Oedipus the King
Translation by F. Storr, BA
Originally published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and William Heinemann Ltd, London in 1912.
o Laius, King of Thebes, an oracle foretold that the child born to him by his queen Jocasta would slay his father and wed his mother. So when in time a son was born the infant’s feet were riveted together and he was left to die on Mount Cithaeron. But a shepherd found the babe and tended him, and delivered him to another shepherd who took him to his master, the King of Corinth. Polybus being childless adopted the boy, who grew up believing that he was indeed the King’s son. Afterwards doubting his parentage he inquired of the Delphic god and heard himself the word declared before to Laius. Wherefore he fled from what he deemed his father’s house and in his flight he encountered and unwillingly slew his father Laius. Arriving at Thebes he answered the riddle of the Sphinx and the grateful Thebans made their deliverer king. So he reigned in the room of Laius, and espoused the widowed queen. Children were born to them and Thebes prospered under his rule, but again a grievous plague fell upon the city. Again the oracle was consulted and it bade them purge themselves of blood-guiltiness. Oedipus denounces the crime of which he is unaware, and undertakes to track out the criminal. Step by step it is brought home to him that he is the man. The closing scene reveals Jocasta slain by her own hand and Oedipus blinded by his own act and praying for death or exile.
The Priest of Zeus.
Chorus of Theban Elders.
HEard of Laius.
Thebes. Before the Palace of Oedipus.
Suppliants of all ages are seated round the altar at the palace doors, at their head a PRIEST OF ZEUS. To them enter OEDIPUS. OEDIPUS My children, latest born to Cadmus old, Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands Branches of olive filleted with wool? What means this reek of incense everywhere, And everywhere laments and litanies? Children, it were not meet that I should learn From others, and am hither come, myself, I Oedipus, your world-renowned king. Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locks Proclaim thee spokesman of this company, Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave? My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt; Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate If such petitioners as you I spurned. PRIEST Yea, Oedipus, my sovereign lord and king, Thou seest how both extremes of age besiege Thy palace altars—fledglings hardly winged, and greybeards bowed with years; priests, as am I of Zeus, and these the flower of our youth. Meanwhile, the common folk, with wreathed boughs Crowd our two market-places, or before Both shrines of Pallas congregate, or where Ismenus gives his oracles by fire. For, as thou seest thyself, our ship of State, Sore buffeted, can no more lift her head, Foundered beneath a weltering surge of blood. A blight is on our harvest in the ear, A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds, A blight on wives in travail; and withal Armed with his blazing torch the God of Plague Hath swooped upon our city emptying The house of Cadmus, and the murky realm Of Pluto is full fed with groans and tears. Therefore, O King, here at thy hearth we sit, I and these children; not as deeming thee A new divinity, but the first of men; First in the common accidents of life, And first in visitations of the Gods. Art thou not he who coming to the town of Cadmus freed us from the tax we paid To the fell songstress? Nor hadst thou received Prompting from us or been by others schooled; No, by a god inspired (so all men deem, And testify) didst thou renew our life. And now, O Oedipus, our peerless king, All we thy votaries beseech thee, find Some succor, whether by a voice from heaven Whispered, or haply known by human wit. Tried counselors, methinks, are aptest found 1 To furnish for the future pregnant rede. Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State! Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yore Our country's savior thou art justly hailed: O never may we thus record thy reign:— "He raised us up only to cast us down." Uplift us, build our city on a rock. Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck, O let it not decline! If thou wouldst rule This land, as now thou reignest, better sure To rule a peopled than a desert realm. Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail, If men to man and guards to guard them tail. OEDIPUS Ah! my poor children, known, ah, known too well, The quest that brings you hither and your need. Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain, How great soever yours, outtops it all. Your sorrow touches each man severally, Him and none other, but I grieve at once Both for the general and myself and you. Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams. Many, my children, are the tears I've wept, And threaded many a maze of weary thought. Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught, And tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus' son, Creon, my consort's brother, to inquire Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine, How I might save the State by act or word. And now I reckon up the tale of days Since he set forth, and marvel how he fares. 'Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange. But when he comes, then I were base indeed, If I perform not all the god declares. PRIEST Thy words are well timed; even as thou speakest That shouting tells me Creon is at hand. OEDIPUS O King Apollo! may his joyous looks Be presage of the joyous news he brings! PRIEST As I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his head Had scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays. OEDIPUS We soon shall know; he's now in earshot range. [Enter CREON] My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus' child, What message hast thou brought us from the god? CREON Good news, for e'en intolerable ills, Finding right issue, tend to naught but good. OEDIPUS How runs the oracle? thus far thy words Give me no ground for confidence or fear. CREON If thou wouldst hear my message publicly, I'll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within. OEDIPUS Speak before all; the burden that I bear Is more for these my subjects than myself. CREON Let me report then all the god declared. King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate A fell pollution that infests the land, And no more harbor an inveterate sore. OEDIPUS What expiation means he? What's amiss? CREON Banishment, or the shedding blood for blood. This stain of blood makes shipwreck of our state. OEDIPUS Whom can he mean, the miscreant thus denounced? CREON Before thou didst assume the helm of State, The sovereign of this land was Laius. OEDIPUS I heard as much, but never saw the man. CREON He fell; and now the god's command is plain: Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be. OEDIPUS Where are they? Where in the wide world to find The far, faint traces of a bygone crime? CREON In this land, said the god; "who seeks shall find; Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind." OEDIPUS Was he within his palace, or afield, Or traveling, when Laius met his fate? CREON Abroad; he started, so he told us, bound For Delphi, but he never thence returned. OEDIPUS Came there no news, no fellow-traveler To give some clue that might be followed up? CREON But one escape, who flying for dear life, Could tell of all he saw but one thing sure. OEDIPUS And what was that? One clue might lead us far, With but a spark of hope to guide our quest. CREON Robbers, he told us, not one bandit but A troop of knaves, attacked and murdered him. OEDIPUS Did any bandit dare so bold a stroke, Unless indeed he were suborned from Thebes? CREON So 'twas surmised, but none was found to avenge His murder mid the trouble that ensued. OEDIPUS What trouble can have hindered a full quest, When royalty had fallen thus miserably? CREON The riddling Sphinx compelled us to let slide The dim past and attend to instant needs. OEDIPUS Well, I will start afresh and once again Make dark things clear. Right worthy the concern Of Phoebus, worthy thine too, for the dead; I also, as is meet, will lend my aid To avenge this wrong to Thebes and to the god. Not for some far-off kinsman, but myself, Shall I expel this poison in the blood; For whoso slew that king might have a mind To strike me too with his assassin hand. Therefore in righting him I serve myself. Up, children, haste ye, quit these altar stairs, Take hence your suppliant wands, go summon hither The Theban commons. With the god's good help Success is sure; 'tis ruin if we fail. [Exeunt OEDIPUS and CREON] PRIEST Come, children, let us hence; these gracious words Forestall the very purpose of our suit. And may the god who sent this oracle Save us withal and rid us of this pest. [Exeunt PRIEST and SUPPLIANTS] CHORUS (Str. 1) Sweet-voiced daughter of Zeus from thy gold-paved Pythian shrine Wafted to Thebes divine, What dost thou bring me? My soul is racked and shivers with fear. (Healer of Delos, hear!) Hast thou some pain unknown before, Or with the circling years renewest a penance of yore? Offspring of golden Hope, thou voice immortal, O tell me. (Ant. 1) First on Athene I call; O Zeus-born goddess, defend! Goddess and sister, befriend, Artemis, Lady of Thebes, high-throned in the midst of our mart! Lord of the death-winged dart! Your threefold aid I crave From death and ruin our city to save. If in the days of old when we nigh had perished, ye drave From our land the fiery plague, be near us now and defend us! (Str. 2) Ah me, what countless woes are mine! All our host is in decline; Weaponless my spirit lies. Earth her gracious fruits denies; Women wail in barren throes; Life on life downstriken goes, Swifter than the wind bird's flight, Swifter than the Fire-God's might, To the westering shores of Night. (Ant. 2) Wasted thus by death on death All our city perisheth. Corpses spread infection round; None to tend or mourn is found. Wailing on the altar stair Wives and grandams rend the air— Long-drawn moans and piercing cries Blent with prayers and litanies. Golden child of Zeus, O hear Let thine angel face appear! (Str. 3) And grant that Ares whose hot breath I feel, Though without targe or steel He stalks, whose voice is as the battle shout, May turn in sudden rout, To the unharbored Thracian waters sped, Or Amphitrite's bed. For what night leaves undone, Smit by the morrow's sun Perisheth. Father Zeus, whose hand Doth wield the lightning brand, Slay him beneath thy levin bold, we pray, Slay him, O slay! (Ant. 3) O that thine arrows too, Lycean King, From that taut bow's gold string, Might fly abroad, the champions of our rights; Yea, and the flashing lights Of Artemis, wherewith the huntress sweeps Across the Lycian steeps. Thee too I call with golden-snooded hair, Whose name our land doth bear, Bacchus to whom thy Maenads Evoe shout; Come with thy bright torch, rout, Blithe god whom we adore, The god whom gods abhor. [Enter OEDIPUS.] OEDIPUS Ye pray; 'tis well, but would ye hear my words And heed them and apply the remedy, Ye might perchance find comfort and relief. Mind you, I speak as one who comes a stranger To this report, no less than to the crime; For how unaided could I track it far Without a clue? Which lacking (for too late Was I enrolled a citizen of Thebes) This proclamation I address to all:— Thebans, if any knows the man by whom Laius, son of Labdacus, was slain, I summon him to make clean shrift to me. And if he shrinks, let him reflect that thus Confessing he shall 'scape the capital charge; For the worst penalty that shall befall him Is banishment—unscathed he shall depart. But if an alien from a foreign land Be known to any as the murderer, Let him who knows speak out, and he shall have Due recompense from me and thanks to boot. But if ye still keep silence, if through fear For self or friends ye disregard my hest, Hear what I then resolve; I lay my ban On the assassin whosoe'er he be. Let no man in this land, whereof I hold The sovereign rule, harbor or speak to him; Give him no part in prayer or sacrifice Or lustral rites, but hound him from your homes. For this is our defilement, so the god Hath lately shown to me by oracles. Thus as their champion I maintain the cause Both of the god and of the murdered King. And on the murderer this curse I lay (On him and all the partners in his guilt):— Wretch, may he pine in utter wretchedness! And for myself, if with my privity He gain admittance to my hearth, I pray The curse I laid on others fall on me. See that ye give effect to all my hest, For my sake and the god's and for our land, A desert blasted by the wrath of heaven. For, let alone the god's express command, It were a scandal ye should leave unpurged The murder of a great man and your king, Nor track it home. And now that I am lord, Successor to his throne, his bed, his wife, (And had he not been frustrate in the hope Of issue, common children of one womb Had forced a closer bond twixt him and me, But Fate swooped down upon him), therefore I His blood-avenger will maintain his cause As though he were my sire, and leave no stone Unturned to track the assassin or avenge The son of Labdacus, of Polydore, Of Cadmus, and Agenor first of the race. And for the disobedient thus I pray: May the gods send them neither timely fruits Of earth, nor teeming increase of the womb, But may they waste and pine, as now they waste, Aye and worse stricken; but to all of you, My loyal subjects who approve my acts, May Justice, our ally, and all the gods Be gracious and attend you evermore. CHORUS The oath thou profferest, sire, I take and swear. I slew him not myself, nor can I name The slayer. For the quest, 'twere well, methinks That Phoebus, who proposed the riddle, himself Should give the answer—who the murderer was. OEDIPUS Well argued; but no living man can hope To force the gods to speak against their will. CHORUS May I then say what seems next best to me? OEDIPUS Aye, if there be a third best, tell it too. CHORUS My liege, if any man sees eye to eye With our lord Phoebus, 'tis our prophet, lord Teiresias; he of all men best might guide A searcher of this matter to the light. OEDIPUS Here too my zeal has nothing lagged, for twice At Creon's instance have I sent to fetch him, And long I marvel why he is not here. CHORUS I mind me too of rumors long ago— Mere gossip. OEDIPUS Tell them, I would fain know all. CHORUS 'Twas said he fell by travelers. OEDIPUS So I heard, But none has seen the man who saw him fall. CHORUS Well, if he knows what fear is, he will quail And flee before the terror of thy curse. OEDIPUS Words scare not him who blenches not at deeds. CHORUS But here is one to arraign him. Lo, at length They bring the god-inspired seer in whom Above all other men is truth inborn. [Enter TEIRESIAS, led by a boy.] OEDIPUS Teiresias, seer who comprehendest all, Lore of the wise and hidden mysteries, High things of heaven and low things of the earth, Thou knowest, though thy blinded eyes see naught, What plague infects our city; and we turn To thee, O seer, our one defense and shield. The purport of the answer that the God Returned to us who sought his oracle, The messengers have doubtless told thee—how One course alone could rid us of the pest, To find the murderers of Laius, And slay them or expel them from the land. Therefore begrudging neither augury Nor other divination that is thine, O save thyself, thy country, and thy king, Save all from this defilement of blood shed. On thee we rest. This is man's highest end, To others' service all his powers to lend. TEIRESIAS Alas, alas, what misery to be wise When wisdom profits nothing! This old lore I had forgotten; else I were not here. OEDIPUS What ails thee? Why this melancholy mood? TEIRESIAS Let me go home; prevent me not; 'twere best That thou shouldst bear thy burden and I mine. OEDIPUS For shame! no true-born Theban patriot Would thus withhold the word of prophecy. TEIRESIAS Thy words, O king, are wide of the mark, and I For fear lest I too trip like thee... OEDIPUS Oh speak, Withhold not, I adjure thee, if thou know'st, Thy knowledge. We are all thy suppliants. TEIRESIAS Aye, for ye all are witless, but my voice Will ne'er reveal my miseries—or thine. 2 OEDIPUS What then, thou knowest, and yet willst not speak! Wouldst thou betray us and destroy the State? TEIRESIAS I will not vex myself nor thee. Why ask Thus idly what from me thou shalt not learn? OEDIPUS Monster! thy silence would incense a flint. Will nothing loose thy tongue? Can nothing melt thee, Or shake thy dogged taciturnity? TEIRESIAS Thou blam'st my mood and seest not thine own Wherewith thou art mated; no, thou taxest me. OEDIPUS And who could stay his choler when he heard How insolently thou dost flout the State? TEIRESIAS Well, it will come what will, though I be mute. OEDIPUS Since come it must, thy duty is to tell me. TEIRESIAS I have no more to say; storm as thou willst, And give the rein to all thy pent-up rage. OEDIPUS Yea, I am wroth, and will not stint my words, But speak my whole mind. Thou methinks thou art he, Who planned the crime, aye, and performed it too, All save the assassination; and if thou Hadst not been blind, I had been sworn to boot That thou alone didst do the bloody deed. TEIRESIAS Is it so? Then I charge thee to abide By thine own proclamation; from this day Speak not to these or me. Thou art the man, Thou the accursed polluter of this land. OEDIPUS Vile slanderer, thou blurtest forth these taunts, And think'st forsooth as seer to go scot free. TEIRESIAS Yea, I am free, strong in the strength of truth. OEDIPUS Who was thy teacher? not methinks thy art. TEIRESIAS Thou, goading me against my will to speak. OEDIPUS What speech? repeat it and resolve my doubt. TEIRESIAS Didst miss my sense wouldst thou goad me on? OEDIPUS I but half caught thy meaning; say it again. TEIRESIAS I say thou art the murderer of the man Whose murderer thou pursuest. OEDIPUS Thou shalt rue it Twice to repeat so gross a calumny. TEIRESIAS Must I say more to aggravate thy rage? OEDIPUS Say all thou wilt; it will be but waste of breath. TEIRESIAS I say thou livest with thy nearest kin In infamy, unwitting in thy shame. OEDIPUS Think'st thou for aye unscathed to wag thy tongue? TEIRESIAS Yea, if the might of truth can aught prevail. OEDIPUS With other men, but not with thee, for thou In ear, wit, eye, in everything art blind. TEIRESIAS Poor fool to utter gibes at me which all Here present will cast back on thee ere long. OEDIPUS Offspring of endless Night, thou hast no power O'er me or any man who sees the sun. TEIRESIAS No, for thy weird is not to fall by me. I leave to Apollo what concerns the god. OEDIPUS Is this a plot of Creon, or thine own? TEIRESIAS Not Creon, thou thyself art thine own bane. OEDIPUS O wealth and empiry and skill by skill Outwitted in the battlefield of life, What spite and envy follow in your train! See, for this crown the State conferred on me. A gift, a thing I sought not, for this crown The trusty Creon, my familiar friend, Hath lain in wait to oust me and suborned This mountebank, this juggling charlatan, This tricksy beggar-priest, for gain alone Keen-eyed, but in his proper art stone-blind. Say, sirrah, hast thou ever proved thyself A prophet? When the riddling Sphinx was here Why hadst thou no deliverance for this folk? And yet the riddle was not to be solved By guess-work but required the prophet's art; Wherein thou wast found lacking; neither birds Nor sign from heaven helped thee, but I came, The simple Oedipus; I stopped her mouth By mother wit, untaught of auguries. This is the man whom thou wouldst undermine, In hope to reign with Creon in my stead. Methinks that thou and thine abettor soon Will rue your plot to drive the scapegoat out. Thank thy grey hairs that thou hast still to learn What chastisement such arrogance deserves. CHORUS To us it seems that both the seer and thou, O Oedipus, have spoken angry words. This is no time to wrangle but consult How best we may fulfill the oracle. TEIRESIAS King as thou art, free speech at least is mine To make reply; in this I am thy peer. I own no lord but Loxias; him I serve And ne'er can stand enrolled as Creon's man. Thus then I answer: since thou hast not spared To twit me with my blindness—thou hast eyes, Yet see'st not in what misery thou art fallen, Nor where thou dwellest nor with whom for mate. Dost know thy lineage? Nay, thou know'st it not, And all unwitting art a double foe To thine own kin, the living and the dead; Aye and the dogging curse of mother and sire One day shall drive thee, like a two-edged sword, Beyond our borders, and the eyes that now See clear shall henceforward endless night. Ah whither shall thy bitter cry not reach, What crag in all Cithaeron but shall then Reverberate thy wail, when thou hast found With what a hymeneal thou wast borne Home, but to no fair haven, on the gale! Aye, and a flood of ills thou guessest not Shall set thyself and children in one line. Flout then both Creon and my words, for none Of mortals shall be striken worse than thou. OEDIPUS Must I endure this fellow's insolence? A murrain on thee! Get thee hence! Begone Avaunt! and never cross my threshold more. TEIRESIAS I ne'er had come hadst thou not bidden me. OEDIPUS I know not thou wouldst utter folly, else Long hadst thou waited to be summoned here. TEIRESIAS Such am I—as it seems to thee a fool, But to the parents who begat thee, wise. OEDIPUS What sayest thou—"parents"? Who begat me, speak? TEIRESIAS This day shall be thy birth-day, and thy grave. OEDIPUS Thou lov'st to speak in riddles and dark words. TEIRESIAS In reading riddles who so skilled as thou? OEDIPUS Twit me with that wherein my greatness lies. TEIRESIAS And yet this very greatness proved thy bane. OEDIPUS No matter if I saved the commonwealth. TEIRESIAS 'Tis time I left thee. Come, boy, take me home. OEDIPUS Aye, take him quickly, for his presence irks And lets me; gone, thou canst not plague me more. TEIRESIAS I go, but first will tell thee why I came. Thy frown I dread not, for thou canst not harm me. Hear then: this man whom thou hast sought to arrest With threats and warrants this long while, the wretch Who murdered Laius—that man is here. He passes for an alien in the land But soon shall prove a Theban, native born. And yet his fortune brings him little joy; For blind of seeing, clad in beggar's weeds, For purple robes, and leaning on his staff, To a strange land he soon shall grope his way. And of the children, inmates of his home, He shall be proved the brother and the sire, Of her who bare him son and husband both, Co-partner, and assassin of his sire. Go in and ponder this, and if thou find That I have missed the mark, henceforth declare I have no wit nor skill in prophecy. [Exeunt TEIRESIAS and OEDIPUS] CHORUS (Str. 1) Who is he by voice immortal named from Pythia's rocky cell, Doer of foul deeds of bloodshed, horrors that no tongue can tell? A foot for flight he needs Fleeter than storm-swift steeds, For on his heels doth follow, Armed with the lightnings of his Sire, Apollo. Like sleuth-hounds too The Fates pursue. (Ant. 1) Yea, but now flashed forth the summons from Parnassus' snowy peak, "Near and far the undiscovered doer of this murder seek!" Now like a sullen bull he roves Through forest brakes and upland groves, And vainly seeks to fly The doom that ever nigh Flits o'er his head, Still by the avenging Phoebus sped, The voice divine, From Earth's mid shrine. (Str. 2) Sore perplexed am I by the words of the master seer. Are they true, are they false? I know not and bridle my tongue for fear, Fluttered with vague surmise; nor present nor future is clear. Quarrel of ancient date or in days still near know I none Twixt the Labdacidan house and our ruler, Polybus' son. Proof is there none: how then can I challenge our King's good name, How in a blood-feud join for an untracked deed of shame? (Ant. 2) All wise are Zeus and Apollo, and nothing is hid from their ken; They are gods; and in wits a man may surpass his fellow men; But that a mortal seer knows more than I know—where Hath this been proven? Or how without sign assured, can I blame Him who saved our State when the winged songstress came, Tested and tried in the light of us all, like gold assayed? How can I now assent when a crime is on Oedipus laid? CREON Friends, countrymen, I learn King Oedipus Hath laid against me a most grievous charge, And come to you protesting. If he deems That I have harmed or injured him in aught By word or deed in this our present trouble, I care not to prolong the span of life, Thus ill-reputed; for the calumny Hits not a single blot, but blasts my name, If by the general voice I am denounced False to the State and false by you my friends. CHORUS This taunt, it well may be, was blurted out In petulance, not spoken advisedly. CREON Did any dare pretend that it was I Prompted the seer to utter a forged charge? CHORUS Such things were said; with what intent I know not. CREON Were not his wits and vision all astray When upon me he fixed this monstrous charge? CHORUS I know not; to my sovereign's acts I am blind. But lo, he comes to answer for himself. [Enter OEDIPUS.] OEDIPUS Sirrah, what mak'st thou here? Dost thou presume To approach my doors, thou brazen-faced rogue, My murderer and the filcher of my crown? Come, answer this, didst thou detect in me Some touch of cowardice or witlessness, That made thee undertake this enterprise? I seemed forsooth too simple to perceive The serpent stealing on me in the dark, Or else too weak to scotch it when I saw. This thou art witless seeking to possess Without a following or friends the crown, A prize that followers and wealth must win. CREON Attend me. Thou hast spoken, 'tis my turn To make reply. Then having heard me, judge. OEDIPUS Thou art glib of tongue, but I am slow to learn Of thee; I know too well thy venomous hate. CREON First I would argue out this very point. OEDIPUS O argue not that thou art not a rogue. CREON If thou dost count a virtue stubbornness, Unschooled by reason, thou art much astray. OEDIPUS If thou dost hold a kinsman may be wronged, And no pains follow, thou art much to seek. CREON Therein thou judgest rightly, but this wrong That thou allegest—tell me what it is. OEDIPUS Didst thou or didst thou not advise that I Should call the priest? CREON Yes, and I stand to it. OEDIPUS Tell me how long is it since Laius... CREON Since Laius...? I follow not thy drift. OEDIPUS By violent hands was spirited away. CREON In the dim past, a many years agone. OEDIPUS Did the same prophet then pursue his craft? CREON Yes, skilled as now and in no less repute. OEDIPUS Did he at that time ever glance at me? CREON Not to my knowledge, not when I was by. OEDIPUS But was no search and inquisition made? CREON Surely full quest was made, but nothing learnt. OEDIPUS Why failed the seer to tell his story then? CREON I know not, and not knowing hold my tongue. OEDIPUS This much thou knowest and canst surely tell. CREON What's mean'st thou? All I know I will declare. OEDIPUS But for thy prompting never had the seer Ascribed to me the death of Laius. CREON If so he thou knowest best; but I Would put thee to the question in my turn. OEDIPUS Question and prove me murderer if thou canst. CREON Then let me ask thee, didst thou wed my sister? OEDIPUS A fact so plain I cannot well deny. CREON And as thy consort queen she shares the throne? OEDIPUS I grant her freely all her heart desires. CREON And with you twain I share the triple rule? OEDIPUS Yea, and it is that proves thee a false friend. CREON Not so, if thou wouldst reason with thyself, As I with myself. First, I bid thee think, Would any mortal choose a troubled reign Of terrors rather than secure repose, If the same power were given him? As for me, I have no natural craving for the name Of king, preferring to do kingly deeds, And so thinks every sober-minded man. Now all my needs are satisfied through thee, And I have naught to fear; but were I king, My acts would oft run counter to my will. How could a title then have charms for me Above the sweets of boundless influence? I am not so infatuate as to grasp The shadow when I hold the substance fast. Now all men cry me Godspeed! wish me well, And every suitor seeks to gain my ear, If he would hope to win a grace from thee. Why should I leave the better, choose the worse? That were sheer madness, and I am not mad. No such ambition ever tempted me, Nor would I have a share in such intrigue. And if thou doubt me, first to Delphi go, There ascertain if my report was true Of the god's answer; next investigate If with the seer I plotted or conspired, And if it prove so, sentence me to death, Not by thy voice alone, but mine and thine. But O condemn me not, without appeal, On bare suspicion. 'Tis not right to adjudge Bad men at random good, or good men bad. I would as lief a man should cast away The thing he counts most precious, his own life, As spurn a true friend. Thou wilt learn in time The truth, for time alone reveals the just; A villain is detected in a day. CHORUS To one who walketh warily his words Commend themselves; swift counsels are not sure. OEDIPUS When with swift strides the stealthy plotter stalks I must be quick too with my counterplot. To wait his onset passively, for him Is sure success, for me assured defeat. CREON What then's thy will? To banish me the land? OEDIPUS I would not have thee banished, no, but dead, That men may mark the wages envy reaps. CREON I see thou wilt not yield, nor credit me. OEDIPUS [None but a fool would credit such as thou.] 3 CREON Thou art not wise. OEDIPUS Wise for myself at least. CREON Why not for me too? OEDIPUS Why for such a knave? CREON Suppose thou lackest sense. OEDIPUS Yet kings must rule. CREON Not if they rule ill. OEDIPUS Oh my Thebans, hear him! CREON Thy Thebans? am not I a Theban too? CHORUS Cease, princes; lo there comes, and none too soon, Jocasta from the palace. Who so fit As peacemaker to reconcile your feud? [Enter JOCASTA.] JOCASTA Misguided princes, why have ye upraised This wordy wrangle? Are ye not ashamed, While the whole land lies striken, thus to voice Your private injuries? Go in, my lord; Go home, my brother, and forebear to make A public scandal of a petty grief. CREON My royal sister, Oedipus, thy lord, Hath bid me choose (O dread alternative!) An outlaw's exile or a felon's death. OEDIPUS Yes, lady; I have caught him practicing Against my royal person his vile arts. CREON May I ne'er speed but die accursed, if I In any way am guilty of this charge. JOCASTA Believe him, I adjure thee, Oedipus, First for his solemn oath's sake, then for mine, And for thine elders' sake who wait on thee. CHORUS (Str. 1) Hearken, King, reflect, we pray thee, but not stubborn but relent. OEDIPUS Say to what should I consent? CHORUS Respect a man whose probity and troth Are known to all and now confirmed by oath. OEDIPUS Dost know what grace thou cravest? CHORUS Yea, I know. OEDIPUS Declare it then and make thy meaning plain. CHORUS Brand not a friend whom babbling tongues assail; Let not suspicion 'gainst his oath prevail. OEDIPUS Bethink you that in seeking this ye seek In very sooth my death or banishment? CHORUS No, by the leader of the host divine! (Str. 2) Witness, thou Sun, such thought was never mine, Unblest, unfriended may I perish, If ever I such wish did cherish! But O my heart is desolate Musing on our striken State, Doubly fall'n should discord grow Twixt you twain, to crown our woe. OEDIPUS Well, let him go, no matter what it cost me, Or certain death or shameful banishment, For your sake I relent, not his; and him, Where'er he be, my heart shall still abhor. CREON Thou art as sullen in thy yielding mood As in thine anger thou wast truculent. Such tempers justly plague themselves the most. OEDIPUS Leave me in peace and get thee gone. CREON I go, By thee misjudged, but justified by these. [Exeunt CREON] CHORUS (Ant. 1) Lady, lead indoors thy consort; wherefore longer here delay? JOCASTA Tell me first how rose the fray. CHORUS Rumors bred unjust suspicious and injustice rankles sore. JOCASTA Were both at fault? CHORUS Both. JOCASTA What was the tale? CHORUS Ask me no more. The land is sore distressed; 'Twere better sleeping ills to leave at rest. OEDIPUS Strange counsel, friend! I know thou mean'st me well, And yet would'st mitigate and blunt my zeal. CHORUS (Ant. 2) King, I say it once again, Witless were I proved, insane, If I lightly put away Thee my country's prop and stay, Pilot who, in danger sought, To a quiet haven brought Our distracted State; and now Who can guide us right but thou? JOCASTA Let me too, I adjure thee, know, O king, What cause has stirred this unrelenting wrath. OEDIPUS I will, for thou art more to me than these. Lady, the cause is Creon and his plots. JOCASTA But what provoked the quarrel? make this clear. OEDIPUS He points me out as Laius' murderer. JOCASTA Of his own knowledge or upon report? OEDIPUS He is too cunning to commit himself, And makes a mouthpiece of a knavish seer. JOCASTA Then thou mayest ease thy conscience on that score. Listen and I'll convince thee that no man Hath scot or lot in the prophetic art. Here is the proof in brief. An oracle Once came to Laius (I will not say 'Twas from the Delphic god himself, but from His ministers) declaring he was doomed To perish by the hand of his own son, A child that should be born to him by me. Now Laius—so at least report affirmed— Was murdered on a day by highwaymen, No natives, at a spot where three roads meet. As for the child, it was but three days old, When Laius, its ankles pierced and pinned Together, gave it to be cast away By others on the trackless mountain side. So then Apollo brought it not to pass The child should be his father's murderer, Or the dread terror find accomplishment, And Laius be slain by his own son. Such was the prophet's horoscope. O king, Regard it not. Whate'er the god deems fit To search, himself unaided will reveal. OEDIPUS What memories, what wild tumult of the soul Came o'er me, lady, as I heard thee speak! JOCASTA What mean'st thou? What has shocked and startled thee? OEDIPUS Methought I heard thee say that Laius Was murdered at the meeting of three roads. JOCASTA So ran the story that is current still. OEDIPUS Where did this happen? Dost thou know the place? JOCASTA Phocis the land is called; the spot is where Branch roads from Delphi and from Daulis meet. OEDIPUS And how long is it since these things befell? JOCASTA 'Twas but a brief while were thou wast proclaimed Our country's ruler that the news was brought. OEDIPUS O Zeus, what hast thou willed to do with me! JOCASTA What is it, Oedipus, that moves thee so? OEDIPUS Ask me not yet; tell me the build and height Of Laius? Was he still in manhood's prime? JOCASTA Tall was he, and his hair was lightly strewn With silver; and not unlike thee in form. OEDIPUS O woe is me! Mehtinks unwittingly I laid but now a dread curse on myself. JOCASTA What say'st thou? When I look upon thee, my king, I tremble. OEDIPUS 'Tis a dread presentiment That in the end the seer will prove not blind. One further question to resolve my doubt. JOCASTA I quail; but ask, and I will answer all. OEDIPUS Had he but few attendants or a train Of armed retainers with him, like a prince? JOCASTA They were but five in all, and one of them A herald; Laius in a mule-car rode. OEDIPUS Alas! 'tis clear as noonday now. But say, Lady, who carried this report to Thebes? JOCASTA A serf, the sole survivor who returned. OEDIPUS Haply he is at hand or in the house? JOCASTA No, for as soon as he returned and found Thee reigning in the stead of Laius slain, He clasped my hand and supplicated me To send him to the alps and pastures, where He might be farthest from the sight of Thebes. And so I sent him. 'Twas an honest slave And well deserved some better recompense. OEDIPUS Fetch him at once. I fain would see the man. JOCASTA He shall be brought; but wherefore summon him? OEDIPUS Lady, I fear my tongue has overrun Discretion; therefore I would question him. JOCASTA Well, he shall come, but may not I too claim To share the burden of thy heart, my king? OEDIPUS And thou shalt not be frustrate of thy wish. Now my imaginings have gone so far. Who has a higher claim that thou to hear My tale of dire adventures? Listen then. My sire was Polybus of Corinth, and My mother Merope, a Dorian; And I was held the foremost citizen, Till a strange thing befell me, strange indeed, Yet scarce deserving all the heat it stirred. A roisterer at some banquet, flown with wine, Shouted "Thou art not true son of thy sire." It irked me, but I stomached for the nonce The insult; on the morrow I sought out My mother and my sire and questioned them. They were indignant at the random slur Cast on my parentage and did their best To comfort me, but still the venomed barb Rankled, for still the scandal spread and grew. So privily without their leave I went To Delphi, and Apollo sent me back Baulked of the knowledge that I came to seek. But other grievous things he prophesied, Woes, lamentations, mourning, portents dire; To wit I should defile my mother's bed And raise up seed too loathsome to behold, And slay the father from whose loins I sprang. Then, lady,—thou shalt hear the very truth— As I drew near the triple-branching roads, A herald met me and a man who sat In a car drawn by colts—as in thy tale— The man in front and the old man himself Threatened to thrust me rudely from the path, Then jostled by the charioteer in wrath I struck him, and the old man, seeing this, Watched till I passed and from his car brought down Full on my head the double-pointed goad. Yet was I quits with him and more; one stroke Of my good staff sufficed to fling him clean Out of the chariot seat and laid him prone. And so I slew them every one. But if Betwixt this stranger there was aught in common With Laius, who more miserable than I, What mortal could you find more god-abhorred? Wretch whom no sojourner, no citizen May harbor or address, whom all are bound To harry from their homes. And this same curse Was laid on me, and laid by none but me. Yea with these hands all gory I pollute The bed of him I slew. Say, am I vile? Am I not utterly unclean, a wretch Doomed to be banished, and in banishment Forgo the sight of all my dearest ones, And never tread again my native earth; Or else to wed my mother and slay my sire, Polybus, who begat me and upreared? If one should say, this is the handiwork Of some inhuman power, who could blame His judgment? But, ye pure and awful gods, Forbid, forbid that I should see that day! May I be blotted out from living men Ere such a plague spot set on me its brand! CHORUS We too, O king, are troubled; but till thou Hast questioned the survivor, still hope on. OEDIPUS My hope is faint, but still enough survives To bid me bide the coming of this herd. JOCASTA Suppose him here, what wouldst thou learn of him? OEDIPUS I'll tell thee, lady; if his tale agrees With thine, I shall have 'scaped calamity. JOCASTA And what of special import did I say? OEDIPUS In thy report of what the herdsman said Laius was slain by robbers; now if he Still speaks of robbers, not a robber, I Slew him not; "one" with "many" cannot square. But if he says one lonely wayfarer, The last link wanting to my guilt is forged. JOCASTA Well, rest assured, his tale ran thus at first, Nor can he now retract what then he said; Not I alone but all our townsfolk heard it. E'en should he vary somewhat in his story, He cannot make the death of Laius In any wise jump with the oracle. For Loxias said expressly he was doomed To die by my child's hand, but he, poor babe, He shed no blood, but perished first himself. So much for divination. Henceforth I Will look for signs neither to right nor left. OEDIPUS Thou reasonest well. Still I would have thee send And fetch the bondsman hither. See to it. JOCASTA That will I straightway. Come, let us within. I would do nothing that my lord mislikes. [Exeunt OEDIPUS and JOCASTA] CHORUS (Str. 1) My lot be still to lead The life of innocence and fly Irreverence in word or deed, To follow still those laws ordained on high Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky No mortal birth they own, Olympus their progenitor alone: Ne'er shall they slumber in oblivion cold, The god in them is strong and grows not old. (Ant. 1) Of insolence is bred The tyrant; insolence full blown, With empty riches surfeited, Scales the precipitous height and grasps the throne. Then topples o'er and lies in ruin prone; No foothold on that dizzy steep. But O may Heaven the true patriot keep Who burns with emulous zeal to serve the State. God is my help and hope, on him I wait. (Str. 2) But the proud sinner, or in word or deed, That will not Justice heed, Nor reverence the shrine Of images divine, Perdition seize his vain imaginings, If, urged by greed profane, He grasps at ill-got gain, And lays an impious hand on holiest things. Who when such deeds are done Can hope heaven's bolts to shun? If sin like this to honor can aspire, Why dance I still and lead the sacred choir? (Ant. 2) No more I'll seek earth's central oracle, Or Abae's hallowed cell, Nor to Olympia bring My votive offering. If before all God's truth be not bade plain. O Zeus, reveal thy might, King, if thou'rt named aright Omnipotent, all-seeing, as of old; For Laius is forgot; His weird, men heed it not; Apollo is forsook and faith grows cold. [Enter JOCASTA.] JOCASTA My lords, ye look amazed to see your queen With wreaths and gifts of incense in her hands. I had a mind to visit the high shrines, For Oedipus is overwrought, alarmed With terrors manifold. He will not use His past experience, like a man of sense, To judge the present need, but lends an ear To any croaker if he augurs ill. Since then my counsels naught avail, I turn To thee, our present help in time of trouble, Apollo, Lord Lycean, and to thee My prayers and supplications here I bring. Lighten us, lord, and cleanse us from this curse! For now we all are cowed like mariners Who see their helmsman dumbstruck in the storm. [Enter Corinthian MESSENGER.] MESSENGER My masters, tell me where the palace is Of Oedipus; or better, where's the king. CHORUS Here is the palace and he bides within; This is his queen the mother of his children. MESSENGER All happiness attend her and the house, Blessed is her husband and her marriage-bed. JOCASTA My greetings to thee, stranger; thy fair words Deserve a like response. But tell me why Thou comest—what thy need or what thy news. MESSENGER Good for thy consort and the royal house. JOCASTA What may it be? Whose messenger art thou? MESSENGER The Isthmian commons have resolved to make Thy husband king—so 'twas reported there. JOCASTA What! is not aged Polybus still king? MESSENGER No, verily; he's dead and in his grave. JOCASTA What! is he dead, the sire of Oedipus? MESSENGER If I speak falsely, may I die myself. JOCASTA Quick, maiden, bear these tidings to my lord. Ye god-sent oracles, where stand ye now! This is the man whom Oedipus long shunned, In dread to prove his murderer; and now He dies in nature's course, not by his hand. [Enter OEDIPUS.] OEDIPUS My wife, my queen, Jocasta, why hast thou Summoned me from my palace? JOCASTA Hear this man, And as thou hearest judge what has become Of all those awe-inspiring oracles. OEDIPUS Who is this man, and what his news for me? JOCASTA He comes from Corinth and his message this: Thy father Polybus hath passed away. OEDIPUS What? let me have it, stranger, from thy mouth. MESSENGER If I must first make plain beyond a doubt My message, know that Polybus is dead. OEDIPUS By treachery, or by sickness visited? MESSENGER One touch will send an old man to his rest. OEDIPUS So of some malady he died, poor man. MESSENGER Yes, having measured the full span of years. OEDIPUS Out on it, lady! why should one regard The Pythian hearth or birds that scream i' the air? Did they not point at me as doomed to slay My father? but he's dead and in his grave And here am I who ne'er unsheathed a sword; Unless the longing for his absent son Killed him and so I slew him in a sense. But, as they stand, the oracles are dead— Dust, ashes, nothing, dead as Polybus. JOCASTA Say, did not I foretell this long ago? OEDIPUS Thou didst: but I was misled by my fear. JOCASTA Then let I no more weigh upon thy soul. OEDIPUS Must I not fear my mother's marriage bed. JOCASTA Why should a mortal man, the sport of chance, With no assured foreknowledge, be afraid? Best live a careless life from hand to mouth. This wedlock with thy mother fear not thou. How oft it chances that in dreams a man Has wed his mother! He who least regards Such brainsick phantasies lives most at ease. OEDIPUS I should have shared in full thy confidence, Were not my mother living; since she lives Though half convinced I still must live in dread. JOCASTA And yet thy sire's death lights out darkness much. OEDIPUS Much, but my fear is touching her who lives. MESSENGER Who may this woman be whom thus you fear? OEDIPUS Merope, stranger, wife of Polybus. MESSENGER And what of her can cause you any fear? OEDIPUS A heaven-sent oracle of dread import. MESSENGER A mystery, or may a stranger hear it? OEDIPUS Aye, 'tis no secret. Loxias once foretold That I should mate with mine own mother, and shed With my own hands the blood of my own sire. Hence Corinth was for many a year to me A home distant; and I trove abroad, But missed the sweetest sight, my parents' face. MESSENGER Was this the fear that exiled thee from home? OEDIPUS Yea, and the dread of slaying my own sire. MESSENGER Why, since I came to give thee pleasure, King, Have I not rid thee of this second fear? OEDIPUS Well, thou shalt have due guerdon for thy pains. MESSENGER Well, I confess what chiefly made me come Was hope to profit by thy coming home. OEDIPUS Nay, I will ne'er go near my parents more. MESSENGER My son, 'tis plain, thou know'st not what thou doest. OEDIPUS How so, old man? For heaven's sake tell me all. MESSENGER If this is why thou dreadest to return. OEDIPUS Yea, lest the god's word be fulfilled in me. MESSENGER Lest through thy parents thou shouldst be accursed? OEDIPUS This and none other is my constant dread. MESSENGER Dost thou not know thy fears are baseless all? OEDIPUS How baseless, if I am their very son? MESSENGER Since Polybus was naught to thee in blood. OEDIPUS What say'st thou? was not Polybus my sire? MESSENGER As much thy sire as I am, and no more. OEDIPUS My sire no more to me than one who is naught? MESSENGER Since I begat thee not, no more did he. OEDIPUS What reason had he then to call me son? MESSENGER Know that he took thee from my hands, a gift. OEDIPUS Yet, if no child of his, he loved me well. MESSENGER A childless man till then, he warmed to thee. OEDIPUS A foundling or a purchased slave, this child? MESSENGER I found thee in Cithaeron's wooded glens. OEDIPUS What led thee to explore those upland glades? MESSENGER My business was to tend the mountain flocks. OEDIPUS A vagrant shepherd journeying for hire? MESSENGER True, but thy savior in that hour, my son. OEDIPUS My savior? from what harm? what ailed me then? MESSENGER Those ankle joints are evidence enow. OEDIPUS Ah, why remind me of that ancient sore? MESSENGER I loosed the pin that riveted thy feet. OEDIPUS Yes, from my cradle that dread brand I bore. MESSENGER Whence thou deriv'st the name that still is thine. OEDIPUS Who did it? I adjure thee, tell me who Say, was it father, mother? MESSENGER I know not. The man from whom I had thee may know more. OEDIPUS What, did another find me, not thyself? MESSENGER Not I; another shepherd gave thee me. OEDIPUS Who was he? Would'st thou know again the man? MESSENGER He passed indeed for one of Laius' house. OEDIPUS The king who ruled the country long ago? MESSENGER The same: he was a herdsman of the king. OEDIPUS And is he living still for me to see him? MESSENGER His fellow-countrymen should best know that. OEDIPUS Doth any bystander among you know The herd he speaks of, or by seeing him Afield or in the city? answer straight! The hour hath come to clear this business up. CHORUS Methinks he means none other than the hind Whom thou anon wert fain to see; but that Our queen Jocasta best of all could tell. OEDIPUS Madam, dost know the man we sent to fetch? Is the same of whom the stranger speaks? JOCASTA Who is the man? What matter? Let it be. 'Twere waste of thought to weigh such idle words. OEDIPUS No, with such guiding clues I cannot fail To bring to light the secret of my birth. JOCASTA Oh, as thou carest for thy life, give o'er This quest. Enough the anguish I endure. OEDIPUS Be of good cheer; though I be proved the son Of a bondwoman, aye, through three descents Triply a slave, thy honor is unsmirched. JOCASTA Yet humor me, I pray thee; do not this. OEDIPUS I cannot; I must probe this matter home. JOCASTA 'Tis for thy sake I advise thee for the best. OEDIPUS I grow impatient of this best advice. JOCASTA Ah mayst thou ne'er discover who thou art! OEDIPUS Go, fetch me here the herd, and leave yon woman To glory in her pride of ancestry. JOCASTA O woe is thee, poor wretch! With that last word I leave thee, henceforth silent evermore. [Exit JOCASTA] CHORUS Why, Oedipus, why stung with passionate grief Hath the queen thus departed? Much I fear From this dead calm will burst a storm of woes. OEDIPUS Let the storm burst, my fixed resolve still holds, To learn my lineage, be it ne'er so low. It may be she with all a woman's pride Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I Who rank myself as Fortune's favorite child, The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed. She is my mother and the changing moons My brethren, and with them I wax and wane. Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth? Nothing can make me other than I am. CHORUS (Str.) If my soul prophetic err not, if my wisdom aught avail, Thee, Cithaeron, I shall hail, As the nurse and foster-mother of our Oedipus shall greet Ere tomorrow's full moon rises, and exalt thee as is meet. Dance and song shall hymn thy praises, lover of our royal race. Phoebus, may my words find grace! (Ant.) Child, who bare thee, nymph or goddess? sure thy sure was more than man, Haply the hill-roamer Pan. Of did Loxias beget thee, for he haunts the upland wold; Or Cyllene's lord, or Bacchus, dweller on the hilltops cold? Did some Heliconian Oread give him thee, a new-born joy? Nymphs with whom he love to toy? OEDIPUS Elders, if I, who never yet before Have met the man, may make a guess, methinks I see the herdsman who we long have sought; His time-worn aspect matches with the years Of yonder aged messenger; besides I seem to recognize the men who bring him As servants of my own. But you, perchance, Having in past days known or seen the herd, May better by sure knowledge my surmise. CHORUS I recognize him; one of Laius' house; A simple hind, but true as any man.