[ Dr. Kennedy and others render "Since to men of experience I see that also comparisons of their counsels are in most lively use."]
[ Literally "not to call them thine," but the Greek may be rendered "In order not to reveal thine."]
[ The Greek text that occurs in this place has been lost.]
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS
Translation by F. Storr, BA
Formerly Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge
From the Loeb Library Edition
Originally published by
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
William Heinemann Ltd, London
First published in 1912
Oedipus, the blind and banished King of Thebes, has come in his wanderings to Colonus, a deme of Athens, led by his daughter Antigone. He sits to rest on a rock just within a sacred grove of the Furies and is bidden depart by a passing native. But Oedipus, instructed by an oracle that he had reached his final resting-place, refuses to stir, and the stranger consents to go and consult the Elders of Colonus (the Chorus of the Play). Conducted to the spot they pity at first the blind beggar and his daughter, but on learning his name they are horror-striken and order him to quit the land. He appeals to the world-famed hospitality of Athens and hints at the blessings that his coming will confer on the State. They agree to await the decision of King Theseus. From Theseus Oedipus craves protection in life and burial in Attic soil; the benefits that will accrue shall be told later. Theseus departs having promised to aid and befriend him. No sooner has he gone than Creon enters with an armed guard who seize Antigone and carry her off (Ismene, the other sister, they have already captured) and he is about to lay hands on Oedipus, when Theseus, who has heard the tumult, hurries up and, upbraiding Creon for his lawless act, threatens to detain him till he has shown where the captives are and restored them. In the next scene Theseus returns bringing with him the rescued maidens. He informs Oedipus that a stranger who has taken sanctuary at the altar of Poseidon wishes to see him. It is Polyneices who has come to crave his father's forgiveness and blessing, knowing by an oracle that victory will fall to the side that Oedipus espouses. But Oedipus spurns the hypocrite, and invokes a dire curse on both his unnatural sons. A sudden clap of thunder is heard, and as peal follows peal, Oedipus is aware that his hour is come and bids Antigone summon Theseus. Self-guided he leads the way to the spot where death should overtake him, attended by Theseus and his daughters. Halfway he bids his daughters farewell, and what followed none but Theseus knew. He was not (so the Messenger reports) for the gods took him.
OEDIPUS, banished King of Thebes.
ANTIGONE, his daughter.
ISMENE, his daughter.
THESEUS, King of Athens.
CREON, brother of Jocasta, now reigning at Thebes.
POLYNEICES, elder son of Oedipus.
STRANGER, a native of Colonus.
MESSENGER, an attendant of Theseus.
CHORUS, citizens of Colonus.
Scene: In front of the grove of the Eumenides.
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS
Enter the blind OEDIPUS led by his daughter, ANTIGONE.
Child of an old blind sire, Antigone,
What region, say, whose city have we reached?
Who will provide today with scanted dole
This wanderer? 'Tis little that he craves,
And less obtains—that less enough for me;
For I am taught by suffering to endure,
And the long years that have grown old with me,
And last not least, by true nobility.
My daughter, if thou seest a resting place
On common ground or by some sacred grove,
Stay me and set me down. Let us discover
Where we have come, for strangers must inquire
Of denizens, and do as they are bid.
Long-suffering father, Oedipus, the towers
That fence the city still are faint and far;
But where we stand is surely holy ground;
A wilderness of laurel, olive, vine;
Within a choir or songster nightingales
Are warbling. On this native seat of rock
Rest; for an old man thou hast traveled far.
Guide these dark steps and seat me there secure.
If time can teach, I need not to be told.
Say, prithee, if thou knowest, where we are.
Athens I recognize, but not the spot.
That much we heard from every wayfarer.
Shall I go on and ask about the place?
Yes, daughter, if it be inhabited.
Sure there are habitations; but no need
To leave thee; yonder is a man hard by.
What, moving hitherward and on his way?
Say rather, here already. Ask him straight
The needful questions, for the man is here.
O stranger, as I learn from her whose eyes
Must serve both her and me, that thou art here
Sent by some happy chance to serve our doubts—
First quit that seat, then question me at large:
The spot thou treadest on is holy ground.
What is the site, to what god dedicate?
Inviolable, untrod; goddesses,
Dread brood of Earth and Darkness, here abide.
Tell me the awful name I should invoke?
The Gracious Ones, All-seeing, so our folk
Call them, but elsewhere other names are rife.
Then may they show their suppliant grace, for I
From this your sanctuary will ne'er depart.
What word is this?
The watchword of my fate.
Nay, 'tis not mine to bid thee hence without
Due warrant and instruction from the State.
Now in God's name, O stranger, scorn me not
As a wayfarer; tell me what I crave.
Ask; your request shall not be scorned by me.
How call you then the place wherein we bide?
Whate'er I know thou too shalt know; the place
Is all to great Poseidon consecrate.
Hard by, the Titan, he who bears the torch,
Prometheus, has his worship; but the spot
Thou treadest, the Brass-footed Threshold named,
Is Athens' bastion, and the neighboring lands
Claim as their chief and patron yonder knight
Colonus, and in common bear his name.
Such, stranger, is the spot, to fame unknown,
But dear to us its native worshipers.
Thou sayest there are dwellers in these parts?
Surely; they bear the name of yonder god.
Ruled by a king or by the general voice?
The lord of Athens is our over-lord.
Who is this monarch, great in word and might?
Theseus, the son of Aegeus our late king.
Might one be sent from you to summon him?
Wherefore? To tell him aught or urge his coming?
Say a slight service may avail him much.
How can he profit from a sightless man?
The blind man's words will be instinct with sight.
Heed then; I fain would see thee out of harm;
For by the looks, marred though they be by fate,
I judge thee noble; tarry where thou art,
While I go seek the burghers—those at hand,
Not in the city. They will soon decide
Whether thou art to rest or go thy way.
Tell me, my daughter, has the stranger gone?
Yes, he has gone; now we are all alone,
And thou may'st speak, dear father, without fear.
Stern-visaged queens, since coming to this land
First in your sanctuary I bent the knee,
Frown not on me or Phoebus, who, when erst
He told me all my miseries to come,
Spake of this respite after many years,
Some haven in a far-off land, a rest
Vouchsafed at last by dread divinities.
"There," said he, "shalt thou round thy weary life,
A blessing to the land wherein thou dwell'st,
But to the land that cast thee forth, a curse."
And of my weird he promised signs should come,
Earthquake, or thunderclap, or lightning flash.
And now I recognize as yours the sign
That led my wanderings to this your grove;
Else had I never lighted on you first,
A wineless man on your seat of native rock.
O goddesses, fulfill Apollo's word,
Grant me some consummation of my life,
If haply I appear not all too vile,
A thrall to sorrow worse than any slave.
Hear, gentle daughters of primeval Night,
Hear, namesake of great Pallas; Athens, first
Of cities, pity this dishonored shade,
The ghost of him who once was Oedipus.
Hush! for I see some grey-beards on their way,
Their errand to spy out our resting-place.
I will be mute, and thou shalt guide my steps
Into the covert from the public road,
Till I have learned their drift. A prudent man
Will ever shape his course by what he learns.
Ha! Where is he? Look around!
Every nook and corner scan!
He the all-presumptuous man,
Whither vanished? search the ground!
A wayfarer, I ween,
A wayfarer, no countryman of ours,
That old man must have been;
Never had native dared to tempt the Powers,
Or enter their demesne,
The Maids in awe of whom each mortal cowers,
Whose name no voice betrays nor cry,
And as we pass them with averted eye,
We move hushed lips in reverent piety.
But now some godless man,
'Tis rumored, here abides;
The precincts through I scan,
Yet wot not where he hides,
The wretch profane!
I search and search in vain.
I am that man; I know you near
Ears to the blind, they say, are eyes.
O dread to see and dread to hear!
Oh sirs, I am no outlaw under ban.
Who can he be—Zeus save us!—this old man?
No favorite of fate,
That ye should envy his estate,
O, Sirs, would any happy mortal, say,
Grope by the light of other eyes his way,
Or face the storm upon so frail a stay?
Wast thou then sightless from thy birth?
Evil, methinks, and long
Thy pilgrimage on earth.
Yet add not curse to curse and wrong to wrong.
I warn thee, trespass not
Within this hallowed spot,
Lest thou shouldst find the silent grassy glade
Where offerings are laid,
Bowls of spring water mingled with sweet mead.
Thou must not stay,
Come, come away,
Tired wanderer, dost thou heed?
(We are far off, but sure our voice can reach.)
If aught thou wouldst beseech,
Speak where 'tis right; till then refrain from speech.
Daughter, what counsel should we now pursue?
We must obey and do as here they do.
Thy hand then!
Here, O father, is my hand,
O Sirs, if I come forth at your command,
Let me not suffer for my confidence.
Against thy will no man shall drive thee hence.
Shall I go further?
What further still?
Lead maiden, thou canst guide him where we will.
ANTIGONE 4* * * * * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Follow with blind steps, father, as I lead.
* * * * * *
In a strange land strange thou art;
To her will incline thy heart;
Honor whatso'er the State
Honors, all she frowns on hate.
Guide me child, where we may range
Safe within the paths of right;
Counsel freely may exchange
Nor with fate and fortune fight.
Halt! Go no further than that rocky floor.
Stay where I now am?
Yes, advance no more.
May I sit down?
Move sideways towards the ledge,
And sit thee crouching on the scarped edge.
This is my office, father, O incline—
Ah me! ah me!
Thy steps to my steps, lean thine aged frame on mine.
Woe on my fate unblest!
Wanderer, now thou art at rest,
Tell me of thy birth and home,
From what far country art thou come,
Led on thy weary way, declare!
Strangers, I have no country. O forbear—
What is it, old man, that thou wouldst conceal?
Forbear, nor urge me further to reveal—
Why this reluctance?
Dread my lineage.
What must I answer, child, ah welladay!
Say of what stock thou comest, what man's son—
Ah me, my daughter, now we are undone!
Speak, for thou standest on the slippery verge.
I will; no plea for silence can I urge.
Will neither speak? Come, Sir, why dally thus!
Know'st one of Laius'—
Seed of Labdacus—
The hapless Oedipus.
Whate'er I utter, have no fear of me.
O wretched me!
O daughter, what will hap anon?
Forth from our borders speed ye both!
How keep you then your troth?
Heaven's justice never smites
Him who ill with ill requites.
But if guile with guile contend,
Bane, not blessing, is the end.
Arise, begone and take thee hence straightway,
Lest on our land a heavier curse thou lay.
O sirs! ye suffered not my father blind,
Albeit gracious and to ruth inclined,
Knowing the deeds he wrought, not innocent,
But with no ill intent;
Yet heed a maiden's moan
Who pleads for him alone;
My eyes, not reft of sight,
Plead with you as a daughter's might
You are our providence,
O make us not go hence!
O with a gracious nod
Grant us the nigh despaired-of boon we crave?
Hear us, O hear,
But all that ye hold dear,
Wife, children, homestead, hearth and God!
Where will you find one, search ye ne'er so well.
Who 'scapes perdition if a god impel!
Surely we pity thee and him alike
Daughter of Oedipus, for your distress;
But as we reverence the decrees of Heaven
We cannot say aught other than we said.
O what avails renown or fair repute?
Are they not vanity? For, look you, now
Athens is held of States the most devout,
Athens alone gives hospitality
And shelters the vexed stranger, so men say.
Have I found so? I whom ye dislodged
First from my seat of rock and now would drive
Forth from your land, dreading my name alone;
For me you surely dread not, nor my deeds,
Deeds of a man more sinned against than sinning,
As I might well convince you, were it meet
To tell my mother's story and my sire's,
The cause of this your fear. Yet am I then
A villain born because in self-defense,
Striken, I struck the striker back again?
E'en had I known, no villainy 'twould prove:
But all unwitting whither I went, I went—
To ruin; my destroyers knew it well,
Wherefore, I pray you, sirs, in Heaven's name,
Even as ye bade me quit my seat, defend me.
O pay not a lip service to the gods
And wrong them of their dues. Bethink ye well,
The eye of Heaven beholds the just of men,
And the unjust, nor ever in this world
Has one sole godless sinner found escape.
Stand then on Heaven's side and never blot
Athens' fair scutcheon by abetting wrong.
I came to you a suppliant, and you pledged
Your honor; O preserve me to the end,
O let not this marred visage do me wrong!
A holy and god-fearing man is here
Whose coming purports comfort for your folk.
And when your chief arrives, whoe'er he be,
Then shall ye have my story and know all.
Meanwhile I pray you do me no despite.
The plea thou urgest, needs must give us pause,
Set forth in weighty argument, but we
Must leave the issue with the ruling powers.
Where is he, strangers, he who sways the realm?
In his ancestral seat; a messenger,
The same who sent us here, is gone for him.
And think you he will have such care or thought
For the blind stranger as to come himself?
Aye, that he will, when once he learns thy name.
But who will bear him word!
The way is long,
And many travelers pass to speed the news.
Be sure he'll hear and hasten, never fear;
So wide and far thy name is noised abroad,
That, were he ne'er so spent and loth to move,
He would bestir him when he hears of thee.
Well, may he come with blessing to his State
And me! Who serves his neighbor serves himself. 5
Zeus! What is this? What can I say or think?
What now, Antigone?
I see a woman
Riding upon a colt of Aetna's breed;
She wears for headgear a Thessalian hat
To shade her from the sun. Who can it be?
She or a stranger? Do I wake or dream?
'This she; 'tis not—I cannot tell, alack;
It is no other! Now her bright'ning glance
Greets me with recognition, yes, 'tis she,
Ha! what say ye, child?
That I behold thy daughter and my sister,
And thou wilt know her straightway by her voice.
Father and sister, names to me most sweet,
How hardly have I found you, hardly now
When found at last can see you through my tears!
Art come, my child?
O father, sad thy plight!
Child, thou art here?
Yes, 'twas a weary way.
Touch me, my child.
I give a hand to both.
O disastrous plight!
Her plight and mine?
Aye, and my own no less.
What brought thee, daughter?
Father, care for thee.
A daughter's yearning?
Yes, and I had news
I would myself deliver, so I came
With the one thrall who yet is true to me.
Thy valiant brothers, where are they at need?
They are—enough, 'tis now their darkest hour.
Out on the twain! The thoughts and actions all
Are framed and modeled on Egyptian ways.
For there the men sit at the loom indoors
While the wives slave abroad for daily bread.
So you, my children—those whom I behooved
To bear the burden, stay at home like girls,
While in their stead my daughters moil and drudge,
Lightening their father's misery. The one
Since first she grew from girlish feebleness
To womanhood has been the old man's guide
And shared my weary wandering, roaming oft
Hungry and footsore through wild forest ways,
In drenching rains and under scorching suns,
Careless herself of home and ease, if so
Her sire might have her tender ministry.
And thou, my child, whilom thou wentest forth,
Eluding the Cadmeians' vigilance,
To bring thy father all the oracles
Concerning Oedipus, and didst make thyself
My faithful lieger, when they banished me.
And now what mission summons thee from home,
What news, Ismene, hast thou for thy father?
This much I know, thou com'st not empty-handed,
Without a warning of some new alarm.
The toil and trouble, father, that I bore
To find thy lodging-place and how thou faredst,
I spare thee; surely 'twere a double pain
To suffer, first in act and then in telling;
'Tis the misfortune of thine ill-starred sons
I come to tell thee. At the first they willed
To leave the throne to Creon, minded well
Thus to remove the inveterate curse of old,
A canker that infected all thy race.
But now some god and an infatuate soul
Have stirred betwixt them a mad rivalry
To grasp at sovereignty and kingly power.
Today the hot-branded youth, the younger born,
Is keeping Polyneices from the throne,
His elder, and has thrust him from the land.
The banished brother (so all Thebes reports)
Fled to the vale of Argos, and by help
Of new alliance there and friends in arms,
Swears he will stablish Argos straight as lord
Of the Cadmeian land, or, if he fail,
Exalt the victor to the stars of heaven.
This is no empty tale, but deadly truth,
My father; and how long thy agony,
Ere the gods pity thee, I cannot tell.
Hast thou indeed then entertained a hope
The gods at last will turn and rescue me?
Yea, so I read these latest oracles.
What oracles? What hath been uttered, child?
Thy country (so it runs) shall yearn in time
To have thee for their weal alive or dead.
And who could gain by such a one as I?
On thee, 'tis said, their sovereignty depends.
So, when I cease to be, my worth begins.
The gods, who once abased, uplift thee now.
Poor help to raise an old man fallen in youth.
Howe'er that be, 'tis for this cause alone
That Creon comes to thee—and comes anon.
With what intent, my daughter? Tell me plainly.
To plant thee near the Theban land, and so
Keep thee within their grasp, yet now allow
Thy foot to pass beyond their boundaries.
What gain they, if I lay outside?