The Oedipus Cycle



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FOOTNOTES


1 (return)


[ Dr. Kennedy and others render "Since to men of experience I see that also comparisons of their counsels are in most lively use."]

2 (return)


[ Literally "not to call them thine," but the Greek may be rendered "In order not to reveal thine."]

3 (return)


[ The Greek text that occurs in this place has been lost.]

SOPHOCLES





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
and
William Heinemann Ltd, London
First published in 1912



ARGUMENT


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.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE


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.

OEDIPUS
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.

ANTIGONE
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.

OEDIPUS
Guide these dark steps and seat me there secure.

ANTIGONE
If time can teach, I need not to be told.

OEDIPUS
Say, prithee, if thou knowest, where we are.

ANTIGONE
Athens I recognize, but not the spot.

OEDIPUS
That much we heard from every wayfarer.

ANTIGONE
Shall I go on and ask about the place?

OEDIPUS
Yes, daughter, if it be inhabited.

ANTIGONE
Sure there are habitations; but no need
To leave thee; yonder is a man hard by.

OEDIPUS
What, moving hitherward and on his way?

ANTIGONE
Say rather, here already.  Ask him straight
The needful questions, for the man is here.
[Enter STRANGER]

OEDIPUS
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—

STRANGER
First quit that seat, then question me at large:


The spot thou treadest on is holy ground.

OEDIPUS
What is the site, to what god dedicate?

STRANGER
Inviolable, untrod; goddesses,
Dread brood of Earth and Darkness, here abide.

OEDIPUS
Tell me the awful name I should invoke?

STRANGER
The Gracious Ones, All-seeing, so our folk
Call them, but elsewhere other names are rife.

OEDIPUS
Then may they show their suppliant grace, for I


From this your sanctuary will ne'er depart.

STRANGER
What word is this?

OEDIPUS
                    The watchword of my fate.

STRANGER
Nay, 'tis not mine to bid thee hence without


Due warrant and instruction from the State.

OEDIPUS
Now in God's name, O stranger, scorn me not


As a wayfarer; tell me what I crave.

STRANGER
Ask; your request shall not be scorned by me.

OEDIPUS
How call you then the place wherein we bide?

STRANGER
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.

OEDIPUS
Thou sayest there are dwellers in these parts?

STRANGER
Surely; they bear the name of yonder god.

OEDIPUS
Ruled by a king or by the general voice?

STRANGER
The lord of Athens is our over-lord.

OEDIPUS
Who is this monarch, great in word and might?

STRANGER
Theseus, the son of Aegeus our late king.

OEDIPUS
Might one be sent from you to summon him?

STRANGER
Wherefore?  To tell him aught or urge his coming?

OEDIPUS
Say a slight service may avail him much.

STRANGER
How can he profit from a sightless man?

OEDIPUS
The blind man's words will be instinct with sight.

STRANGER
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.
[Exit STRANGER]

OEDIPUS
Tell me, my daughter, has the stranger gone?

ANTIGONE
Yes, he has gone; now we are all alone,
And thou may'st speak, dear father, without fear.

OEDIPUS
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.

ANTIGONE
Hush! for I see some grey-beards on their way,


Their errand to spy out our resting-place.

OEDIPUS
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.
[Enter CHORUS]

CHORUS
(Str. 1)


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.

OEDIPUS
          I am that man; I know you near


          Ears to the blind, they say, are eyes.

CHORUS
          O dread to see and dread to hear!

OEDIPUS
Oh sirs, I am no outlaw under ban.

CHORUS
Who can he be—Zeus save us!—this old man?

OEDIPUS
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?

CHORUS
(Ant. 1)


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.

OEDIPUS
Daughter, what counsel should we now pursue?

ANTIGONE
We must obey and do as here they do.

OEDIPUS
Thy hand then!

ANTIGONE
               Here, O father, is my hand,

OEDIPUS
O Sirs, if I come forth at your command,


Let me not suffer for my confidence.

CHORUS
(Str. 2)


Against thy will no man shall drive thee hence.

OEDIPUS
Shall I go further?

CHORUS
                    Aye.

OEDIPUS
                         What further still?

CHORUS
Lead maiden, thou canst guide him where we will.

ANTIGONE 4*       *        *        *        *        *

OEDIPUS
*       *        *        *        *        *

ANTIGONE
*       *        *        *        *        *


Follow with blind steps, father, as I lead.

OEDIPUS


*       *        *        *        *        *

CHORUS
In a strange land strange thou art;


To her will incline thy heart;
Honor whatso'er the State
Honors, all she frowns on hate.

OEDIPUS
Guide me child, where we may range


Safe within the paths of right;
Counsel freely may exchange
Nor with fate and fortune fight.

CHORUS
(Ant. 2)


Halt!  Go no further than that rocky floor.

OEDIPUS
Stay where I now am?

CHORUS
                    Yes, advance no more.

OEDIPUS
May I sit down?

CHORUS
               Move sideways towards the ledge,
And sit thee crouching on the scarped edge.

ANTIGONE
This is my office, father, O incline—

OEDIPUS
Ah me! ah me!

ANTIGONE
Thy steps to my steps, lean thine aged frame on mine.

OEDIPUS
Woe on my fate unblest!

CHORUS
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!

OEDIPUS
Strangers, I have no country.  O forbear—

CHORUS
What is it, old man, that thou wouldst conceal?

OEDIPUS
Forbear, nor urge me further to reveal—

CHORUS
Why this reluctance?

OEDIPUS
                    Dread my lineage.

CHORUS
                                        Say!

OEDIPUS
What must I answer, child, ah welladay!

CHORUS
Say of what stock thou comest, what man's son—

OEDIPUS
Ah me, my daughter, now we are undone!

ANTIGONE
Speak, for thou standest on the slippery verge.

OEDIPUS
I will; no plea for silence can I urge.

CHORUS
Will neither speak?  Come, Sir, why dally thus!

OEDIPUS
Know'st one of Laius'—

CHORUS
                         Ha?  Who!

OEDIPUS
Seed of Labdacus—

CHORUS
                    Oh Zeus!

OEDIPUS
The hapless Oedipus.

CHORUS
                    Art he?

OEDIPUS
Whate'er I utter, have no fear of me.

CHORUS
Begone!

OEDIPUS
          O wretched me!

CHORUS
                         Begone!

OEDIPUS
O daughter, what will hap anon?

CHORUS
Forth from our borders speed ye both!

OEDIPUS
How keep you then your troth?

CHORUS
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.

ANTIGONE
     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!

CHORUS
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.

OEDIPUS
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.

CHORUS
The plea thou urgest, needs must give us pause,


Set forth in weighty argument, but we
Must leave the issue with the ruling powers.

OEDIPUS
Where is he, strangers, he who sways the realm?

CHORUS
In his ancestral seat; a messenger,
The same who sent us here, is gone for him.

OEDIPUS
And think you he will have such care or thought


For the blind stranger as to come himself?

CHORUS
Aye, that he will, when once he learns thy name.

OEDIPUS
But who will bear him word!

CHORUS
                              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.

OEDIPUS
Well, may he come with blessing to his State


And me!  Who serves his neighbor serves himself. 5

ANTIGONE
Zeus!  What is this?  What can I say or think?

OEDIPUS
What now, Antigone?

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,
Herself, Ismene!

OEDIPUS
                    Ha! what say ye, child?

ANTIGONE
That I behold thy daughter and my sister,
And thou wilt know her straightway by her voice.
[Enter ISMENE]

ISMENE
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!

OEDIPUS
Art come, my child?

ISMENE
                    O father, sad thy plight!

OEDIPUS
Child, thou art here?

ISMENE
                    Yes, 'twas a weary way.

OEDIPUS
Touch me, my child.

ISMENE
                    I give a hand to both.

OEDIPUS
O children—sisters!

ISMENE
                    O disastrous plight!

OEDIPUS
Her plight and mine?

ISMENE
                    Aye, and my own no less.

OEDIPUS
What brought thee, daughter?

ISMENE
                              Father, care for thee.

OEDIPUS
A daughter's yearning?

ISMENE
                         Yes, and I had news
I would myself deliver, so I came
With the one thrall who yet is true to me.

OEDIPUS
Thy valiant brothers, where are they at need?

ISMENE
They are—enough, 'tis now their darkest hour.

OEDIPUS
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.

ISMENE
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.

OEDIPUS
Hast thou indeed then entertained a hope


The gods at last will turn and rescue me?

ISMENE
Yea, so I read these latest oracles.

OEDIPUS
What oracles?  What hath been uttered, child?

ISMENE
Thy country (so it runs) shall yearn in time


To have thee for their weal alive or dead.

OEDIPUS
And who could gain by such a one as I?

ISMENE
On thee, 'tis said, their sovereignty depends.

OEDIPUS
So, when I cease to be, my worth begins.

ISMENE
The gods, who once abased, uplift thee now.

OEDIPUS
Poor help to raise an old man fallen in youth.

ISMENE
Howe'er that be, 'tis for this cause alone
That Creon comes to thee—and comes anon.

OEDIPUS
With what intent, my daughter?  Tell me plainly.

ISMENE
To plant thee near the Theban land, and so
Keep thee within their grasp, yet now allow
Thy foot to pass beyond their boundaries.

OEDIPUS
What gain they, if I lay outside?

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