                                     [STROPHE 3
There are no swords in this attack by fire,
No shields, but we are ringed with cries.

Send the besieger plunging from our homes
Into the vast sea-room of the Atlantic
Or into the waves that foam eastward of Thrace--

For the day ravages what the night spares--

Destroy our enemy, lord of the thunder!
Let him be riven by lightning from heaven!
                                                                 [ANTISTROPHE 3
Phoibos Apollo, stretch the sun's bowstring,
That golden cord, until it sing for us,
Flashing arrows in heaven!
                                           Artemis, Huntress,
Race with flaring lights upon our mountains!
O scarlet god, O golden-banded brow,
O Theban Bacchos in a storm of Maenads.
                                                                 [Enter OEDIPUS. C.
Whirl upon Death, that all the Undying hate!
Come with blinding torches, come in joy!


SCENE I
 

OEDIPUS:

Is this your prayer? It may be answered. Come

Page 13

Listen to me, act as the crisis demands,
And you shall have relief from all these evils.

Until now I was a stranger to this tale,
As I had been a stranger to the crime.
Could I track down the murderer without a clue?
But now, friends,
As one who became a citizen after the murder,
I make this proclamation to all Thebans:
If any man knows by whose hand Laios, son of Labdakos,
Met his death, I direct that man to tell me everything,
No matter what he fears for having so long withheld it.
Let it stand as promised that no further trouble
Will come to him. but he may leave the land in safety.

Moreover: If anyone knows the murderer to be foreign,
Let him not keep silent: he shall have his reward from me.
However, if he does conceal it; if any man
Fearing for his friend or for himself disobeys this edict,
Hear what I propose to do:

I solemnly forbid the people of this country,
Where power and throne are mine, ever to receive that man
Or speak to him, no matter who he is, or let him
Join in sacrifice, lustration, or in prayer.
I decree that he he driven from every house,
Being, as he is, corruption itself to us, the Delphic

Page 14

Voice of Zeus has pronounced this revelation.
Thus I associate myself with the oracle
And take the side of the murdered king.

As for the criminal, I pray to God
Whether it be a lurking thief, or one of a number—
I pray that that man's life be consumed in evil and wretchedness.
And as for me, this curse applies no less
If it should turn out that the culprit is my guest here,
Sharing my hearth.

You have heard the penalty.
I lay it on you now to attend to this
For my sake, for Apollo's, for the sick
Sterile city that heaven has abandoned.
Suppose the oracle had given you no command:
Should this defilement go uncleansed for ever?
You should have found the murderer: your king,
A noble king, had been destroyed!

                                                     Now I,
Having the power that he held before me,
Having his bed, begetting children there
Upon his wife, as he would have, had he lived—
Their son would have been my children's brother.
If Laios had had luck in fatherhood!
(But surely ill luck rushed upon his reign)—
I say I take the son's part, just as though
I were his son, to press the fight for him
And see it won! I'll find the hand that brought
Death to Labdakos' and Polydoros' child,
Heir of Kadmos' and Agenor's line.
And as for those who fail me,
May the gods deny them the fruit of' the earth,

Page 15

Fruit of the womb, and may they rot utterly!
Let them he wretched as we are wretched, and worse!

For you, for loyal Thebans, and for all
Who find my actions right, I pray the favor
Of justice, and of all the immortal gods.

CHORAGOS:

Since I am under oath, my lord, I swear
I did not do the murder, I can not name
The murderer. Might not the oracle
That has ordained the search tell where to find him?

OEDIPUS:

An honest question. But no man in the world
Can make the gods do more than the gods will.

CHORAGOS:

There is one last expedient--

OEDIPUS:

Tell me what it is.
Though it seem slight, you must not hold it back.

CHORAGOS:

A lord clairvoyant to the lord Apollo,
As we all know, is the skilled Teiresias.
One might learn much about this from him, Oedipus.

OEDIPUS:

I am not wasting time:
Creon spoke of this, and I have sent for him--
Twice, in fact; it is strange that he is not here.

Page 16

CHORAGOS:

The other matter—that old report—seems useless.

OEDIPUS:

Tell me. I am interested in all reports.

CHORAGOS:

The King was said to have been killed by highwaymen.

OEDIPUS:

I know. But we have no witnesses to that.

CHORAGOS:

If the killer can feel a particle of dread,
Your curse will bring him out of hiding!

OEDIPUS:

                                                         No.
The man who dared that act will fear no curse.

                [Enter the blind seer TEIRESIAS, led by a PAGE]

CHORAGOS:

But there is one man who may detect the criminal.
This is Teiresias, this is the holy prophet
In whom, alone of all men, truth was born.

OEDIPUS:

Teiresias, seer, student of mysteries.
Of all that's taught and all that no man tells,
Secrets of Heaven and secrets of the earth:
Blind though you are, you know the city lies
Sick with plague; and from this plague, my lord,
We find that you alone can guard or save us.

Page 17

Possibly you did not hear the messengers?
Apollo, when we sent to him,
Sent us back word that this great pestilence
Would lift, but only if we established clearly
The identity of those who murdered Laios.
They must be killed or exiled.
                                        Can you use
Birdfight or any art of divination
To purify yourself, and Thebes, and me
From this contagion? We are in your hands.
There is no fairer duty
Than that of helping others in distress.

TEIRESIAS:

How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be
When there's no help in truth! I knew this well,
But made myself forget. I should not have come.

OEDIPUS:

What is troubling you? Why are your eyes so cold?

TEIRESIAS:

Let me go home. Bear your own fate, and I'll
Bear mine. It is better so: trust what I say.

OEDIPUS:

What you say is ungracious and unhelpful
To your native country. Do not refuse to speak.

TEIRESIAS:

When it comes to speech, your own is neither temperate
Nor opportune. I wish to be more prudent.

OEDIPUS:

In God's name, we all beg you—

Page 18

TEIRESIAS:

                                           You are all ignorant.
No; I will never tell you what I know.
Now it is my misery: then, it would be yours.

OEDIPUS:

What! You do know something, and will not tell us?
You would betray us all and wreck the State?

TEIRESIAS:

I do not intend to torture myself, or you.
Why persist in asking? You will not persuade me.

OEDIPUS:

What a wicked old man you are! You'd try a stone's
Patience! Out with it! Have you no feeling at all?

TEIRESIAS:

You call me unfeeling. If you could only see
The nature of your own feelings...

OEDIPUS:

                                                   Why,
Who would not feel as I do? Who could endure
Your arrogance toward the city?

TEIRESIAS:

                                                  What does it matter!
Whether I speak or not, it is bound to come.

OEDIPUS:

Then, if "it'' is bound to come, you are bound to tell me.

Page 19

TEIRESIAS:

No, I will not go on. Rage as you please.

OEDIPUS:

Rage? Why not!
                               And I'll tell you what I think:
You planned it, you had it done, you all but
Killed him with your own hands: if you had eyes,
I'd say the crime was yours, and yours alone.

TEIRESIAS:

So? I charge you, then,
Abide by the proclamation you have made:
From this day forth
Never speak again to these men or to me;
You yourself are the pollution of this country.

OEDIPUS:

You dare say that! Can you possibly think you have
Some way of going free, after such insolence?

TEIRESIAS:

I have gone free. It is the truth sustains me.

OEDIPUS:

Who taught you shamelessness? It was not your craft.

TEIRESIAS:

You did. You made me speak. I did not want to.

OEDIPUS:

Speak what? Let me hear it again more clearly.

Page 20

TEIRESIAS:

Was it not clear before? Are you tempting met?

OEDIPUS:

I did not understand it. Say it again.

TEIRESIAS:

I say that you are the murderer whom you seek.

OEDIPUS:

Now twice you have spat out infamy. You'll pay for it!

TEIRESIAS:

Would you care for more! Do you wish to be really angry?

OEDIPUS:

Say what you will, Whatever you say is worthless.

TEIRESIAS:

I say you live in hideous shame with those
Most dear to you. You can not see the evil.

OEDIPUS:

 It seems you can go on mouthing like this for ever.

TEIRESIAS:

I can, if there is power in truth.

OEDIPUS:

                                            There is:
But not for you, not for you,
You sightless, witless, senseless, mad old man!

TEIRESIAS:

You are the madman. There is no one here
Who will not curse you soon, as you curse me.

Page 21

OEDIPUS:

You child of endless night! You can not hurt me
Or any other man who sees the sun.

TEIRESIAS:

True: it is not from me your fate will come.
That lies within Apollo's competence,
As it is his concern.

OEDIPUS:

                                   Tell me:
Are you speaking for Creon, or for yourself? 


TEIRESIAS:

Creon is no threat. You weave your own doom.

OEDIPUS:

Wealth, power, craft of statesmanship!
Kingly position, everywhere admired!
What savage envy is stored up against these.
In Creon, whom I trusted, Creon my friend,
For this great office which the city once
Put in my hands unsought—if for this power
Creon desires in secret to destroy me!

He has bought this decrepit fortune-teller, this
Collector of dirty pennies, this prophet fraud--
Why, he is no more clairvoyant than I am!
                                                               Tell us.
Has your mystic mummery ever approached the truth?
When that hellcat the Sphinx was performing here,
What help were you to these people?
Her magic was not for the first man who came along:

Page 22

It demanded a real exorcist. Your birds--
What good were they? or the gods, for the matter of that?
But I came by,
Oedipus, the simple man, who knows nothing—
And this is the man you think you can destroy,
I thought it out for myself, no birds helped me!
That you may be close to Creon when he's king!
Well, you and your friend Creon, it seems to me,
Will suffer most. If you were not an old man,
You would have paid already for your plot.

CHORAGOS:

We can not see that his words or yours
Have been spoken except in anger, Oedipus,
And of anger we have no need. How can God's will
Be accomplished best? That is what most concerns us.

TEIRESIAS:

You are a king. But where argument's concerned
I am your man, as much a king as you.
I am not your servant, but Apollo's.
I have no need of Creon to speak for me.

Listen to me. You mock my blindness, do you?
But I say that you, with both your eves, are blind:
You can not see the wretchedness of your life,
Nor in whose house you live no, nor with whom.
Who are your father and mother? Can you tell me?

You do not even know the blind wrongs
That you have done them, on earth and in the world below.

Page 23

But the double lash of your parents' curse will whip you
Out of this land some day, with only night
Upon your precious eves
Your cries then—where will they not be heard?
What fastness of Kithairon will not echo them?
And that bridal-descant of yours—you'll know it then,
The song they sang when you came here to Thebes
And found your misguided berthing.
All this, and more, that you can not guess at now,
Will bring you to yourself among your children. 

Be angry, then. Curse Creon. Curse my words.
I tell you, no man that walks upon the earth
Shall be rooted out more horribly than you.

OEDIPUS:

Am I to bear this from him?—Damnation
Take you! Out of this place! Out of my sight!

TEIRESIAS:

I would not have come at all if you had not asked me.

OEDIPUS:

Could I have told that you'd talk nonsense, that
You'd come here to make a fool of yourself, and of me?

TEIRESIAS:

A fool? Your parents thought me sane enough.

OEDIPUS:

My parents again!—Wait: who were my parents?

Page 24

TEIRESIAS:

This day will give you a father, and break your heart.

OEDIPUS:

Your infantile riddles! Your damned abracadabra!

TEIRESIAS:

You were a great man once at solving riddles.

OEDIPUS:

Mock me with that if you like; You will find it true.

TEIRESIAS:

It was true enough. It brought about your ruin.

OEDIPUS:

But if it saved this town?

TEIRESIAS:

                                                        [To the PAGE:]
Boy, give me your hand. 

OEDIPUS:

Yes, boy: lead him away.
                                       -- While you are here
We can do nothing. Go; leave us in peace.

TEIRESIAS:

I will go when I have said what I have to say.
How can you hurt me? And I tell you again:
The man you have been looking for all this time,
The damned man, the murderer of Laos,
That man is in Thebes. To your mind he is foreign-born,
But it will soon be shown that he is a Theban,
A revelation that will fail to please.

Page 25

                                                 A blind man,
Who has his eyes now; a penniless man, who is rich now;
And he will go tapping the strange earth with his staff
To the children with whom he lives now he will be
Brother and father—the very same; to her
Who bore him, son and husband—the very same
Who came to his father's bed, wet with his father's blood.

Enough. Go think that over.
If later you find error in what I have said,
You may say that I have no skill in prophecy.

                      [Exit TEIRESIAS, led by his PAGE. OEDIPUS goes
                       into the palace.


ODE I

CHORUS:

The Delphic stone of prophecies                       [STROPHE I
Remembers ancient regicide
And a still bloody hand.
That killer's hour of flight has come.
He must be stronger than riderless
Coursers of untiring wind,
For the son of Zeus armed with his father's thunder
Leaps in lightning after him;
And the Furies follow him, the sad Furies.

Holy Parnassos' peak of snow                       [ANTISTROPHE I
Flashes and blinds that secret man,

Page 26

That all shall hunt him down:
Though he may roam the forest shade
like a bull gone wild from pasture
To rage through glooms of stone.
Doom comes down on him; flight will not avail him;
For the world's heart calls him desolate,
And the immortal Furies follow, for ever follow.

But now a wilder thing is heard                     [STROPHE 2
From the old man skilled at hearing Fate in the
      wingbeat of a bird.
Bewildered as a blown bird, my soul hovers and
      can not find
Foothold in this debate, or any reason or rest of mind.
But no man ever brought--none can bring
Proof of strife between Thebes' royal house,
Labdakos' line, and the son of Polybos;
And never until now has any man brought word
Of Laios' dark death staining Oedipus the King.

Divine Zeus and Apollo hold                       [ANTISTROPHE 2
Perfect intelligence alone of all tales ever told;
And well though this diviner works, he works in
      his own night;
No man can judge that rough unknown or trust
     in second sight,
For wisdom changes hands among the wise.
Shall I believe my great lord criminal
At a raging word that a blind old man let fall?
I saw him, when the carrion woman faced him of old,
Prove his heroic mind! These evil words are lies.

Page 27

SCENE II

CREON:

Men of Thebes:
I am told that heavy accusations
Have been brought against me by King Oedipus.
I am not the kind of man to bear this tamely.
If in these present difficulties
He holds me accountable for any harm to him
Through anything I have said or done—why, then,
I do not value life in this dishonor.
It is not as though this rumor touched upon
Some private indiscretion. The matter is grave.
The fact is that I am being called disloyal
To the State, to my fellow citizens, to my friends.

CHORAGOS:

He may have spoken in anger, not from his mind.

CREON:

But did you not hear him say I was the one
Who seduced the old prophet into lying?

CHORAGOS:

The thing was said; I do not know how seriously. 

CREON:

But you were watching him! Were his eyes steady?
Did he look like a man in his right mind?

CHORAGOS:

I do not know.
I can not judge the behavior of great men.
But here is the King himself.

Page 28

 Enter OEDIPUS


OEDIPUS:

                               So you dared come back.
Why? How brazen of you to come to my house,
You murderer!
                           Do you think I do not know
That you plotted to kill me, plotted to steal my throne?
Tell me, in God's name: am I coward, a fool,
That you should dream you could accomplish this?
A fool who could not see your slippery game?
A coward, not to fight back when I saw it?
You are the fool, Creon, are you not? hoping
Without support or friends to get a throne?
Thrones may be won or bought: you could do neither.

CREON:

Now listen to me. You have talked: let me talk, too.
You can not judge unless you know the facts.

OEDIPUS:

You speak well: there is one fact; but I find it hard
To learn from the deadliest enemy I have.

CREON:

That above all I must dispute with you.

OEDIPUS:

That above all I will not hear you deny.

CREON:

If you think there is anything good in being stubborn
Against all reason, then I say you are wrong.

Page 29

OEDIPUS:

If you think a man can sin against his own kind
And not be punished for it, I say you are mad.

CREON:

I agree. But tell me: what have I done to you?

OEDIPUS:

You advised me to send for that wizard, did you not?

CREON:

I did. I should do it again.

OEDIPUS:

                                     Very well. Now tell me:
How long has it been since 
Laios--

CREON:

                                             What of Laios?

OEDIPUS:

Since he vanished in that onset by the road?

CREON:

It was long ago, a long time.

OEDIPUS:

                                          And this prophet,
Was he practicing here then?

CREON:

                                         He was; and with honor, as now.

OEDIPUS:

Did he speak of me at that time?

CREON:

                                        He never did;
At least, not when I was present.

Page 30

OEDIPUS:

                                       But ... the enquiry?
I suppose you held one?

CREON:

                                      We did, but we learned nothing.

OEDIPUS:

Why did the prophet not speak against me then?

CREON:

I do not know; and I am the kind of man
Who holds his tongue when he has no facts to go on.

OEDIPUS:

There's one fact that you know, and you could tell it.

CREON:

What fact is that? If I know it, you shall have it.

OEDIPUS:

If he were not involved with you, he could not say
That it was I who murdered Laios.

CREON:

If he says that, you are the one that knows it!--
But now it is my turn to question you.

OEDIPUS:

Put your questions. I am no murderer.

CREON:

First, then: You married my sister?

OEDIPUS:

                                           I married your sister.

Page 31

CREON:

And you rule the kingdom equally with her?

OEDIPUS:

Everything that she wants she has from me.

CREON:

And I am the third, equal to both of you?

OEDIPUS:

That is why I call you a bad friend.

CREON:

No. Reason it out, as I have done.
Think of this first: Would any sane man prefer
Power, with all a king's anxieties,
To that same power and the grace of sleep?
Certainly not I.
I have never longed for the king's power—only his rights.
Would any wise man differ from me in this?
As matters stand, I have my way in everything
With your consent, and no responsibilities.
If I were king, I should be a slave to policy.

How could I desire a scepter more
Than what is now mine—untroubled influence:
No, I have not gone mad; I need no honors,
Except those with the perquisites I have now.
I am welcome everywhere; every man salutes me,
And those who want your favor seek my ear,
Since I know how to manage what they ask.
Should I exchange this ease for that anxiety?
Besides, no sober mind is treasonable.
I hate anarchy
And never would deal with any man who likes it.

Page 32

Test what I have said. Go to the priestess
At Delphi, ask if I quoted her correctly.
And as for this other thing: if I am found
Guilty of treason with Teiresias,
Then sentence me to death! You have my word
It is a sentence I should cast my vote for—
But not without evidence!
                                      You do wrong
When you take good men for bad, bad men for good.
A true friend thrown aside—why, life itself
Is not more precious!
In time you will know this well:
For time, and time alone, will show the just man,
Though scoundrels are discovered in a day.

CHORAGOS:

This is well said, and a prudent man would ponder it.
Judgments too quickly formed are dangerous.

OEDIPUS:

But is he not quick in his duplicity?
And shall I not be quick to parry him?
Would you have me stand still, hold my peace, and let
This man win everything, through my inaction?

CREON:

And you want—what is it, then? To banish me?

OEDIPUS:

No, not exile. It is your death I want,
So that all the world may see what treason means.

Page 33

CREON:

You will persist, then? You will not believe me?

OEDIPUS:

How can I believe you?

CREON:

                                 Then you are a fool.

OEDIPUS:

To save myself?

CREON:

                                In justice, think of me.

OEDIPUS:

You are evil incarnate.

CREON:

                              But suppose that you are wrong?

OEDIPUS:

Still I must rule.

CREON:

                             But not if you rule badly.

OEDIPUS:

O city, city!

CREON:

                     It is my city, too!

CHORAGOS:

Now, my lords, be still. I see the Queen,
Iocaste, coming from her palace chambers;
And it is time she came, for the sake of you both.
This dreadful quarrel can be resolved through her.

Page 34

                                                            [Enter IOCASTE]

IOCASTE:

Poor foolish men, what wicked din is this?
With Thebes sick to death, is it not shameful
That you should rake some private quarrel up?

                                                           [To OEDIPUS:]

Come into the house.
                               —And you, Creon, go now:
Let us have no more of this tumult over nothing.

CREON:

Nothing? No, sister: what your husband plans for me
Is one of two great evils: exile or death.

OEDIPUS:

He is right.
                 Why, woman I have caught him squarely
Plotting against my life.

CREON:

                                   No! Let me die
Accurst if ever I have wished you harm!

IOCASTE:

Ah, believe it, Oedipus!
In the name of the gods, respect this oath of his
For my sake, for the sake of these people here!

CHORAGOS:                                                       [STROPHE 1

Open your mind to her, my lord. Be ruled by her,
I beg you!

OEDIPUS:

                   What would you have me do?

Page 35

CHORAGOS:

Respect Creon's word. He has never spoken like a fool,
And now he has sworn an oath.

OEDIPUS:

You know what you ask?

CHORAGOS:

                                    I do.

OEDIPUS:

                                              Speak on, then.

CHORAGOS:

A friend so sworn should not be baited so,
In blind malice, and without final proof.

OEDIPUS:

You are aware, I hope, that what you say
Means death for me, or exile at the least.

CHORAGOS:                                                             [STROPHE 2

No, I swear by Helios, first in Heaven!
       May I die friendless and accurst,
The worst of deaths, if ever I meant that!
           It is the withering fields
               That hurt my sick heart:
          Must we bear all these ills,
               And now your bad blood as well?

OEDIPUS:

Then let him go. And let me die, if I must,
Or be driven by him in shame from the land of Thebes.
It is your unhappiness, and not his talk,

Page 36

That touches me.
                           As for him--
Wherever he goes, hatred will follow him.

CREON:

Ugly in yielding, as you were ugly in rage!
Natures like yours chiefly torment themselves.

OEDIPUS:

Can you not go? Can you not leave me?

CREON:

                                                            I can.
You do not know me; but the city knows me,
And in its eyes I am just, if not in yours.
                                                                     [Exit CREON]

CHORAGOS:

                                                                    [ANTISTROPHE 1]
Lady Iocaste, did you not ask the King to go to his chambers?

IOCASTE:

 First tell me what has happened.

CHORAGOS:

There was suspicion without evidence; yet it rankled
As even false charges will.

IOCASTE:

                                       On both sides?

CHORAGOS:

                                                   On both.

IOCASTE:

                                       But what was said?



Page 37

CHORAGOS:

Oh let it rest, let it be done with!
Have we not suffered enough?

OEDIPUS:

You see to what your decency has brought you,
You have made difficulties where my heart saw none.

CHORAGOS:

                                                             [ANTISTROPHE 2
Oedipus, it is not once only I have told you--
     You must know I should count myself unwise
To the point of madness, should I now forsake you--
        You, under whose hand,
           In the storm of another time,
        Our dear land sailed out free.
           But now stand fast at the helm!

IOCASTE:

In God's name, Oedipus, inform your wife as well:
Why are you so set in this hard anger?

OEDIPUS:

I will tell you, for none of these men deserves
My confidence as you do. It is Creon's work,
His treachery, his plotting against me.

IOCASTE:

Go on, if you can make this clear to me.

OEDIPUS:

He charges me with the murder of Laios.

IOCASTE:

Has he some knowledge? Or does he speak from hearsay?

Page 38

OEDIPUS:

He would not commit himself to such a charge,
But he has brought in that damnable soothsayer
To tell his story.

IOCASTE:

                          Set your mind at rest.
If it is a question of soothsayers, I tell you
That you will find no man whose craft gives knowledge
Of the unknowable.

                                Here is my proof:

An oracle was reported to Laios once
(I will not say from Phoibos himself, but from
His appointed ministers, at any rate)
That his doom would be death at the hands of his own son
His son, born of his flesh and of mine!

Now, you remember the story: Laios was killed
By marauding strangers where three highways meet;
But his child had not been three days in this world
Before the King had pierced the baby's ankles
And left him to die on a lonely mountainside.

Thus, Apollo never caused that child
To kill his father, and it was not Laios' fate
To die at the hands of his son, as he had feared.
This is what prophets and prophecies are worth!
Have no dread of them.
                                    It is God himself
Who can show us what he wills, in his own way.

Page 39

OEDIPUS:

How strange a shadowy memory crossed my mind,
Just now while you were speaking; it chilled my heart.

IOCASTE:

What do you mean? What memory do you speak of?

OEDIPUS:

If I understand you, Laios was killed
At a place where three roads meet.

IOCASTE:

                                                So it was said;
We have no later story.

OEDIPUS:

                                     Where did it happen?

IOCASTE:

Phokis, it is called: at a place where the Theban Way
Divides into the roads toward Delphi and Daulia.

OEDIPUS:

When?

IOCASTE:

          We had the news not long before you came
And proved the right to your succession here.

OEDIPUS:

Ah, what net has God been weaving for me?

IOCASTE:

Oedipus! Why does this trouble you?

OEDIPUS:

                                                Do not ask me yet.

Page 40

First, tell me how Laios looked, and tell me
How old he was.

IOCASTE:

                          He was tall, his hair just touched
With white; his form was not unlike your own.

OEDIPUS:

I think that I myself may be accurst
By my own ignorant edict.

IOCASTE:

                                        You speak strangely.
It makes me tremble to look at you, my King.

OEDIPUS:

I am not sure that the blind man can not see.
But I should know better if you were to tell me

IOCASTE:

Anything—though I dread to hear you ask it.

OEDIPUS:

Was the King lightly escorted, or did he ride
With a large company, as a ruler should?

IOCASTE:

There were five men with him in all: one was a herald,
And a single chariot, which he was driving.

OEDIPUS:

Alas, that makes it plain enough!
                                                 But who—
Who told you how it happened?

IOCASTE:

                                                A household servant,
The only one to escape.

Page 41

OEDIPUS:

                                         And is he still
A servant of ours?

IOCASTE:

                            No; for when he came back at last
And found you enthroned in the place of the dead king,
He came to me, touched my hand with his, and begged
That I would send him away to the frontier district
Where only the shepherds go--
As far away from the city as I could send him.
I granted his prayer; for although the man was a slave,
He had earned more than this favor at my hands.

OEDIPUS:

Can he be called back quickly?

IOCASTE:

                                              Easily.
But why?

OEDIPUS:

             I have taken too much upon myself
Without enquiry; therefore I wish to consult him.

IOCASTE:

Then he shall come.
                             But am I not one also
To whom you might confide these fears of yours?

OEDIPUS:

That is your right; it will not be denied you,
Now least of all; for I have reached a pitch

Page 42

Of wild foreboding. Is there anyone
To whom I should sooner speak?

Polybos of Corinth is my father.
My mother is a Dorian: Merope.
I grew up chief among the men of Corinth
Until a strange thing happened--
Not worth my passion, it may be but strange.

At a feast, a drunken man maundering in his cups
Cries out that I am not my father's son!
I contained myself that night, though I felt anger
And a sinking heart. The next day I visited
My father and mother, and questioned them. They stormed,
Calling it all the slanderous rant of a fool;
And this relieved me. Yet the suspicion
Remained always aching in my mind;
I knew there was talk; I could not rest;
And finally, saving nothing to my parents,
I went to the shrine at Delphi.
The god dismissed my question without reply;
He spoke of other things.
                                      Some were clear,
Full of wretchedness, dreadful, unbearable:
As, that I should lie with my own mother, breed
Children from whom all men would turn their eyes;
And that I should be my father's murderer.
I heard all this, and fled. And from that day
Corinth to me was only in the stars
Descending in that quarter of the sky,
As I wandered farther and farther on my way
To a land where I should never see the evil

Page 43

Sung by the oracle. And I came to this country
Where, so you say. King Labs was killed.

I will tell you all that happened there, my lady.

There were three highways
Coming together at a place I passed;
And there a herald came towards me, and a chariot
Drawn by horses, with a man such as you describe
Seated in it. The groom leading the horses
Forced me off the road at his lord's command;
But as this charioteer lurched over towards me
I struck him in my rage. The old man saw me
And brought his double goad down upon my head
As I came abreast.
                               He was paid back, and more!
Swinging my club in this right hand I knocked him
Out of his car, and he rolled on the ground.
                                                    I killed him.
I killed them all.
Now if that stranger and Laios were—kin,
Where is a man more miserable than I,
More hated by the gods? Citizen and alien alike
Must never shelter me or speak to me
I must be shunned by all.
                                     And I myself
Pronounced this malediction upon myself!

Think of it: I have touched you with these hands,
These hands that killed your husband. What defilement!
Am I all evil, then? It must be so,
Since I must flee from Thebes, yet never again

Page 44

See my own countrymen, my own country,
For fear of joining my mother in marriage
And killing Polybos, my father.
                                               Ah,
If I was created so, horn to this fate,
Who could deny the savagery of God?

O holy majesty of heavenly powers!
May I never see that day! Never!
Rather let me vanish from the race of men
Than know the abomination destined me!

CHORAGOS:

We too, my lord, have felt dismay at this.
But there is hope: you have yet to hear the shepherd.

OEDIPUS:

Indeed, I fear no other hope is left me.

IOCASTE:

What do you hope from him when he comes?

OEDIPUS:

                                                        This much:
If his account of the murder tallies with yours,
Then I am cleared.

IOCASTE:

                          What was it that I said
Of such importance?

OEDIPUS:

                          Why, "marauders," you said,
Killed the King, according to this man's story.
If he maintains that still, if there were several,
Clearly the guilt is not mine: I was alone.

Page 45

But if he says one man, singlehanded, did it,
Then the evidence all points to me.

IOCASTE:

You may he sure that he said there were several;
And can he call back that story now? He can not.
The whole city heard it as plainly as I.
But suppose he alters some detail of it:
He can not ever show that Laios' death
Fulfilled the oracle: for Apollo said
My child was doomed to kill him; and my child--
Poor baby!—it was my child that died first.

No. From now on, where oracles are concerned,
1 would not waste a second thought on any.

OEDIPUS:

You may be right.
                           But come: let someone go
For the shepherd at once. This matter must be settled.

IOCASTE:

I will send for him.
I would not wish to cross you in anything,
And surely not in this.—Let us go in.
                                                    [Exeunt into the palace

ODE II

CHORUS:

                                                                   [STROPHE I
Let me be reverent in the ways of right,
Lowly the paths I journey on;

Page 46

Let all my words and actions keep
The laws of the pure universe
From highest Heaven handed down.
For Heaven is their bright nurse,
Those generations of the realms of light;
Ah, never of mortal kind were they begot,
Nor are they slaves of memory, lost in sleep:
Their Father is greater than Time, and ages not.

The tyrant is a child of Pride                        [ANTISTROPHE 1
Who drinks from his great sickening cup
Recklessness and vanity,
Until from his high crest headlong
He plummets to the dust of hope.
That strong man is not strong.
But let no fair ambition be denied;
May God protect the wrestler for the State
In government, in comely policy,
Who will fear God, and on His ordinance wait.
                                                                  [STROPHE 2
Haughtiness and the high hand of disdain
Tempt and outrage God's holy law;
And any mortal who dares hold
No immortal Power in awe
Will be caught up in a net of pain:
The price for which his levity is sold.
Let each man take due earnings, then,
And keep his hands from holy things,
And from blasphemy stand apart—
Else the crackling blast of heaven
Blows on his head, and on his desperate heart;
Though fools will honor impious men,
In their cities no tragic poet sings.
                                                                

Page 47

                                                                 [ANTISTROPHE 2
Shall we lose faith in Delphi's obscurities,
We who have heard the world's core
Discredited, and the sacred wood
Of Zeus at Ells praised no more?
The deeds and the strange prophecies
Must make a pattern yet to he understood.
Zeus, if indeed you are lord of all,
Throned in light over night and day.
Mirror this in your endless mind:
Our masters call the oracle
Words on the wind, and the Delphic vision blind!
Their hearts no longer know Apollo,
And reverence for the gods has died away.

SCENE III

                                                                    [Enter IOCASTE

IOCASTE:

Princes of Thebes, it has occurred to me
To visit the altars of the gods, bearing
These branches as a suppliant, and this incense.
Our King is not himself: his noble soul
Is overwrought with fantasies of dread,
Else he would consider
The new prophecies in the light of the old.
He will listen to any voice that speaks disaster,
And my advice goes for nothing.
                                                [She approaches the altar. R.
                                           To you, then, Apollo,

Page 48

Lycean lord, since you are nearest. I turn in prayer.
Receive these offerings, and grant us deliverance
From defilement. Our hearts are heavy with fear
When we see our leader distracted, as helpless sailors
Are terrified by the confusion of their helmsman.

                                                             [Enter MESSENGER

MESSENGER:

Friends, no doubt you can direct me:
Where shall I find the house of Oedipus,
Or, better still, where is the King himself?

CHORAGOS:

It is this very place, stranger; he is inside.
This is his wife and Mother of his children.

MESSENGER:

I wish her happiness in a happy house,
Blest in all the fulfillment of her marriage.

IOCASTE:

I wish as much for you: your courtesy
Deserves a like good fortune. But now, tell me:
Why have you come? What have you to say to us?

MESSENGER:

Good news, my lady, for your house and your husband.

IOCASTE:

What news? Who sent you here?

MESSENGER:

                                               I am from Corinth.
The news I bring ought to mean joy for you.
Though it may be you will find some grief in it.

Page 49

IOCASTE:

What is it? How can it touch us in both ways?

MESSENGER:

The word is that the people of the Isthmus
Intend to call Oedipus to be their king.

IOCASTE:

But old King Polybos—is he not reigning still?

MESSENGER:

 No. Death holds him in his sepulchre.

IOCASTE:

What are you saying? Polybos is dead?

MESSENGER:

 If I am not telling the truth, may I die myself.

IOCASTE:

                                                          [To a MAIDSERVANT:
Go in, go quickly; tell this to your master.
O fiddlers of God's will, where are you now!
This was the man whom Oedipus, long ago,
Feared so, fled so, in dread of destroying him—
But it was another fate by which he died.
                                                        [Enter OEDIPUS, C.

OEDIPUS:

Dearest Iocaste, why have you sent for me?

IOCASTE:

Listen to what this man says, and then tell me
What has become of the solemn prophecies.

OEDIPUS:

Who is this man? What is his news for me?

IOCASTE:

He has come from Corinth to announce your father's death!

Page 50

OEDIPUS:

Is it true, stranger? Tell me in your own words.


MESSENGER:

I can not say it more clearly: the King is dead.

OEDIPUS:

Was it by treason? Or by an attack of illness?

MESSENGER:

A little thing brings old men to their rest.

OEDIPUS:

It was sickness. then?

MESSENGER:

                               Yes, and his many years.

OEDIPUS:

Ahl
Why should a man respect the Pythian hearth, or
Give heed to the birds that jangle above his head?
They prophesied that I should kill Polybos,
Kill my own father; but he is dead and buried,
And I am here—I never touched him, never,
Unless he died of grief for my departure,
And thus, in a sense, through me. No. Polybos
Has packed the oracles off with him underground.
They are empty words.

IOCASTE:

Had I not told you so?

OEDIPUS:

You had: it was my faint heart that betrayed me.

IOCASTE:

From now on never think of those things again.

Page 51

OEDIPUS:

 And yet—must I not fear my mother's bed?

IOCASTE:

Why should anyone in this world be afraid,
Since Fate rules us and nothing can be foreseen:
A man should live only for the present day.
Have no more fear of sleeping with your mother:
How many men, in dreams, have lain with their mothers!
No reasonable man is troubled by such things.

OEDIPUS:

That is true; only--
If only my mother were not still alive!
But she is alive. I can not help my dread.

IOCASTE:

Yet this news of your father's death is wonderful.

OEDIPUS:

Wonderful. But I fear the living woman.

MESSENGER:

Tell me, who is this woman that you fear?

OEDIPUS:

It is Merope, man; the wife of King Polybos.

MESSENGER:

 Merope? Why should you he afraid of her?

OEDIPUS:

An oracle of the gods, a dreadful saying.

MESSENGER:

Can you tell me about it or are you sworn to silence?

Page 52

OEDIPUS:

I can tell you, and I will.
Apollo said through his prophet that I was the man
Who should marry his own mother, shed his father's blood
With his own hands. And so, for all these years
I have kept dear of Corinth, and no harm has come--
Though it would have been sweet to see my parents again.

MESSENGER:

 And is this the fear that drove you out of Corinth?

OEDIPUS:

Would you have me kill my father?

MESSENGER:

                                                     As for that
You must be reassured by the news I gave you.

OEDIPUS:

If you could reassure me, I would reward you.

MESSENGER:

I had that in mind, I will confess: I thought
I could count on you when you returned to Corinth.

OEDIPUS:

No: I will never go near my parents again.

MESSENGER:

Ah, son, you still do not know what you are doing—

Page 53

OEDIPUS:

What do you mean? In the name of God tell me!

MESSENGER:

If these are your reasons for not going home.

OEDIPUS:

 I tell you, I fear the oracle may come true.

MESSENGER:

And guilt may come upon you through your parents?

OEDIPUS:

That is the dread that is always in my heart.

MESSENGER:

Can you not see that all your fears are groundless?

OEDIPUS:

 How can you say that? They are my parents, surely?

MESSENGER:

Polybos was not your father.

OEDIPUS:

                                          Not my father?

MESSENGER:

No more your father than the man speaking to you.

OEDIPUS:

But you are nothing to me!

MESSENGER:

                                         Neither was he.

Page 54

OEDIPUS:

 Then why did he call me son?

MESSENGER:

                                            I will tell you:
Long ago he had you from my hands, as a gift. 

OEDIPUS:

Then how could he love me so, if I was not his?

MESSENGER:

He had no children, and his heart turned to you.

OEDIPUS:

What of you? Did you buy me? Did you find me by chance?

MESSENGER:

I came upon you in the crooked pass of Kithairon.

OEDIPUS:

And what were you doing there?

MESSENGER:

                                              Tending my flocks.

OEDIPUS:

A wandering shepherd?

MESSENGER:

                                  But your savior, son, that day.

OEDIPUS:

From what did you save me?

MESSENGER:

                                 Your ankles should tell you that.

OEDIPUS:

 

Ah. stranger, why do you speak of that childhood pain?

Page 55

MESSENGER:

I cut the bonds that tied your ankles together.

OEDIPUS:

 I have had the mark as long as I can remember.

MESSENGER:

That was why you were given the name you bear.

OEDIPUS:

God! Was it my father or my mother who did it?
Tell me!

MESSENGER:

          I do not know. The man who gave you to me
Can tell you better than I.

OEDIPUS:

It was not you that found me, but another?

MESSENGER:

It was another shepherd gave you to me.

OEDIPUS:

Who was he? Can you tell me who he was?

MESSENGER:

I think he was said to be one of Laios' people

OEDIPUS:

You mean the Laios who was king here years ago?

MESSENGER:

Yes; King Laios: and the man was one of his herdsmen.

Page 56

OEDIPUS:

Is he still alive? Can I see him?

MESSENGER:

                                            These men here
Know best about such things.

OEDIPUS:

                                            Does anyone here
Know this shepherd that he is talking about?
Have you seen him in the fields, or in the town?
lf you have, tell me It is time things were made plain.

CHORAGOS:

I think the man he means is that same shepherd
You have already asked to see. Iocaste perhaps
Could tell you something.

OEDIPUS:

                               Do you know anything
About him, Lady? Is he the man we have summoned?
Is that the man this shepherd means?

IOCASTE:

                                                 Why think of him?
Forget this herdsman. Forget it all.
This talk is a waste of time.

OEDIPUS:

How can you say that,
When the clues to my true birth are in my hands?

IOCASTE:

For God's love, let us have no more questioning!
Is your life nothing to you?
My own is pain enough for me to bear.

Page 57

OEDIPUS:

You need not worry. Suppose my mother a slave,
And born of slaves: no baseness can touch you.

IOCASTE:

Listen to me, I beg you: do not do this thing!

OEDIPUS:

I will not listen; the truth must be made known.

IOCASTE:

Everything that I say is for your own good!

OEDIPUS:

                                                       My own good
Snaps my patience, then; I want none of it.

IOCASTE:

You are fatally wrong! May you never learn who you are!

OEDIPUS:

Go, one of you, and bring the shepherd here.
Let us leave this woman to brag of her royal name.

IOCASTE:

Ah, miserable!
That is the only word I have for you now.
That is the only word I can ever have.
                                                           [Exit into the palace

CHORAGOS:

Why has she left us, Oedipus? Why has she gone
In such a passion of sorrow? I fear this silence:
Something dreadful may come of it.

OEDIPUS:

                                                     Let it come!
However base my birth, I must know about it.

Page 58

The Queen, like a woman, is perhaps ashamed
To think of my low origin. But I
Am a child of Luck; I can not be dishonored.
Luck is my mother; the passing months, my brothers,
Have seen me rich and poor.
                                           If this is so.
How could I wish that I were someone else?
How could I not be glad to know my birth?

 

ODE III

CHORUS:

If ever the coming time were known                      [STROPHE
To my heart's pondering,
Kithairon, now by Heaven I see the torches
At the festival of the next full moon,
And see the dance, and hear the choir sing
A grace to your gentle shade:
Mountain where Oedipus was found,
O mountain guard of a noble race!
May the god who heals us lend his aid,
And Let that glory come to pass
For our king's cradling-ground.
                                                                          [ANTISTROPHE
Of the nymphs that flower beyond the years,
Who bore you, royal child,
To Pan of the hills or the timberline Apollo.
Cold in delight where the upland clears,
Or Hermês for whom Kyllene's heights are piled?

Page 59

Or flushed as evening cloud,
Great Dionysos, roamer of mountains,
He—was it he who found you there,
And caught you up in his own proud
Arms from the sweet god-ravisher
Who laughed by the Muses' fountains?

 

SCENE IV

OEDIPUS:

 Sirs: though I do not know the man,
I think I see him coming, this shepherd we want:
He is old, like our friend here, and the men
Bringing him seem to be servants of my house.
But you can tell, if you have ever seen him.
                                                         [Enter SHEPHERD escorted by servants

CHORAGOS:

I know him, he was Laios' man. You can trust him.

OEDIPUS:

Tell me first, you from Corinth; is this the shepherd
We were discussing?

MESSENGER:

                               This is the very man.

OEDIPUS:         

                                                                    [To SHEPHERD
Come here. No, look at me. You must answer
Everything I ask.—You belonged to Laios?

Page 60

SHEPHERD:

Yes: born his slave, brought up in his house.

OEDIPUS:

Tell me: what kind of work did you do for him?

SHEPHERD:

I was a shepherd of his, most Of my life.

OEDIPUS:

Where mainly did you go for pasturage?

SHEPHERD:

Sometimes Kithairon, sometimes the hills near-by.

OEDIPUS:

Do you remember ever seeing this man out there?

SHEPHERD:

What would he be doing there? This man?

OEDIPUS:

 This man standing here. Have you ever seen him before?

SHEPHERD:

No. At least, not to my recollection.

MESSENGER:

And that is not strange, my lord. But I'll refresh
His memory: he must remember when we two
Spent three whole seasons together, March to September,
On Kithairon or thereabouts. He had two flocks;
I had one. Each autumn I'd drive mine home
And he would go back with his to Laios' sheepfold--
Is this not true, just as I have described it?

Page 61

SHEPHERD:

True, yes; but it was all so long ago.

MESSENGER:

Well, then: do you remember, back in those days,
That you gave me a baby boy to bring up as my own? 

SHEPHERD:

What if I did? What are you trying to say?

MESSENGER:

King Oedipus was once that little child.

SHEPHERD:

Damn you, hold your tongue!

OEDIPUS:

                                           No more of that!
It is your tongue needs watching, not this man's.

SHEPHERD:

My King, my Master, what is it I have done wrong?

OEDIPUS:

You have not answered his question about the boy.

SHEPHERD:

He does not know... He is only making trouble...

OEDIPUS:

Come, speak plainly, or it will go hard with you.

SHEPHERD:

In God's name, do not torture an old man!

Page 62

OEDIPUS:

Come here, one of you; hind his arms behind him.

SHEPHERD:

Unhappy king! What more do you wish to learn?

OEDIPUS:

Did you give this man the child he speaks of?

SHEPHERD:

                                                                 I did.
And I would to God I had died that very day.

OEDIPUS:

You will die now unless you speak the truth.

SHEPHERD:

Yet if I speak the truth, I am worse than dead.

OEDIPUS:

Very well; since you insist upon delaying-- 



SHEPHERD:

No! I have told you already that I gave him the boy.

OEDIPUS:

Where did you get him? From your house? From
   somewhere else?

SHEPHERD:

Not from mine. no. A man gave him to me.

OEDIPUS:

Is that man here? Do you know whose slave he was?

Page 63

SHEPHERD:

For God's love, my King, do not ask me any more!

OEDIPUS:

You are a dead man if have to ask you again.

SHEPHERD:

Then... Then the child was from the palace of Laios.

OEDIPUS:

A slave child? or a child of his own line?

SHEPHERD:

Ah, I am on the brink of dreadful speech!

OEDIPUS:

And I of dreadful hearing. Yet I must hear.

SHEPHERD:

If you must be told, then...
                                      They said it was Laios' child;
But it is your wife who can tell you about that

OEDIPUS:

My wife!—Did she give it to you?

SHEPHERD:

                                                 My lord, she did.

OEDIPUS:

Do you know why?

SHEPHERD:

                             I was told to get rid of it.

OEDIPUS:

An unspeakable mother!

SHEPHERD:

                                   There had been prophecies ..

Page 64

OEDIPUS:

Tell me.

SHEPHERD:

It was said that the boy would kill his own father

OEDIPUS:

Then why did you give him over to this old man?

SHEPHERD:

I pitied the baby, my King,
And I thought that this man would take him far away
To his own country.
                              He saved him—but for what a fate!
For if you are what this man says you are,
No man living is more wretched than Oedipus.

OEDIPUS:

Ah God!
It was true!
               All the prophecies!
                                           --Now,
I, Oedipus,
Oedipus, damned in his birth, in his marriage
O Light, may I look on you for the last time! damned,
Damned in the blood he shed with his own hand!.
                                                          [He rushes into the palace

Page 65

ODE IV

CHORUS:

 Alas for the seed of men.                                      [STROPHE 1
What measure shall I give these generations
That breathe on the void and are void
And exist and do not exist?

Who bears more weight of joy
Than mass of sunlight shifting in images,
Or who shall make his thought stay on
That down time drifts away?

Your splendor is all fallen.

O naked brow of wrath and tears,
O change of Oedipus.
I who saw your days call no man blest—
Your great days like ghosts gone.         

That mind was a strong bow.                             [ANTISTROPHE 1

Deep, how deep you drew it then, hard archer,
At a dim fearful range,
And brought dear glory down!

You overcame the stranger
The virgin with her hooking lion claws—
And though death sang, stood like a tower
To make pale Thebes take heart.

Fortress against our sorrow!

True king, giver of laws.
Majestic Oedipus!
No prince in Thebes had ever such renown,
 

Page 66

No prince won such grace of power.

And now of all men ever known                         [STROPHE 2
Most pitiful is this man's story:
His fortunes are most changed, his state
Fallen to a low slave's
Ground under bitter fate.

O Oedipus, most royal one!
The great door that expelled you to the light
Gave at night-- ah, gave night to your glory:
As to the father, to the fathering son.

All understood too late.

How could that queen whom folios won,
The garden that he harrowed at his height,
Be silent when that act was done?

But all eyes fail before time's eye,                    [ANTISTROPHE 2
All actions come to justice there.
Though never willed, though far down the deep past.
Your bed, your dread sirings,
Are brought to book at last.

Child by Laios doomed to die,
Then doomed to lose that fortunate little death,
Would God you never took breath in this air
That with my wailing lips I take to cry:

For I weep the world's outcast.

I was blind, and now I can tell why:
Asleep, for you had given ease of breath
To Thebes, while the false years went by.

Page 67

Exodos

                                               Enter, from the palace, SECOND MESSENGER

SECOND MESSENGER:

Elders of Thebes, most honored in this land,
What horrors are yours to see and hear, what weight
Of sorrow to be endured, if, true to your birth,
You venerate the line of Labdakos!
I think neither Istros nor Phasis, those great rivers,
Could purify this place of the corruption
It shelters now, or soon must bring to light--
Evil not done unconsciously, but willed.

The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.

CHORAGOS:

Surely, friend, we have grief enough already:
What new sorrow do you mean?

SECOND MESSENGER:

                                                The Queen is dead.

CHORAGOS:

Iocaste? Dead? But at whose hand?

SECOND MESSENGER:

                                                   Her own.
The. full horror of what happened you can not know,

Page 68

For you did not see it; but I, who did, will tell you
As clearly as I can how she met her death.

When she had left us,
In passionate silence, passing through the court,
She ran to her apartment in the house,
Her hair clutched by the fingers of both hands.
She closed the doors behind her; then, by that bed
Where long ago the fatal son was conceived—
That son who should bring about his father's death--
We heard her call upon Faros, dead so many years,
And heard her wail for the double fruit of her marriage,
A husband by her husband, children by her child.

Exactly how she died I do not know:
For Oedipus burst in moaning and would not let us
Keep vigil to the end: it was by him
As he stormed about the room that our eyes were caught.
From one to another of us he went, begging a sword,
Cursing the wife who was not his wife, the mother
Whose womb had carried his own children and himself.
I do not know: it was none of us aided him,
But surely one of the gods was in control!
For with a dreadful cry
He hurled his weight, as though wrenched out of himself,
At the twin doors: the bolts gave, and he rushed in.
And there we saw her hanging, her body swaying

Page 69

From the cruel cord she had noosed about her neck.
A great sob broke from him, heartbreaking to hear,
As he loosed the rope and lowered her to the ground.

I would blot out from my mind what happened next!
For the King ripped from her gown the golden brooches
That were her ornament, and raised them, and
       plunged them down
Straight into his own eyeballs, crying, "No more.
No more shall you look on the misery about me,
The horrors of my own doing! Too long you have known
The faces of those whom I should never have seen,
Too long been blind to those whom I was searching!
From this hour, go in darkness!" And as he spoke.
He struck at his eyes—not once, but many times;
And the blood spattered his beard.
Bursting from his ruined sockets like red hail.

So from the unhappiness of two this evil has sprung.
A curse on the man and woman alike. The old
Happiness of the house of Labdakos
Was happiness enough: where is it today?
It is all wailing and ruin, disgrace, death—all
The misery of mankind that has a name—
And it is wholly and forever theirs.

Page 70

CHORAGOS:

Is he in agony still? Is there no rest for him?

SECOND MESSENGER:

He is calling for someone to lead him to the gates
So that all the children of Kadmos may look upon
His father's murderer, his mother's—no,
I can not say it!
                        And then he will leave Thebes,
Self-exiled, in order that the curse
Which he himself pronounced may depart from the house.
He is weak, and there is none to lead him,
So terrible is his suffering.
                                     But you will see:
Look, the doors are opening; in a moment
You will see a thing that would crush a heart of stone.

                             [The central door is opened; OEDIPUS, blinded, is led in

CHORAGOS:

Dreadful indeed for men to see.
Never have my own eyes
Looked on a sight so full of fear.

Oedipus!
What madness came upon you, what daemon
Leaped on your life with heavier
Punishment than a mortal man can bear?
No: I can not even
Look at you, poor ruined one.
And I would speak, question, ponder,

 

EXODOS:

If I were able. No.
You make me shudder.

OEDIPUS:

God. God.
Is there a sorrow greater?
Where shall I find harbor in this world?
My voice is hurled far on a dark wind.
What has God done to me?

CHORAGOS.

Too terrible to think of, or to see.

OEDIPUS:

O cloud of night,                                              [STROPHE I
Never to be turned away: night coming on,
I can not tell how: night like a shroud!

My fair winds brought me here.
                                              O God. Again
The pain of the spikes where I had sight,
The flooding pain
Of memory, never to be gouged out.

CHORAGOS:

This is not strange.
You suffer it all twice over, remorse in pain,
Pain in remorse.

OEDIPUS:

                                                                    [ANTISTROPHE 1
Ah dear friend
Are you faithful even yet, you alone?
Are you still standing near me, will you stay here,
Patient, to care for the blind?

Page 72

                                          The blind man!
Yet even blind I know who it is attends me,
By the voice's tone--
Though my new darkness hide the comforter.

CHORAGOS:

Oh fearful act!
What god was it drove you to rake black
Night across your eyes?

OEDIPUS:

Apollo. Apollo. Dear                                   [STROPHE 2
Children, the god was Apollo.
He brought my sick, sick fate upon me.
But the blinding hand was my own!
How could I bear to see
When all my sight was horror everywhere?

CHORAGOS:

Everywhere; that is true.

OEDIPUS:

And now what is left?
Images? Love? A greeting even,

Sweet to the senses? Is there anything?
Ah, no, friends: lead me away.
Lead me away from Thebes.
                                          Lead the great wreck
And hell of Oedipus, whom the gods hate.

CHORAGOS:

Your fate is clear, you are not blind to that.
Would God you had never found it out!

Page 73

OEDIPUS:

                                                                        [ANTISTROPHE 2
Death take the man who unbound
My feet on that hillside
And delivered me from death to life! What life?
If only I had died,
This weight of monstrous doom
Could not have dragged me and my darlings down.

CHORAGOS:

I would have wished the same.

OEDIPUS:

Oh never to have come here
With my father's blood upon me! Never
To have been the man they call his mother's
      husband!
Oh accurst! Oh child of evil,
To have entered that wretched bed--
                                          the selfsame one!
More primal than sin itself, this fell to me.

CHORAGOS:

I do not know how I can answer you.
You were better dead than alive and blind.

OEDIPUS:

Do not counsel me any more. This punishment
That I have laid upon myself is just.
If I had eyes,
I do not know how I could bear the sight
Of my father, when I came to the house of Death,
Or my mother: for I have sinned against them both
So vilely that I could not make my peace
By strangling my own life.
                                      Or do you think my children,
Born as they were born, would be sweet to my eyes?


Page 74

Ah never, never! Nor this town with its high walls,
Nor the holy images of the gods.
                                                 For I,
Thrice miserable!--Oedipus, noblest of all the line
Of Kadmos, have condemned myself to enjoy
These things no more, by my own malediction
Expelling that man whom the gods declared
To be a defilement in the house of Laws.
After exposing the rankness of my own guilt,
How could I look men frankly in the eyes?
No, I swear it,
If I could have stifled my hearing at its source,
I would have done it and made all this body
A tight cell of misery, blank to light and sound:
So I should have been safe in a dark agony
Beyond all recollection.
                                   Ah Kithairon!
Why did you shelter me? When I was cast upon you,
Why did I not die? Then I should never
Have shown the world my execrable birth.
Ah Polybos! Corinth, city that I believed
The ancient seat of my ancestors: how fair
I seemed, your child! And all the while this evil
Was cancerous within me!
                                       For I am sick
In my daily life, sick in my origin.
O three roads, dark ravine, woodland and way
Where three roads met: you, drinking my father's
   blood,
My own blood, spilled by my own hand: can you
   remember

Page 75

The unspeakable things I did there, and the things
I
went on from there to do?
                                         O marriage, marriage!
The act that engendered me, and again the act
Performed by the son in the same bed--
                                                          Ah, the net
Of incest, mingling fathers, brothers, sons,
With brides, wives, mothers. the last evil
That can be known by men: no tongue can say
How evil!
               No. For the love of God, conceal me
Somewhere far from Thebes; or kill me; or hurl me
Into the sea, away from men's eyes for ever.

Come, lead me. You need not fear to touch me.
Of all men, I alone can bear this guilt.

                                                        [Enter CREON


CHORAGOS:

We are not the ones to decide; but Creon here
May fitly judge of what you ask. He only
Is left to protect the city in your place.


OEDIPUS:

Alas, how can I speak to him? What right have I
To beg his courtesy whom I have deeply wronged?

CREON:

I have not come to mock you, Oedipus,
Or to reproach you, either.
                                                  [To ATTENDANTS:
                                    —You, standing there:
If you have lost all respect for man's dignity.
At least respect the flame of Lord Helios:

Page 76

Do not allow this pollution to show itself
Openly here, an affront to the earth
And Heaven's rain and the light of day. No, take him
Into the house as quickly as you can.
For it is proper
That only the close kindred see his grief.

OEDIPUS:

I pray you in God's name, since your courtesy
Ignores my dark expectation, visiting
With mercy this man of all men most execrable:
Give me what I ask—for your good, not for mine.

CREON:

 And what is it that you would have me do?

OEDIPUS:

Drive me out of this country as quickly as may be
To a place where no human voice can ever greet me.

CREON:

I should have done that before now—only.
God's will had not been wholly revealed to me.

OEDIPUS:

But his command is plain: the parricide
Must be destroyed. I am that evil man.

CREON:

That is the sense of it, yes; but as things are,
We had best discover clearly what is to be done.

OEDIPUS:

You would learn more about a man like me?

CREON:

You are ready now to listen to the god.

Page 77

OEDIPUS:

I will listen. But it is to you
That I must turn for help. I beg you, hear me.
The woman in there
Give her whatever funeral you think proper:
She is your sister.
                          -- But let me go, Creon!
Let me purge my father's Thebes of the pollution
Of my living here, and go out to the wild hilts,
To Kithairon, that has won such fame with me,
The tomb my mother and father appointed for me,
And let me die there, as they willed I should.
And yet I know
Death will not ever come to me through sickness
Or in any natural way: I have been preserved
For some unthinkable fate. But let that be.

As for my sons, you need not care for them.
They are men, they will Find some way to live.
But my poor daughters, who have shared my table,
Who never before have been parted from their
    father--
Take care of them, Creon: do this for me.
And will you let me touch them with my hands
A last time, and let us weep together?
Be kind, my lord,
Great prince, be kind!
                                 Could I but touch them,
They would be mine again, as when I had my eyes.
                                 [Enter ANTIGONE and ISMENE, attended
Ah, God!
Is it my dearest children I hear weeping?
Has Creon pitied me and sent my daughters?

Page 78

CREON:

Yes, Oedipus: I knew that they were dear to you
In the old days, and know you must love them still.

OEDIPUS:

May God bless you for this—and be a friendlier
Guardian to you than he has been to me!

Children, where are you?
Come quickly to my hands: they are your
    brother's--
Hands that have brought your father's once clear eyes
To this way of seeing--
                                   Ah dearest ones,
I had neither sight nor knowledge then, your father
By the woman who was the source of his own life!
And I weep for you—having no strength to see you,
I weep for you when I think of the bitterness
That men will visit upon you all your lives.
What homes, what festivals can you attend
Without being forced to depart again in tears?
And when you come to marriageable age,
Where is the man, my daughters, who would dare
Risk the bane that lies on all my children?
Is there any evil wanting? Your father killed
His father; sowed the womb of her who bore him;
Engendered you at the fount of his own existence.
That is what they will say of you.
                                                 Then, whom
Can you ever marry? There are no bridegrooms for you,

 

Page 79

And your lives must wither away in sterile dreaming.

O Creon, son of Menoikeus!
You are the only father my daughters have,
Since we, their parents, are both of us gone for ever.
They are your own blood: you will not let them
Fall into beggary and loneliness;
You will keep them from the miseries that are mine!
Take pity on them; see, they are only children,
Friendless except for you. Promise me this,
Great Prince, and give me your hand in token of it.
                                                     [CREON clasps his tight hand
Children.
I could say much, if you could understand me.
But as it is, I have only this prayer for you:
Live where you can, be as happy as you can—
Happier, please God, than God has made your father!

CREON:

Enough. You have wept enough. Now go within.

OEDIPUS:

I must; but it is hard.

CREON:

                                  Time eases all things.

OEDIPUS:

But you must promise--

CREON:

                                 Say what you desire.

Page 80

OEDIPUS:

 Send me from Thebes!

CREON:

                                 God grant that I may!

OEDIPUS:

 But since God hates me ...

CREON:

                               No, he will grant your wish.

OEDIPUS:

 You promise?

CREON:

                          I can not speak beyond my knowledge.

OEDIPUS:

Then lead me in.

CREON:

                        Come now, and leave your children.


OEDIPUS:

No! Do not take them from me!

CREON:

                                                 Think no longer
That you are in command here, but rather think
How, when you were, you served your own destruction.

                 [Exeunt into the house all but the CHORUS; the
                 CHORAGOS chants directly to the audience:

CHORAGOS:

Men of Thebes: look upon Oedipus.
This is the king who solved the famous riddle

Page 81

And towered up, most powerful of men.
No mortal eyes bur looked on him with envy,
Yet in the end ruin swept over him.
Let every man in mankind's frailty
Consider his last day; and let none
Presume on his good fortune until he find
Life, at his death, a memory without pain.