The Oedipus Cycle

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Is full of misery.  Thus my lot appears
Not sad, but blissful; for had I endured
To leave my mother's son unburied there,
I should have grieved with reason, but not now.
And if in this thou judgest me a fool,
Methinks the judge of folly's not acquit.

A stubborn daughter of a stubborn sire,

This ill-starred maiden kicks against the pricks.

Well, let her know the stubbornest of wills

Are soonest bended, as the hardest iron,
O'er-heated in the fire to brittleness,
Flies soonest into fragments, shivered through.
A snaffle curbs the fieriest steed, and he
Who in subjection lives must needs be meek.
But this proud girl, in insolence well-schooled,
First overstepped the established law, and then—
A second and worse act of insolence—
She boasts and glories in her wickedness.
Now if she thus can flout authority
Unpunished, I am woman, she the man.
But though she be my sister's child or nearer
Of kin than all who worship at my hearth,
Nor she nor yet her sister shall escape
The utmost penalty, for both I hold,
As arch-conspirators, of equal guilt.
Bring forth the older; even now I saw her
Within the palace, frenzied and distraught.
The workings of the mind discover oft
Dark deeds in darkness schemed, before the act.
More hateful still the miscreant who seeks
When caught, to make a virtue of a crime.

Would'st thou do more than slay thy prisoner?

Not I, thy life is mine, and that's enough.

Why dally then?  To me no word of thine

Is pleasant:  God forbid it e'er should please;
Nor am I more acceptable to thee.
And yet how otherwise had I achieved
A name so glorious as by burying
A brother? so my townsmen all would say,
Where they not gagged by terror,  Manifold
A king's prerogatives, and not the least
That all his acts and all his words are law.

Of all these Thebans none so deems but thou.

These think as I, but bate their breath to thee.

Hast thou no shame to differ from all these?

To reverence kith and kin can bring no shame.

Was his dead foeman not thy kinsman too?

One mother bare them and the self-same sire.

Why cast a slur on one by honoring one?

The dead man will not bear thee out in this.

Surely, if good and evil fare alive.

The slain man was no villain but a brother.

The patriot perished by the outlaw's brand.

Nathless the realms below these rites require.

Not that the base should fare as do the brave.

Who knows if this world's crimes are virtues there?

Not even death can make a foe a friend.

My nature is for mutual love, not hate.

Die then, and love the dead if thou must;

No woman shall be the master while I live.
[Enter ISMENE]

          Lo from out the palace gate,

          Weeping o'er her sister's fate,
          Comes Ismene; see her brow,
          Once serene, beclouded now,
          See her beauteous face o'erspread
          With a flush of angry red.

Woman, who like a viper unperceived

Didst harbor in my house and drain my blood,
Two plagues I nurtured blindly, so it proved,
To sap my throne.  Say, didst thou too abet
This crime, or dost abjure all privity?

I did the deed, if she will have it so,

And with my sister claim to share the guilt.

That were unjust.  Thou would'st not act with me

At first, and I refused thy partnership.

But now thy bark is stranded, I am bold

To claim my share as partner in the loss.

Who did the deed the under-world knows well:

A friend in word is never friend of mine.

O sister, scorn me not, let me but share

Thy work of piety, and with thee die.

Claim not a work in which thou hadst no hand;

One death sufficeth.  Wherefore should'st thou die?

What would life profit me bereft of thee?

Ask Creon, he's thy kinsman and best friend.

Why taunt me?  Find'st thou pleasure in these gibes?

'Tis a sad mockery, if indeed I mock.

O say if I can help thee even now.

No, save thyself; I grudge not thy escape.

Is e'en this boon denied, to share thy lot?

Yea, for thou chosed'st life, and I to die.

Thou canst not say that I did not protest.

Well, some approved thy wisdom, others mine.

But now we stand convicted, both alike.

Fear not; thou livest, I died long ago
Then when I gave my life to save the dead.

Both maids, methinks, are crazed.  One suddenly

Has lost her wits, the other was born mad.

Yea, so it falls, sire, when misfortune comes,

The wisest even lose their mother wit.

I' faith thy wit forsook thee when thou mad'st

Thy choice with evil-doers to do ill.

What life for me without my sister here?

Say not thy sister here:  thy sister's dead.

What, wilt thou slay thy own son's plighted bride?

Aye, let him raise him seed from other fields.

No new espousal can be like the old.

A plague on trulls who court and woo our sons.

O Haemon, how thy sire dishonors thee!

A plague on thee and thy accursed bride!

What, wilt thou rob thine own son of his bride?

'Tis death that bars this marriage, not his sire.

So her death-warrant, it would seem, is sealed.

By you, as first by me; off with them, guards,
And keep them close.  Henceforward let them learn
To live as women use, not roam at large.
For e'en the bravest spirits run away
When they perceive death pressing on life's heels.

(Str. 1)

Thrice blest are they who never tasted pain!
     If once the curse of Heaven attaint a race,
     The infection lingers on and speeds apace,
Age after age, and each the cup must drain.

So when Etesian blasts from Thrace downpour

     Sweep o'er the blackening main and whirl to land
     From Ocean's cavernous depths his ooze and sand,
Billow on billow thunders on the shore.

(Ant. 1)
On the Labdacidae I see descending

     Woe upon woe; from days of old some god
     Laid on the race a malison, and his rod
Scourges each age with sorrows never ending.

The light that dawned upon its last born son

     Is vanished, and the bloody axe of Fate
     Has felled the goodly tree that blossomed late.
O Oedipus, by reckless pride undone!

(Str. 2)
Thy might, O Zeus, what mortal power can quell?

Not sleep that lays all else beneath its spell,
Nor moons that never tire:  untouched by Time,
          Throned in the dazzling light
          That crowns Olympus' height,
Thou reignest King, omnipotent, sublime.

          Past, present, and to be,

          All bow to thy decree,
          All that exceeds the mean by Fate
          Is punished, Love or Hate.

(Ant. 2)
Hope flits about never-wearying wings;

Profit to some, to some light loves she brings,
But no man knoweth how her gifts may turn,
Till 'neath his feet the treacherous ashes burn.
Sure 'twas a sage inspired that spake this word;
          If evil good appear          To any, Fate is near;
And brief the respite from her flaming sword.

          Hither comes in angry mood

          Haemon, latest of thy brood;
          Is it for his bride he's grieved,
          Or her marriage-bed deceived,
          Doth he make his mourn for thee,
          Maid forlorn, Antigone?
[Enter HAEMON]

Soon shall we know, better than seer can tell.

Learning may fixed decree anent thy bride,
Thou mean'st not, son, to rave against thy sire?
Know'st not whate'er we do is done in love?

O father, I am thine, and I will take

Thy wisdom as the helm to steer withal.
Therefore no wedlock shall by me be held
More precious than thy loving goverance.

Well spoken:  so right-minded sons should feel,

In all deferring to a father's will.
For 'tis the hope of parents they may rear
A brood of sons submissive, keen to avenge
Their father's wrongs, and count his friends their own.
But who begets unprofitable sons,
He verily breeds trouble for himself,
And for his foes much laughter.  Son, be warned
And let no woman fool away thy wits.
Ill fares the husband mated with a shrew,
And her embraces very soon wax cold.
For what can wound so surely to the quick
As a false friend?  So spue and cast her off,
Bid her go find a husband with the dead.
For since I caught her openly rebelling,
Of all my subjects the one malcontent,
I will not prove a traitor to the State.
She surely dies.  Go, let her, if she will,
Appeal to Zeus the God of Kindred, for
If thus I nurse rebellion in my house,
Shall not I foster mutiny without?
For whoso rules his household worthily,
Will prove in civic matters no less wise.
But he who overbears the laws, or thinks
To overrule his rulers, such as one
I never will allow.  Whome'er the State
Appoints must be obeyed in everything,
But small and great, just and unjust alike.
I warrant such a one in either case
Would shine, as King or subject; such a man
Would in the storm of battle stand his ground,
A comrade leal and true; but Anarchy—
What evils are not wrought by Anarchy!
She ruins States, and overthrows the home,
She dissipates and routs the embattled host;
While discipline preserves the ordered ranks.
Therefore we must maintain authority
And yield to title to a woman's will.
Better, if needs be, men should cast us out
Than hear it said, a woman proved his match.

To me, unless old age have dulled wits,

Thy words appear both reasonable and wise.

Father, the gods implant in mortal men

Reason, the choicest gift bestowed by heaven.
'Tis not for me to say thou errest, nor
Would I arraign thy wisdom, if I could;
And yet wise thoughts may come to other men
And, as thy son, it falls to me to mark
The acts, the words, the comments of the crowd.
The commons stand in terror of thy frown,
And dare not utter aught that might offend,
But I can overhear their muttered plaints,
Know how the people mourn this maiden doomed
For noblest deeds to die the worst of deaths.
When her own brother slain in battle lay
Unsepulchered, she suffered not his corse
To lie for carrion birds and dogs to maul:
Should not her name (they cry) be writ in gold?
Such the low murmurings that reach my ear.
O father, nothing is by me more prized
Than thy well-being, for what higher good
Can children covet than their sire's fair fame,
As fathers too take pride in glorious sons?
Therefore, my father, cling not to one mood,
And deemed not thou art right, all others wrong.
For whoso thinks that wisdom dwells with him,
That he alone can speak or think aright,
Such oracles are empty breath when tried.
The wisest man will let himself be swayed
By others' wisdom and relax in time.
See how the trees beside a stream in flood
Save, if they yield to force, each spray unharmed,
But by resisting perish root and branch.
The mariner who keeps his mainsheet taut,
And will not slacken in the gale, is like
To sail with thwarts reversed, keel uppermost.
Relent then and repent thee of thy wrath;
For, if one young in years may claim some sense,
I'll say 'tis best of all to be endowed
With absolute wisdom; but, if that's denied,
(And nature takes not readily that ply)
Next wise is he who lists to sage advice.

If he says aught in season, heed him, King.

Heed thou thy sire too; both have spoken well.

What, would you have us at our age be schooled,

Lessoned in prudence by a beardless boy?

I plead for justice, father, nothing more.

Weigh me upon my merit, not my years.

Strange merit this to sanction lawlessness!

For evil-doers I would urge no plea.

Is not this maid an arrant law-breaker?

The Theban commons with one voice say, No.

What, shall the mob dictate my policy?

'Tis thou, methinks, who speakest like a boy.

Am I to rule for others, or myself?

A State for one man is no State at all.

The State is his who rules it, so 'tis held.

As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine.

This boy, methinks, maintains the woman's cause.

If thou be'st woman, yes.  My thought's for thee.

O reprobate, would'st wrangle with thy sire?

Because I see thee wrongfully perverse.

And am I wrong, if I maintain my rights?

Talk not of rights; thou spurn'st the due of Heaven

O heart corrupt, a woman's minion thou!

Slave to dishonor thou wilt never find me.

Thy speech at least was all a plea for her.

And thee and me, and for the gods below.

Living the maid shall never be thy bride.

So she shall die, but one will die with her.

Hast come to such a pass as threaten me?

What threat is this, vain counsels to reprove?

Vain fool to instruct thy betters; thou shall rue it.

Wert not my father, I had said thou err'st.

Play not the spaniel, thou a woman's slave.

When thou dost speak, must no man make reply?

This passes bounds.  By heaven, thou shalt not rate

And jeer and flout me with impunity.
Off with the hateful thing that she may die
At once, beside her bridegroom, in his sight.

Think not that in my sight the maid shall die,

Or by my side; never shalt thou again
Behold my face hereafter.  Go, consort
With friends who like a madman for their mate.

Thy son has gone, my liege, in angry haste.

Fell is the wrath of youth beneath a smart.

Let him go vent his fury like a fiend:

These sisters twain he shall not save from death.

Surely, thou meanest not to slay them both?

I stand corrected; only her who touched
The body.

          And what death is she to die?

She shall be taken to some desert place
By man untrod, and in a rock-hewn cave,
With food no more than to avoid the taint
That homicide might bring on all the State,
Buried alive.  There let her call in aid
The King of Death, the one god she reveres,
Or learn too late a lesson learnt at last:
'Tis labor lost, to reverence the dead.


Love resistless in fight, all yield at a glance of thine eye,
Love who pillowed all night on a maiden's cheek dost lie,
Over the upland holds.  Shall mortals not yield to thee?

Mad are thy subjects all, and even the wisest heart

Straight to folly will fall, at a touch of thy poisoned dart.
Thou didst kindle the strife, this feud of kinsman with kin,
By the eyes of a winsome wife, and the yearning her heart to win.
For as her consort still, enthroned with Justice above,
Thou bendest man to thy will, O all invincible Love.

          Lo I myself am borne aside,

          From Justice, as I view this bride.
          (O sight an eye in tears to drown)
          Antigone, so young, so fair,
               Thus hurried down
          Death's bower with the dead to share.

(Str. 1)

Friends, countrymen, my last farewell I make;
          My journey's done.
One last fond, lingering, longing look I take
          At the bright sun.
For Death who puts to sleep both young and old
          Hales my young life,
And beckons me to Acheron's dark fold,
          An unwed wife.
No youths have sung the marriage song for me,
          My bridal bed
No maids have strewn with flowers from the lea,
          'Tis Death I wed.

          But bethink thee, thou art sped,

          Great and glorious, to the dead.
          Thou the sword's edge hast not tasted,
          No disease thy frame hath wasted.
          Freely thou alone shalt go
          Living to the dead below.

(Ant. 1)

Nay, but the piteous tale I've heard men tell
     Of Tantalus' doomed child,
Chained upon Siphylus' high rocky fell,
     That clung like ivy wild,
Drenched by the pelting rain and whirling snow,
     Left there to pine,
While on her frozen breast the tears aye flow—
     Her fate is mine.

          She was sprung of gods, divine,

          Mortals we of mortal line.
          Like renown with gods to gain
          Recompenses all thy pain.
          Take this solace to thy tomb
          Hers in life and death thy doom.

(Str. 2)

Alack, alack!  Ye mock me.  Is it meet
     Thus to insult me living, to my face?
Cease, by our country's altars I entreat,
     Ye lordly rulers of a lordly race.
O fount of Dirce, wood-embowered plain
     Where Theban chariots to victory speed,
Mark ye the cruel laws that now have wrought my bane,
     The friends who show no pity in my need!
Was ever fate like mine?  O monstrous doom,
     Within a rock-built prison sepulchered,
To fade and wither in a living tomb,
     And alien midst the living and the dead.

(Str. 3)

          In thy boldness over-rash
          Madly thou thy foot didst dash
          'Gainst high Justice' altar stair.
          Thou a father's guild dost bear.

(Ant. 2)

At this thou touchest my most poignant pain,
     My ill-starred father's piteous disgrace,
The taint of blood, the hereditary stain,
     That clings to all of Labdacus' famed race.
Woe worth the monstrous marriage-bed where lay
     A mother with the son her womb had borne,
Therein I was conceived, woe worth the day,
     Fruit of incestuous sheets, a maid forlorn,
And now I pass, accursed and unwed,
     To meet them as an alien there below;
And thee, O brother, in marriage ill-bestead,
     'Twas thy dead hand that dealt me this death-blow.

          Religion has her chains, 'tis true,

          Let rite be paid when rites are due.
          Yet is it ill to disobey
          The powers who hold by might the sway.
          Thou hast withstood authority,
          A self-willed rebel, thou must die.

Unwept, unwed, unfriended, hence I go,

     No longer may I see the day's bright eye;
Not one friend left to share my bitter woe,
     And o'er my ashes heave one passing sigh.

If wail and lamentation aught availed

To stave off death, I trow they'd never end.
Away with her, and having walled her up
In a rock-vaulted tomb, as I ordained,
Leave her alone at liberty to die,
Or, if she choose, to live in solitude,
The tomb her dwelling.  We in either case
Are guiltless as concerns this maiden's blood,
Only on earth no lodging shall she find.

O grave, O bridal bower, O prison house

Hewn from the rock, my everlasting home,
Whither I go to join the mighty host
Of kinsfolk, Persephassa's guests long dead,
The last of all, of all more miserable,
I pass, my destined span of years cut short.
And yet good hope is mine that I shall find
A welcome from my sire, a welcome too,
From thee, my mother, and my brother dear;
From with these hands, I laved and decked your limbs
In death, and poured libations on your grave.
And last, my Polyneices, unto thee
I paid due rites, and this my recompense!
Yet am I justified in wisdom's eyes.
For even had it been some child of mine,
Or husband mouldering in death's decay,
I had not wrought this deed despite the State.
What is the law I call in aid?  'Tis thus
I argue.  Had it been a husband dead
I might have wed another, and have borne
Another child, to take the dead child's place.
But, now my sire and mother both are dead,
No second brother can be born for me.
Thus by the law of conscience I was led
To honor thee, dear brother, and was judged
By Creon guilty of a heinous crime.
And now he drags me like a criminal,
A bride unwed, amerced of marriage-song
And marriage-bed and joys of motherhood,
By friends deserted to a living grave.
What ordinance of heaven have I transgressed?
Hereafter can I look to any god
For succor, call on any man for help?
Alas, my piety is impious deemed.
Well, if such justice is approved of heaven,
I shall be taught by suffering my sin;
But if the sin is theirs, O may they suffer
No worse ills than the wrongs they do to me.

The same ungovernable will

Drives like a gale the maiden still.

Therefore, my guards who let her stay

Shall smart full sore for their delay.

Ah, woe is me!  This word I hear

Brings death most near.

I have no comfort.  What he saith,

Portends no other thing than death.

My fatherland, city of Thebes divine,

Ye gods of Thebes whence sprang my line,
Look, puissant lords of Thebes, on me;
The last of all your royal house ye see.
Martyred by men of sin, undone.
Such meed my piety hath won.

(Str. 1)

Like to thee that maiden bright,
          Danae, in her brass-bound tower,
Once exchanged the glad sunlight
          For a cell, her bridal bower.
And yet she sprang of royal line,
          My child, like thine,
          And nursed the seed
          By her conceived
Of Zeus descending in a golden shower.
Strange are the ways of Fate, her power
Nor wealth, nor arms withstand, nor tower;
Nor brass-prowed ships, that breast the sea
          From Fate can flee.

(Ant. 1)
Thus Dryas' child, the rash Edonian King,

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