Since I must flee from Thebes, yet never again
See my own countrymen, my own country,
For fear of joining my mother in marriage
And killing Polybos, my father.
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!
We too, my lord, have felt dismay at this.
But there is hope: you have yet to hear the shepherd.
Indeed, I fear no other hope is left me.
What do you hope from him when he comes?
If his account of the murder tallies with yours,
Then I am cleared.
What was it that I said
Of such importance?
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.
But if he says one man, singlehanded, did it,
Then the evidence all points to me.
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.
You may be right.
But come: let someone go
For the shepherd at once. This matter must be settled.
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 I I
Let me be reverent in the ways of right,
Lowly the paths I journey on;
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
Friends, no doubt you can direct me:
Where shall I find the house of Oedipus,
Or, better still, where is the King himself?
It is this very place, stranger; he is inside.
This is his wife and Mother of his children.
I wish her happiness in a happy house,
Blest in all the fulfillment of her marriage.
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?
Good news, my lady, for your house and your husband.
What news? Who sent you here?
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.
What is it? How can it touch us in both ways?
The word is that the people of the Isthmus
Intend to call Oedipus to be their king.
But old King Polybos—is he not reigning still?
No. Death holds him in his sepulchre.
What are you saying? Polybos is dead?
If I am not telling the truth, may I die myself.
[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.
Dearest Iocaste, why have you sent for me?
Listen to what this man says, and then tell me
What has become of the solemn prophecies.
Who is this man? What is his news for me?
He has come from Corinth to announce your father's death!
Is it true, stranger? Tell me in your own words.
I can not say it more clearly: the King is dead.
Was it by treason? Or by an attack of illness?
A little thing brings old men to their rest.
It was sickness. then?
Yes, and his many years.
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.
Had I not told you so?
You had: it was my faint heart that betrayed me.
From now on never think of those things again.
And yet—must 1 not fear my mother's bed?
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.
That is true; only--
If only my mother were not still alive!
But she is alive. I can not help my dread.
Yet this news of your father's death is wonderful.
Wonderful. But I fear the living woman.
Tell me, who is this woman that you fear?
It is Merope, man; the wife of King Polybos.
Merope? Why should you he afraid of her?
An oracle of the gods, a dreadful saying.
Can you tell me about it or are you sworn to silence?
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.
And is this the fear that drove you out of Corinth?
Would you have me kill my father?
As for that
You must be reassured by the news I gave you.
If you could reassure me, I would reward you.
I had that in mind, I will confess: I thought
I could count on you when you returned to Corinth.
No: I will never go near my parents again.
Ah, son, you still do not know what you are doing—
What do you mean? In the name of God tell me!
If these are your reasons for not going home.
I tell you, I fear the oracle may come true.
And guilt may come upon you through your parents?
That is the dread that is always in my heart.
Can you not see that all your fears are groundless?
How can you say that? They are my parents, surely?
Polybos was not your father.
Not my father?
No more your father than the man speaking to you.
But you are nothing to me!
Neither was he.
Then why did he call me son?
I will tell you:
Long ago he had you from my hands, as a gift.
Then how could he love me so, if I was not his?
He had no children, and his heart turned to you.
What of you? Did you buy me? Did you find me by chance?
I came upon you in the crooked pass of Kithairon.
And what were you doing there?
Tending my flocks.
A wandering shepherd?
But your savior, son, that day.
From what did you save me?
Your ankles should tell you that.
Ah. stranger, why do you speak of that childhood pain?
I cut the bonds that tied your ankles together.
I have had the mark as long as I can remember.
That was why you were given the name you bear.
God! Was it my father or my mother who did it?
I do not know. The man who gave you to me
Can tell you better than I.
It was not you that found me, but another?
It was another shepherd gave you to me.
Who was he? Can you tell me who he was?
I think he was said to be one of Laios' people
You mean the Laios who was king here years ago?
Yes; King Laios: and the man was one of his herdsmen.
Is he still alive? Can I see him?
These men here
Know best about such things.
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.
I think the man he means is that same shepherd
You have already asked to see. Iocaste perhaps
Could tell you something.
Do you know anything
About him, Lady? Is he the man we have summoned?
Is that the man this shepherd means?
Why think of him?
Forget this herdsman. Forget it all.
This talk is a waste of time.
How can you say that,
When the clues to my true birth are in my hands?
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.
You need not worry. Suppose my mother a slave,
And born of slaves: no baseness can touch you.
Listen to me, I beg you: do not do this thing!
I will not listen; the truth must be made known.
Everything that I say is for your own good!
My own good
Snaps my patience, then; I want none of it.
You are fatally wrong! May you never learn who you are!
Go, one of you, and bring the shepherd here.
Let us leave this woman to brag of her royal name.
That is the only word I have for you now.
That is the only word I can ever have.
[Exit into the palace
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.
Let it come!
However base my birth, I must know about it.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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
I know him, he was Laios' man. You can trust him.
Tell me first, you from Corinth; is this the shepherd
We were discussing?
This is the very man.
Come here. No, look at me. You must answer
Everything I ask.—You belonged to Laios?
Yes: born his slave, brought up in his house.
Tell me: what kind of work did you do for him?
I was a shepherd of his, most Of my life.
Where mainly did you go for pasturage?
Sometimes Kithairon, sometimes the hills near-by.
Do you remember ever seeing this man out there?
What would he be doing there? This man?
This man standing here. Have you ever seen him before?
No. At least, not to my recollection.
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?
True, yes; but it was all so long ago.
Well, then: do you remember, back in those days,
That you gave me a baby boy to bring up as my own?
What if I did? What are you trying to say?
King Oedipus was once that little child.
Damn you, hold your tongue!
No more of that!
It is your tongue needs watching, not this man's.
My King, my Master, what is it I have done wrong?
You have not answered his question about the boy.
He does not know... He is only making trouble...
Come, speak plainly, or it will go hard with you.
In God's name, do not torture an old man!
Come here, one of you; hind his arms behind him.
Unhappy king! What more do you wish to learn?
Did you give this man the child he speaks of?
And I would to God I had died that very day.
You will die now unless you speak the truth.
Yet if I speak the truth, I am worse than dead.
Very well; since you insist upon delaying--
No! I have told you already that I gave him the boy.
Where did you get him? From your house? From
Not from mine. no. A man gave him to me.
Is that man here? Do you know whose slave he was?
For God's love, my King, do not ask me any more!
You are a dead man ill have to ask you again.
Then... Then the child was from the palace of Laios.
A slave child? or a child of his own line?
Ah, I am on the brink of dreadful speech!
And I of dreadful hearing. Yet I must hear.
If you must be told, then...
They said it was Laios' child;
But it is your wife who can tell you about that
My wife!—Did she give it to you?
My lord, she did.
Do you know why?
I was told to get rid of it.
An unspeakable mother!
There had been prophecies ..
It was said that the boy would kill his own father
Then why did you give him over to this old man?
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.
It was true!
All the prophecies!
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
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.
No prince in Thebes had ever such renown,
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.