Second messenger chorus of theban elders shepherd of laios

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ANTIGONE, Daughter of Oedipus

ISMENE, Daughter of Oedipus


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.


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.

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I would not have you speak through messengers,

And therefore I have come myself to hear you—

I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name.


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.


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 vet 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.

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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; vet 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.


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 1.

Each of you suffers in himself alone

His anguish, not another's; but my spirit

Groans for the city, for myself, for you.

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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.


It is a timely promise. At this instant

They tell me Creon is here.


O, Lord Apollo!

May his news be fair as his face is radiant!


It could not be otherwise: he is crowned with bay,

The chaplet is thick with berries.


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?

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A strong one. I can tell you, great afflictions

Will turn out well, if they are taken well.


What was the oracle? These vague words

Leave me still hanging between hope and fear.


Is it your pleasure to hear me with all these

Gathered around us? I am prepared to speak,

But should we not go in?


Let them all hear it.

It is for them I suffer, more than for myself.


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.


What defilement? How shall we rid ourselves of it?


By exile or death, blood for blood. It was

Murder that brought the plague-wind on the city.


Murder of whom? Surely the god has named him?

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My lord: long ago Laios was our king,

Before you came to govern us.


I know;

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


He was murdered; and Apollo commands us now

To take revenge upon whoever killed him.


Upon whom? Where are they? Where shall we find a clue

To solve that crime, after so many years?


Here in this land, he said.

If we make enquiry,

We may touch things that otherwise escape us.


Tell me: Was Laos murdered in his house,

Or in the fields, or in some foreign country?


He said he planned to make a pilgrimage.

He did not come home again.


And was there no one,

No witness, no companion, to tell what happened?


They were all killed but one, and he got away

So frightened that he could remember one thing only.

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What was that one thing? One may be the key

To everything, if we resolve to use it.


He said that a band of highwaymen attacked them,

Outnumbered them, and overwhelmed the King.


Strange, that a highwayman should be so daring—

Unless some faction here bribed him to do it.


We thought of that. But after Laos' death

New troubles arose and we had no avenger.


What troubles could prevent your hunting down the killers?


The riddling Sphinx's song

Made us deaf to all mysteries but her own.


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,

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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.


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.




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.

Nov I remember, O Healer, your power, and wonder:

Will you send doom like a sudden cloud, or weave it

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Like nightfall of the past?

Speak, speak to us, issue of holy sound:

Dearest to our expectancy: be tender! [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

Now our afflictions have no end.


Now all our stricken host lies down

Of air you stepped to save us. come again!

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.


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

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Worship of Phoibos in wailing prayers:

Be kind, God's golden child!


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!


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!



Is this your prayer? It may be answered. Come

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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 Delphi

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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,

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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.


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?


An honest question. But no man in the world

Can make the gods do more than the gods will.


There is one last expedient--


Tell me what it is.

Though it seem slight, you must not hold it back.


A lord clairvoyant to the lord Apollo,

As we all know, is the skilled Teiresias.

One might learn much about this from him,



I am not wasting time:

Crean spoke of this, and I have sent for him—

Twice, in fact; it is strange that he is not here.

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The other matter—that old report—seems useless.


Tell me. I am interested in all reports.


The King was said to have been killed by highwaymen.


I know. But we have no witnesses to that.


If the killer can feel a particle of dread,

Your curse will bring him out of hiding!



The man who dared that act will fear no curse.

[Enter the blind seer TEIRESIAS, led by a PAGE


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.


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.

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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.


How dreadful knowledge of the truth can he

When there's no help in truth! I knew this well,

But made myself forget. I should not have come.


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


Let me go home. Bear your own fate, and I'll

Bear mine. It is better so: trust what I say.


What you say is ungracious and unhelpful

To your native country. Do not refuse to speak.


When it comes to speech, your own is neither temperate

Nor opportune. I wish to be more prudent.


In God's name, we all beg you—

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You are all ignorant.

No; I will never tell you what I know.

Now it is my misery: then, it would be yours.


What! You do know something, and will not tell us?

You would betray us all and wreck the State?


I do not intend to torture myself, or you.

Why persist in asking? You will not persuade me.


What a wicked old man you are! You'd try a stone's

Patience! Out with it! Have you. no feeling at all


You call me unfeeling. If you could only see

The nature of your own feelings...



Who would not feel as I do? Who could endure

Your arrogance toward the city?


What does it matter!

Whether I speak or not, it is bound to come.


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

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


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.


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.


You dare say that! Can you possibly think you have

Some way of going free, after such insolence?


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


Who taught you shamelessness? It was not your craft.


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


Speak what? Let me hear it again more clearly.

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Was it not clear before? Are you tempting met?


I did not understand it. Say it again.


I say that you are the murderer whom you seek.


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


Would you care for morel Do you wish to he really angry?


Say what you will, Whatever you say is worthless.


I say you live in hideous shame with those

Most dear to you. You can not see the evil.


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


I can, if there is power in truth.


There is:

But not for you, not for you,

You sightless, witless, senseless, mad old man!


You are the madman. There is no one here

Who will not curse you soon, as you curse me.

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You child of endless night! You can not hurt me

Or any other man who sees the sun.


True: it is not from me your fate will come.

That lies within Apollo's competence,

As it is his concern.


Tell me:

Are you speaking for Creon, or for yourself?


Creon is no threat. You weave your own doom.


Wealth, power, craft of statesmanship!

Kingly position, everywhere admired!

What savage envy is stored up against these.

It 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:

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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.


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.


You are a king. But where argument's concerned

I am your man, as much a king as you.

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