4 Oedipus the King – Part II

[Enter HERDSMAN.]


OEDIPUS
Corinthian, stranger, I address thee first,
Is this the man thou meanest!


MESSENGER
                              This is he.


OEDIPUS
And now old man, look up and answer all
I ask thee.  Wast thou once of Laius' house?


HERDSMAN
I was, a thrall, not purchased but home-bred.


OEDIPUS
What was thy business? how wast thou employed?


HERDSMAN
The best part of my life I tended sheep.


OEDIPUS
What were the pastures thou didst most frequent?


HERDSMAN
Cithaeron and the neighboring alps.


OEDIPUS
                                   Then there
Thou must have known yon man, at least by fame?


HERDSMAN
Yon man? in what way? what man dost thou mean?


OEDIPUS
The man here, having met him in past times...


HERDSMAN
Off-hand I cannot call him well to mind.


MESSENGER
No wonder, master.  But I will revive
His blunted memories.  Sure he can recall
What time together both we drove our flocks,
He two, I one, on the Cithaeron range,
For three long summers; I his mate from spring
Till rose Arcturus; then in winter time
I led mine home, he his to Laius' folds.
Did these things happen as I say, or no?


HERDSMAN
'Tis long ago, but all thou say'st is true.


MESSENGER
Well, thou mast then remember giving me
A child to rear as my own foster-son?


HERDSMAN
Why dost thou ask this question?  What of that?


MESSENGER
Friend, he that stands before thee was that child.


HERDSMAN
A plague upon thee!  Hold thy wanton tongue!


OEDIPUS
Softly, old man, rebuke him not; thy words
Are more deserving chastisement than his.


HERDSMAN
O best of masters, what is my offense?


OEDIPUS
Not answering what he asks about the child.


HERDSMAN
He speaks at random, babbles like a fool.


OEDIPUS
If thou lack'st grace to speak, I'll loose thy tongue.


HERDSMAN
For mercy's sake abuse not an old man.


OEDIPUS
Arrest the villain, seize and pinion him!


HERDSMAN
Alack, alack!
What have I done? what wouldst thou further learn?


OEDIPUS
Didst give this man the child of whom he asks?


HERDSMAN
I did; and would that I had died that day!


OEDIPUS
And die thou shalt unless thou tell the truth.


HERDSMAN
But, if I tell it, I am doubly lost.


OEDIPUS
The knave methinks will still prevaricate.


HERDSMAN
Nay, I confessed I gave it long ago.


OEDIPUS
Whence came it? was it thine, or given to thee?


HERDSMAN
I had it from another, 'twas not mine.


OEDIPUS
From whom of these our townsmen, and what house?


HERDSMAN
Forbear for God's sake, master, ask no more.


OEDIPUS
If I must question thee again, thou'rt lost.


HERDSMAN
Well then—it was a child of Laius' house.


OEDIPUS
Slave-born or one of Laius' own race?


HERDSMAN
Ah me!
I stand upon the perilous edge of speech.


OEDIPUS
And I of hearing, but I still must hear.


HERDSMAN
Know then the child was by repute his own,
But she within, thy consort best could tell.


OEDIPUS
What! she, she gave it thee?


HERDSMAN
                              'Tis so, my king.


OEDIPUS
With what intent?


HERDSMAN
                    To make away with it.


OEDIPUS
What, she its mother.


HERDSMAN
                    Fearing a dread weird.


OEDIPUS
What weird?


HERDSMAN
          'Twas told that he should slay his sire.


OEDIPUS
What didst thou give it then to this old man?


HERDSMAN
Through pity, master, for the babe.  I thought
He'd take it to the country whence he came;
But he preserved it for the worst of woes.
For if thou art in sooth what this man saith,
God pity thee! thou wast to misery born.


OEDIPUS
Ah me! ah me! all brought to pass, all true!
O light, may I behold thee nevermore!
I stand a wretch, in birth, in wedlock cursed,
A parricide, incestuously, triply cursed!
[Exit OEDIPUS]


CHORUS
(Str. 1)
          Races of mortal man
          Whose life is but a span,
I count ye but the shadow of a shade!
          For he who most doth know
          Of bliss, hath but the show;
A moment, and the visions pale and fade.
Thy fall, O Oedipus, thy piteous fall
Warns me none born of women blest to call.


(Ant. 1)
          For he of marksmen best,
          O Zeus, outshot the rest,
And won the prize supreme of wealth and power.
          By him the vulture maid
          Was quelled, her witchery laid;
He rose our savior and the land's strong tower.
We hailed thee king and from that day adored
Of mighty Thebes the universal lord.


(Str. 2)
          O heavy hand of fate!
          Who now more desolate,
Whose tale more sad than thine, whose lot more dire?
          O Oedipus, discrowned head,
          Thy cradle was thy marriage bed;
One harborage sufficed for son and sire.
How could the soil thy father eared so long
Endure to bear in silence such a wrong?


(Ant. 2)
          All-seeing Time hath caught
          Guilt, and to justice brought
The son and sire commingled in one bed.
          O child of Laius' ill-starred race
          Would I had ne'er beheld thy face;
I raise for thee a dirge as o'er the dead.
Yet, sooth to say, through thee I drew new breath,
And now through thee I feel a second death.
[Enter SECOND MESSENGER.]


SECOND MESSENGER
Most grave and reverend senators of Thebes,
What Deeds ye soon must hear, what sights behold
How will ye mourn, if, true-born patriots,
Ye reverence still the race of Labdacus!
Not Ister nor all Phasis' flood, I ween,
Could wash away the blood-stains from this house,
The ills it shrouds or soon will bring to light,
Ills wrought of malice, not unwittingly.
The worst to bear are self-inflicted wounds.


CHORUS
Grievous enough for all our tears and groans
Our past calamities; what canst thou add?


SECOND MESSENGER
My tale is quickly told and quickly heard.
Our sovereign lady queen Jocasta's dead.


CHORUS
Alas, poor queen! how came she by her death?


SECOND MESSENGER
By her own hand.  And all the horror of it,
Not having seen, yet cannot comprehend.
Nathless, as far as my poor memory serves,
I will relate the unhappy lady's woe.
When in her frenzy she had passed inside
The vestibule, she hurried straight to win
The bridal-chamber, clutching at her hair
With both her hands, and, once within the room,
She shut the doors behind her with a crash.
"Laius," she cried, and called her husband dead
Long, long ago; her thought was of that child
By him begot, the son by whom the sire
Was murdered and the mother left to breed
With her own seed, a monstrous progeny.
Then she bewailed the marriage bed whereon
Poor wretch, she had conceived a double brood,
Husband by husband, children by her child.
What happened after that I cannot tell,
Nor how the end befell, for with a shriek
Burst on us Oedipus; all eyes were fixed
On Oedipus, as up and down he strode,
Nor could we mark her agony to the end.
For stalking to and fro "A sword!" he cried,
"Where is the wife, no wife, the teeming womb
That bore a double harvest, me and mine?"
And in his frenzy some supernal power
(No mortal, surely, none of us who watched him)
Guided his footsteps; with a terrible shriek,
As though one beckoned him, he crashed against
The folding doors, and from their staples forced
The wrenched bolts and hurled himself within.
Then we beheld the woman hanging there,
A running noose entwined about her neck.
But when he saw her, with a maddened roar
He loosed the cord; and when her wretched corpse
Lay stretched on earth, what followed—O 'twas dread!
He tore the golden brooches that upheld
Her queenly robes, upraised them high and smote
Full on his eye-balls, uttering words like these:
"No more shall ye behold such sights of woe,
Deeds I have suffered and myself have wrought;
Henceforward quenched in darkness shall ye see
Those ye should ne'er have seen; now blind to those
Whom, when I saw, I vainly yearned to know."
     Such was the burden of his moan, whereto,
Not once but oft, he struck with his hand uplift
His eyes, and at each stroke the ensanguined orbs
Bedewed his beard, not oozing drop by drop,
But one black gory downpour, thick as hail.
Such evils, issuing from the double source,
Have whelmed them both, confounding man and wife.
Till now the storied fortune of this house
Was fortunate indeed; but from this day
Woe, lamentation, ruin, death, disgrace,
All ills that can be named, all, all are theirs.


CHORUS
But hath he still no respite from his pain?


SECOND MESSENGER
He cries, "Unbar the doors and let all Thebes
Behold the slayer of his sire, his mother's—"
That shameful word my lips may not repeat.
He vows to fly self-banished from the land,
Nor stay to bring upon his house the curse
Himself had uttered; but he has no strength
Nor one to guide him, and his torture's more
Than man can suffer, as yourselves will see.
For lo, the palace portals are unbarred,
And soon ye shall behold a sight so sad
That he who must abhorred would pity it.
[Enter OEDIPUS blinded.]


CHORUS
          Woeful sight! more woeful none
          These sad eyes have looked upon.
          Whence this madness?  None can tell
          Who did cast on thee his spell,
          prowling all thy life around,
          Leaping with a demon bound.
          Hapless wretch! how can I brook
          On thy misery to look?
          Though to gaze on thee I yearn,
          Much to question, much to learn,
          Horror-struck away I turn.


OEDIPUS
Ah me! ah woe is me!
Ah whither am I borne!
How like a ghost forlorn
My voice flits from me on the air!
On, on the demon goads.  The end, ah where?


CHORUS
An end too dread to tell, too dark to see.


OEDIPUS
(Str. 1)
Dark, dark!  The horror of darkness, like a shroud,
Wraps me and bears me on through mist and cloud.
Ah me, ah me!  What spasms athwart me shoot,
What pangs of agonizing memory?


CHORUS
No marvel if in such a plight thou feel'st
The double weight of past and present woes.


OEDIPUS
(Ant. 1)
Ah friend, still loyal, constant still and kind,
          Thou carest for the blind.
I know thee near, and though bereft of eyes,
          Thy voice I recognize.


CHORUS
O doer of dread deeds, how couldst thou mar
Thy vision thus?  What demon goaded thee?


OEDIPUS
(Str. 2)
Apollo, friend, Apollo, he it was
          That brought these ills to pass;
But the right hand that dealt the blow
          Was mine, none other.  How,
How, could I longer see when sight
          Brought no delight?


CHORUS
Alas! 'tis as thou sayest.


OEDIPUS
Say, friends, can any look or voice
Or touch of love henceforth my heart rejoice?
          Haste, friends, no fond delay,
          Take the twice cursed away
               Far from all ken,
The man abhorred of gods, accursed of men.


CHORUS
O thy despair well suits thy desperate case.
Would I had never looked upon thy face!


OEDIPUS
(Ant. 2)
My curse on him whoe'er unrived
The waif's fell fetters and my life revived!
He meant me well, yet had he left me there,
He had saved my friends and me a world of care.


CHORUS
I too had wished it so.


OEDIPUS
Then had I never come to shed
My father's blood nor climbed my mother's bed;
The monstrous offspring of a womb defiled,
Co-mate of him who gendered me, and child.
Was ever man before afflicted thus,
Like Oedipus.


CHORUS
I cannot say that thou hast counseled well,
For thou wert better dead than living blind.


OEDIPUS
What's done was well done.  Thou canst never shake
My firm belief.  A truce to argument.
For, had I sight, I know not with what eyes
I could have met my father in the shades,
Or my poor mother, since against the twain
I sinned, a sin no gallows could atone.
Aye, but, ye say, the sight of children joys
A parent's eyes.  What, born as mine were born?
No, such a sight could never bring me joy;
Nor this fair city with its battlements,
Its temples and the statues of its gods,
Sights from which I, now wretchedst of all,
Once ranked the foremost Theban in all Thebes,
By my own sentence am cut off, condemned
By my own proclamation 'gainst the wretch,
The miscreant by heaven itself declared
Unclean—and of the race of Laius.
Thus branded as a felon by myself,
How had I dared to look you in the face?
Nay, had I known a way to choke the springs
Of hearing, I had never shrunk to make
A dungeon of this miserable frame,
Cut off from sight and hearing; for 'tis bliss
to bide in regions sorrow cannot reach.
Why didst thou harbor me, Cithaeron, why
Didst thou not take and slay me?  Then I never
Had shown to men the secret of my birth.
O Polybus, O Corinth, O my home,
Home of my ancestors (so wast thou called)
How fair a nursling then I seemed, how foul
The canker that lay festering in the bud!
Now is the blight revealed of root and fruit.
Ye triple high-roads, and thou hidden glen,
Coppice, and pass where meet the three-branched ways,
Ye drank my blood, the life-blood these hands spilt,
My father's; do ye call to mind perchance
Those deeds of mine ye witnessed and the work
I wrought thereafter when I came to Thebes?
O fatal wedlock, thou didst give me birth,
And, having borne me, sowed again my seed,
Mingling the blood of fathers, brothers, children,
Brides, wives and mothers, an incestuous brood,
All horrors that are wrought beneath the sun,
Horrors so foul to name them were unmeet.
O, I adjure you, hide me anywhere
Far from this land, or slay me straight, or cast me
Down to the depths of ocean out of sight.
Come hither, deign to touch an abject wretch;
Draw near and fear not; I myself must bear
The load of guilt that none but I can share.
[Enter CREON.]


CREON
Lo, here is Creon, the one man to grant
Thy prayer by action or advice, for he
Is left the State's sole guardian in thy stead.


OEDIPUS
Ah me! what words to accost him can I find?
What cause has he to trust me?  In the past
I have bee proved his rancorous enemy.


CREON
Not in derision, Oedipus, I come
Nor to upbraid thee with thy past misdeeds.
(To BYSTANDERS)
But shame upon you! if ye feel no sense
Of human decencies, at least revere
The Sun whose light beholds and nurtures all.
Leave not thus nakedly for all to gaze at
A horror neither earth nor rain from heaven
Nor light will suffer.  Lead him straight within,
For it is seemly that a kinsman's woes
Be heard by kin and seen by kin alone.


OEDIPUS
O listen, since thy presence comes to me
A shock of glad surprise—so noble thou,
And I so vile—O grant me one small boon.
I ask it not on my behalf, but thine.


CREON
And what the favor thou wouldst crave of me?


OEDIPUS
Forth from thy borders thrust me with all speed;
Set me within some vasty desert where
No mortal voice shall greet me any more.


CREON
This had I done already, but I deemed
It first behooved me to consult the god.


OEDIPUS
His will was set forth fully—to destroy
The parricide, the scoundrel;  and I am he.


CREON
Yea, so he spake, but in our present plight
'Twere better to consult the god anew.


OEDIPUS
Dare ye inquire concerning such a wretch?


CREON
Yea, for thyself wouldst credit now his word.


OEDIPUS
Aye, and on thee in all humility
I lay this charge:  let her who lies within
Receive such burial as thou shalt ordain;
Such rites 'tis thine, as brother, to perform.
But for myself, O never let my Thebes,
The city of my sires, be doomed to bear
The burden of my presence while I live.
No, let me be a dweller on the hills,
On yonder mount Cithaeron, famed as mine,
My tomb predestined for me by my sire
And mother, while they lived, that I may die
Slain as they sought to slay me, when alive.
This much I know full surely, nor disease
Shall end my days, nor any common chance;
For I had ne'er been snatched from death, unless
I was predestined to some awful doom.
     So be it.  I reck not how Fate deals with me
But my unhappy children—for my sons
Be not concerned, O Creon, they are men,
And for themselves, where'er they be, can fend.
But for my daughters twain, poor innocent maids,
Who ever sat beside me at the board
Sharing my viands, drinking of my cup,
For them, I pray thee, care, and, if thou willst,
O might I feel their touch and make my moan.
Hear me, O prince, my noble-hearted prince!
Could I but blindly touch them with my hands
I'd think they still were mine, as when I saw.
[ANTIGONE and ISMENE are led in.]
What say I? can it be my pretty ones
Whose sobs I hear?  Has Creon pitied me
And sent me my two darlings?  Can this be?


CREON
'Tis true; 'twas I procured thee this delight,
Knowing the joy they were to thee of old.


OEDIPUS
God speed thee! and as meed for bringing them
May Providence deal with thee kindlier
Than it has dealt with me!  O children mine,
Where are ye?  Let me clasp you with these hands,
A brother's hands, a father's; hands that made
Lack-luster sockets of his once bright eyes;
Hands of a man who blindly, recklessly,
Became your sire by her from whom he sprang.
Though I cannot behold you, I must weep
In thinking of the evil days to come,
The slights and wrongs that men will put upon you.
Where'er ye go to feast or festival,
No merrymaking will it prove for you,
But oft abashed in tears ye will return.
And when ye come to marriageable years,
Where's the bold wooers who will jeopardize
To take unto himself such disrepute
As to my children's children still must cling,
For what of infamy is lacking here?
"Their father slew his father, sowed the seed
Where he himself was gendered, and begat
These maidens at the source wherefrom he sprang."
Such are the gibes that men will cast at you.
Who then will wed you?  None, I ween, but ye
Must pine, poor maids, in single barrenness.
O Prince, Menoeceus' son, to thee, I turn,
With the it rests to father them, for we
Their natural parents, both of us, are lost.
O leave them not to wander poor, unwed,
Thy kin, nor let them share my low estate.
O pity them so young, and but for thee
All destitute.  Thy hand upon it, Prince.
To you, my children I had much to say,
Were ye but ripe to hear.  Let this suffice:
Pray ye may find some home and live content,
And may your lot prove happier than your sire's.


CREON
Thou hast had enough of weeping; pass within.


OEDIPUS
                                             I must obey,
Though 'tis grievous.


CREON
                         Weep not, everything must have its day.


OEDIPUS
Well I go, but on conditions.


CREON
                              What thy terms for going, say.


OEDIPUS
Send me from the land an exile.


CREON
                              Ask this of the gods, not me.


OEDIPUS
But I am the gods' abhorrence.


CREON
                              Then they soon will grant thy plea.


OEDIPUS
Lead me hence, then, I am willing.


CREON
                                   Come, but let thy children go.


OEDIPUS
Rob me not of these my children!


CREON
                                   Crave not mastery in all,
For the mastery that raised thee was thy bane and wrought thy fall.


CHORUS
Look ye, countrymen and Thebans, this is Oedipus the great,
He who knew the Sphinx's riddle and was mightiest in our state.
Who of all our townsmen gazed not on his fame with envious eyes?
Now, in what a sea of troubles sunk and overwhelmed he lies!
Therefore wait to see life's ending ere thou count one mortal blest;
Wait till free from pain and sorrow he has gained his final rest.

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Development of Theatre 1: Classical - Neoclassical Forms by Teresa Focarile and Monica Brown is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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