Four Plays of Aeschylus (Cookson)/The Seven against Thebes

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Seven against Thebes.

 

The Seven Against Thebes


Scene: Before the Citadel which rises in the background, crowded with altars and statues.


Eteocles.

Burghers of Cadmus! Seasonable speech,
And apt withal, the world expects from him
Whose business is a kingdom's governance,—
High on the hinder-bulwark of the State
At lonely watch,—his hand upon the helm
And never a lull from care to latch his lids.
For, if we prosper, God shall have the thanks;
But,—if the sorry thing, I wish away,
Calamity befall,—one man, and he
My sole self Eteocles, shall hear his name
Sung to loud preludes,—universal note
Of wail,—which I pray Zeus, whom we acclaim
Averter, to keep far from Cadmus Town.
And now the hour is ripe when all of you—
Whether your prime's to come or hath gone by—
Must put on strength like buds thick-burgeoning.
Each in such measure as his age allows,
Both for the safety of the realm, her Gods—
Lest their accounted glories be wiped out,—
And for your children and this earth—the Mother
And most dear nurse of your young innocence.
For she it was, who, when as yet we sought,
Weak travellers, her hospitable door,
The kindly soil, to us large welcome gave;
The careful nurture of our nonage bare,
And bred us to be denizens-at-arms
And trusty targeteers in this her need.
And, to this day, in God's just equipoise,
To us-ward shifts the moving balance-hand;
For, long time shut within these bastioned walls,
Fair issue (under Heaven) in the main
Our warfare hath. And now, thus saith the Seer,
Who shepherds wingéd flocks ; not by things burnt
Divineth he; but inly cogitates,
With deep unerring art his auguries,
By prophecy, which is the voice of God,
Divinely taught:—A fresh attack, more strong
Than all that went before, the Achæan host,
Gathering by night, intend against the town.
Therefore make speed unto the battlements
And towered gateways every man of you,
Girded with all the panoply of war!
Man the breast-works! On turret-scaffoldings
Take post! And where forth from the City-gates
The roadways run, hold on with a good heart,
Nor at this rout of runagates be ye
Too sore dismayed; for God shall end all well.
Moreover, I have despatched scouts and spies
To watch the movements of their host; the which
I am persuaded went not out in vain.
And, having their report, there is no fear
I shall be caught in any ticklish snare.

Enter Messenger.

 

Messenger.

Eteocles! right valiant Sovereign
Of the Cadmeans! I bring tidings sure
Of happenings yonder with the armament;
Yea, and these eyes have seen what I report.
Know then, Seven Men—mettlesome Captains all—
Spilling bulls' blood in shield with black hide bound—
Their unctuous hands dipped in that gory chrism—
Have taken a great oath—unutterable—
By Enyo and Phobos that drinketh blood,
To raze these walls from battlement to base
And sack the town of Cadmus, or else die,
And leave to us our fair land soaked with carnage.
For a memorial to their folk at home
They hanged up garlands on Adrastus' car,
Weeping the while; but on their savage lips
Ruth was their none: rather the iron soul
Of stern resolve and red-hot hardihood
Panted in them, and in their lion eyes
Glanced Ares. These are no belated news;
For when I left them they were set about
Casting of lots for places at the Gates,
Against which each should march his company.
Therefore, the nation's chosen and her best
At every port assemble with all speed.
By now an Argive power of all arms
Approaches nigh at hand; the dust is stirred
With trampling feet; and their deep-chested steeds
Make the plain white with drops of creaming foam.
Now show thy seamanship, and make all snug
And weather-tight within, or e'er the blast
Of Ares strike; for on the dry land roars
A wave of men, a moving armament.
These are their dispositions: 'tis for thee
To grapple with them quickly; for the rest
My eye shall watch with sure reconnaissance
The progress of the day, and thou, well served
With sure intelligence of all without,
Shalt take no hurt nor harm.

[Exit Messenger.


Eteocles.

Harken, O Zeus!
Earth and all tutelary Godheads, hear!
And shall I name thee, thou paternal Curse,
With dark Erinys' strong resentment armed?
O pluck not out this city by the roots,
Nor utterly destroy it, rendered up,
The prize of war! with all its settled homes
Sweet with suave fluctuance of Hellenic speech!
Grant that this free earth and King Cadmus' Town
May never pass beneath the yoke of slaves!
Help us! Our common cause methinks, I plead,
For when a happy City sees good days
Laud and great honour have the gods she worships!

[Exit.

The Chorus enter and rush up to the citadel.


Chorus.

I cry with great pangs of dread! For the foe quit their camp! Yea, their forces
Are loosed as a flood is loosed! and a multitude riding on horses
Runneth before, and mine ear no audible tidings seeks:
An airy signal flies! The dust, dumb messenger, speaks!
Loudly the low-lying plain to their thunderous hoof-beat rings!
The sound draweth nigh! And its speed is the speed of a bird that hath wings!
It roars as waters roar down mountainous channels leaping!
Oh, raise for us your battle-cry! This evil onward sweeping
Turn back, dear Gods! Kind Goddesses, a rescue for our wall!
How the white shields of Argos gleam! How fierce this swift onfall
Of footmen doubling at the charge, in glamorous armour girt!
Oh, of all worshipped deities, who will this woe avert?
I will make haste to cast me down before your holy feet,
Ye shining shapes of old! Hail, Happy Ones, whose seat
Bideth the shock of times! This, the ripe hour to cling,
Cleaving close to your forms, why waste we way-menting?
Hear ye, or hear ye not, the bucklers clang full loud?
Proffer we now our prayers for the garlands erstwhile vowed,—
For the robes we wrought on the loom, with worship and delight!
I see—I hear—the brandished spear—and many there be that smite!
Wilt thou aid us, Ares long-in-the-land, or wilt thou thine own betray?
Dear to thee once, God golden-helmed, look down on thy city this day!

Hail, Godheads all that guard this realm and keep her fortress free!
Draw nigh! Behold! 'Gainst bondage pleads a virgin company!
For loud with hissing surges, by blasts of Ares sped,
A wave of men with combing crest our home hath compasséd!
Nevertheless, O Father,—Zeus, who o'er-rulest all,
Into the toils of foemen let not their quarry fall!
Round the strong place of Cadmus the Argive beaters close!
Men harry men ! The hunt is up for blood of human foes!
These bridles bind no flute-boys' cheeks, filled with soft music's breath!
They buckle bits in war-steeds' mouths! These pipes shrill woundy death!

As fell the lots helm-shaken, the pride of their great host,
Seven Champions clad in spearman's mail at the Seven Ports take post!
Hail, Power Zeus-born, that lovest battle! The city save,
Dread Pallas! Hail, Poseidon, Lord of the horse, the wave!
Smite them, as men smite fishes, even with thy forked spear!
Be for our trembling, trembling souls a strong deliverer!
O Ares! of all pity to thine own kin be kind!
Be warder of the town that calls King Cadmus' fame to mind!
Cypris, ancestress of our race! Blood of thy blood are we!
Yet none the less, as men sue Gods, we turn in prayer to thee!
Be Wolf to them, Wolf-Slayer! With gnashing of the teeth
Requite them! Leto's Daughter, thy silver bow unsheathe!
Cry, cry aloud with wailing! Hera, Mistress Supreme!
The chariots rattle round our walls! The grinding axles scream!
Oh, gracious Artemis! Shrill, shrill the note—the song of keening care!
Shook with the rush of volleying spears raves the affrighted air!

How fares it with the city? And what shall be our fate?
And whither doth God lead us? What end doth consummate?
Cry, cry aloud with wailing! Thick, thick, in soaring flight
Bursts on our walls a hail of stones! The parapet they smite!
Benign Apollo! In our gates the bronze-bound bucklers chide!
Queen—Power by Zeus appointed war's issue to decide,—
Who stand'st above our city,—Onka Invincible!
Deliver the seven-gated seat where thou art pleased to dwell!

Hearken, O Gods and Goddesses, perfect in might and power!
Wardens of march and mountain, watchmen on wall and tower!
Yield not by treachery the town that toileth with the spear,
But faithfully receive our prayer, that with stretched hands draw near!
Loved Spirits, who, of strength to save, move striding to and fro
Before our leaguered city, your love for her forthshow!
Think of the rich oblations upon your altars laid,
And mindful of our sacrifice and zealous service,—aid!


Enter Eteocles.


Eteocles.

Oh, you intolerable pack! You hags!
Will't help the city, think ye?—Will't inspire
A bold assurance in the beleaguered troops,
To cast you down before these antique shapes,
—Our Holy Guardians!—there to rave and howl,—
Abjects, disgusted decency abhors!
Good times, or bad times, may I never house
With womankind! The courage of a woman
Is insubmissive, rash, not counsellable,—
And, when she's timid, she's an added plague
To home and fatherland! So is it now!
Thanks to this hither, thither, to and fro
Coursing of scared feet, the faint-hearted fear,
Like to a chill tide, sounding as it goes,
Runs through all orders of the Commonweal!
And,—while the foe without are mightily
Advantaged—we ourselves within the gates
Work for our own destruction! Whoso shares
With womankind his fortunes, let him look
For the like issue! Whatsoe'er he be,
Man, woman,—or some despicable thing
Halfway betwixt them both—that from henceforth
Fails in most strict obedience to my will,
The damning pebble shall his lot decide,
And he shall publicly be stoned to death!
It longeth to a man—let womankind
Keep their own counsel and not mell with ours—
To manage matters in the world outside.
Keep within doors and thwart not our designs!
Now—hast thou heard? Or hast thou failed to hear?
Or speak I to the deaf—a girl at that?


Chorus.

Dear Son of Oedipus! Fear smote
My heart, by reason of the din
Of chariots! For the axle's spin,
The whirring wheel's flute-note!
Because of the bit by fire begot,
That pipeth harsh with breathings hot
Of war-steeds, by the long rein swayed,
I was afraid!


Eteocles.

Think ye that when she labours by the head
With panic rush from high-pooped stern to prow
The seaman goes about to save his ship?

 

Chorus.

I hasted to this ancient seat
Because in the Gods I put my trust,
When at the gates with roaring gust
Rattled a hail of deadly sleet.
Then was I moved by fear to pray
Unto the Blessed Gods, that they
Might stretch to shield the town from harm
A mighty arm.


Eteocles.

Pray rather that the battlemented walls
Stand proof against the thrust of foeman's spear.
For were not that behoofful to the Gods?
'Tis a true saying: When a city falls
The Gods forsake their ancient habitations.


Chorus.

Not in my time, thou honourable Court
Of Gods, forsake the city: ere that day
When battle riots where her sons resort,
And flames devour her, take my life away!


Eteocles.

Let me not hear thee call on the good Gods
When thy base heart deviseth cowardice!
The mother of Good-Hap is Loyalty,
The proverb saith; Helpmeet of Him that Saves!


Chorus.

Save it he may; yet him God's power transcends;
And often out of rough adversity,
Cloud-wrack above us, where the visual ends,
Man's helplessness God stablisheth on high.

 

Eteocles.

These be men's matters,—blood of sacrifice,
Offerings to oracles, when deedy war
Puts all things to the test; your business
Is submiss silence, and to bide within.


Chorus.

It is the Gods who keep yet unsubdued
The land wherein we dwell; our walléd town
Unravaged of this armed multitude:
Shall what we do then call their vengeance down?


Eteocles.

I grudge not that to the high heavenly race
Ye pay all honour: but, lest ye corrupt,
As cravens can, the manhood of the realm
Calm your wild transports; this is fear's excess.


Chorus.

The sudden girding on of warlike gear
Confused upon my startled senses came,
Confounding them the more; surprised by fear
I sought this castled crag of ancient fame.


Eteocles.

I charge ye, if they tell of wounds and death
Fasten not on the tale with frantic cries,
For human carnage is God Ares' meat.


Chorus.

I hear the neighing steeds!


Eteocles.

Hear if thou must!
Yet seem not so discernibly to hear!

 

Chorus.

The builded city groans,—as if a voice
Spake from the ground! Oh, we are compassed in
On every side!


Eteocles.

Is't not enough that I
With all resources wisdom can command
Confront these perils?


Chorus.

Loud and louder yet!—
The knocking at the gate!

Eteocles.

Stifle thy cries!
Must the whole city hear thee?


Chorus.

O ye Gods,
Keep troth! Betray not to the enemy
The City ye have promised to defend!


Eteocles.

Curse thee! Wilt hold thy peace—possess thy soul
In patience?


Chorus.

O divine co-denizens,
Free while ourselves are free, save me from bondage!


Eteocles.

Ye do enslave yourselves; country and king,
Ye make both thrall!


Chorus.

O Zeus Omnipotent!
Strike the foe dead—dead—with thy bolt!

 

Eteocles.

O Zeus!
What stuff is woman made of, whom thou gav'st
To man for helpmeet!


Chorus.

Blithesome are we not;
And are men merrier when kingdoms fall?


Eteocles.

Thy hand upon the holy images
Speak' st thou untowardly with thy tongue?


Chorus.

My fears
Are masters and my tongue a run-away.


Eteocles.

If I cannot command let me entreat.
Come! With a good grace grant me my request,
And let this quarrel have a gentle close.


Chorus.

Speak with all speed then: haply thou shalt have
As speedy answer.


Eteocles.

Hush, poor weeping wretch,
Or thou wilt scare thy friends.


Chorus.

Nay, I am dumb:
The fate that they must suffer I can endure.


Eteocles.

I more approve that utterance of thine
Than all that went before: but stop not there!
Away from these sequestered images,
And pray to nobler purpose! Say, 'Ye Gods,
'Make war upon our side!' When ye have heard
The prayer I have to offer, second it
With songs triumphant, lusty, of good cheer—
The sacrificial shout that Hellas knows,—
A salutation to embolden friends
And from their souls the battle-fright cast loose!
Hear, then, my prayer. First, I vow to the Gods,
Custodians of polity and soil,
Wardens of field and meeting-place and mart;
Next unto Dirce's river-springs,—nor less
Ismenus, do I mean to honour thee,—
If fair befall us and the State be saved,
There shall be slaughtering of bulls; the blood
Of sheep shall redden the hearth-place of the Gods.
Thus I confirm by pledge of solemn speech
Mine oath, to them trophies and raiment vowing:—
'I will bedeck your shrines inviolate,
'Yea, hang the forecourts of your sanctuaries
'With spoils spear-rent, the garments of our foes.'
On this wise pray ye! Thus acceptably
Approach the Gods with vows; not to vain groans
Addict, beast noises not articulate,
Untutored transports, ineffectual;
For by such flights ye shall no whit the more
Flee the appointed portion. I meanwhile
Will get me forth: and post at the Seven Gates
To match the foe six men of might and mettle,
Myself the seventh,—furnished in the style
Greatness approves; ere rumour improvised
Inform them, or with speedier argument
Extremity of need inflame their souls.

[The Chorus comes down from the Citadel on to the stage.

 

Chorus.

Fain would I hearken, fain obey,
But my heart's calm slumber-beat dismay
And dread have troubled sore:
And care (ill neighbour I wish away)
Looks in at the open door;
And the trembling flame of fear is fed
Because of the walls encompasséd,
As trembles the dove for her nestling's sake,
For her cradled brood, when the cruel snake
Creeps to their twilight bed.


Hither in complete armour dight
Moveth against these towers
A multiple host; and yonder light
The jagged sling-stone showers.
And our people are smitten from far and near,
And I know not my fate, but I tremble and fear,
And I pray the Gods of race divine
To save the men of Cadmus' line
And the city to Cadmus dear.


Where to redeem your loss shall be found
In earth's wide fields more fertile ground,
If ye yield this land to the foe,
Where, through the deep, rich soil enwound,
The waters of Dirce flow?
Nourisher she of man and mead,
Quencher of thirst and quickener of seed;
No rill more excellent in worth
Of all Poseidon Lord of Earth
Poureth or Tethys' children speed.
Therefore, ye Gods, that are our stay,
Yonder without the wall
Send havoc;—with slaughter and casting away
Of shields, when slain men fall:
But dismiss not our prayers unheard, disowned,
Our lamentable cry entoned:
Save us and win for our land renown;
Then reign within the walled town
Unshakeably enthroned!


Sorrow it were thus to send down to hell a city coeval with grandeurs of old
Captive and spoil of an enemy spear, 'mid the crumbling of ashes;
her store and her gold
Sacked by the Achaean as things of no worth, unregarded of Heaven;
sore sorrow it were
Should mother and matron and maiden and bride as a horse by the forelock
be haled by the hair
With rending of raiment. Loud, loud is the voice of a city made empty:
her children's farewells—
As they go to their ruin—confused with exultings; and heavy the doom that
my fear foretells.
Woe for the lawless reaping of unripe corn; for the rape of the bride unwed,
For the far strange home and the long, long way to it, travelled with hate,
she must tread!
Nay, of a truth, where dead men dwell, there is more of bliss; for with multiple ills
When a city is taken man visiteth man; he leads away captive, he spills
Blood, he thrusts in fire; he anoints with defilement of smoke
man's home;
The soul of all reverence a mad breath pollutes when
Ares hath masterdom!

Tumult and roaring in all streets and wynds;
The fenced bulwark fails; and man to man each finds
His foe; and, having found
Lets drive his spear and bears him to the ground.
And blood-bedabbled mothers of babes new-born
For their dead sucklings like the ewe-flock bleat;
By harrying bands
Kindred from kin are torn;
And two shall meet
Each with his load; or one with empty hands
Shall call upon his fellow in like case,
Neither with less nor equal satisfied,
Saying 'Since all men for themselves provide,
'How shall we fare if backward in the race?'

All manner store the housewife's eyes distress,
Chance-lying where it fell: all earth's largesse
Foamed recklessly to waste.
And, new to sorrow, with worse bonds disgraced,
The young girl-slave looks for a conqueror's bed;—
A rich lord, yet in love most destitute,
Whose only mark
Of greatness is the slaver's attribute,
When fierce embraces in the lustful dark
Exact with nightly ravishment his pay;
And her bewailed griefs find this redress
That tears let fall in day-long loneliness,
Night's all-abhorred endearments wipe away!

 

Semi-Chorus.

Look where our spy comes! Dear ones, he brings tidings
Be certain, of some happening with the host!
With smoothest expedition at high speed
He runneth thither, as the hubbed wheel spins!

And see! With juncture apt to meet his news,
The king himself, the Son of Œdipus!
He, too, all haste, metes out no measured stride!


Enter Messenger and Eteocles.


Messenger.

I bring news—certain—of the enemy,
How the lots fell and at which port each stands.
Fell Tydeus—foremost—fronts the Proetid Gate,
Roaring; but may not pass Ismenus Ford:
The seer forbids: the omens are not good.
There greedy Tydeus, famishing for fight,
Sends forth his voice, like to a venomous snake
Hissing at noon; and lasheth with vile words
The prophet, Œcles' son: damning his lore
For cringing cowardice that shrinks from death
And jeopardy of battle: while he vents
Such blasphemy, he tosses his dwarf-head
All overshadowed with a triple crest,
His bright helm's bristling mane. Beneath his shield,
From its dished rondure dangling, bells of bronze
A yelling menace peal: the broad convex,
Bulging, displays this arrogant device:—
The sky in metal wrought, ablaze with stars:
And in the middle of his shield the moon,—
Lustrous, full-orbed, leader and paramount
Of all their constellations,—looketh forth,
The very eye of night. And like one wood,
Thus in prodigious pride caparisoned,
He holloas up and down the river-bank,
Rampant with lust of battle; as a horse
All fire and fierceness pants upon the bit,
What time, hard-held, he paweth in his place
Mad for the sound of trumpet. Whom wilt thou
To him oppose? What champion safe and sure
Shall stand at Proetid Port, the barriers down?


Eteocles.

I am not one to tremble at a plume:
'Tis not the brave device that deals the scar,
And crests and bells without the spear bite not.
As for this night that's blazoned on his shield,
This heaven of shining stars,—the folly of it
Will likely prove a night of prophecy.
For if Death's bloody darkness veil his eyes,
Then, for the bearer of that scutcheon proud,
By herald's law these arms are his by right,
And his presumptuous scutcheon damns himself!
'Gainst Tydeus I will post the valiant son
Of Astacus for champion of the Gate.
Right nobly born is he, and one who pays
Due honour to the throne of Modesty,
Abhorrer of the bombast rhetoric;
Backward in baseness he holds honour dear.
Sprung from that seed of men which Ares spared,
A goodly plant, most native to this soil,
Is Melanippus. Ares may decide
With hazard helm-cast how the event shall speed;
But Justice by sure warranty of blood
Commits to him in trust the life of her
Who gave him birth, to shield from thrust of foes.


Chorus.

Just is his cause who fights for his land! Him may the just Gods prosper
and speed!
Yet I see the pale forms of our loved ones lie bleeding, and tremble; for us,
their belovéd, they bleed!


Messenger.

May the Gods grant your prayer—and prosper him!
Electrae Portals fell to Capaneus.
Another Earth-born he,—in height surpassing
The last,—and his proud boast too proud for man.
He monstrously inveighs against these walls
With threats, which may the event forbear to crown!
On this wise boasteth he: 'With or without
God's will, by me the City shall be sacked!
Though Zeus dispute my passage, casting down
His lightning for a stumbling-block of fire,
It lets me not!' He scorns your thunderbolt!
Your forkéd lightning he dubs 'noonday heat!'
And, for device, carries a firebearer,—
An unarmed man,—for weapon in his hands
A blazing torch; and, issuing from his mouth,
This golden challenge, 'I will fire the town.'
Do thou despatch 'gainst such a champion—
But who will stand against him? Who will bide
The man with all his vaunts and never blench?

 

Eteocles.

Gain upon gain, and interest to boot!
The hearts of frenzied men are in their mouths:
The tongue's the true accuser of false thoughts.
When Capaneus threatens he's prepared to act
His blasphemies; and when he dareth all
That tongue may dare, with insane zest the man
Challenges heaven and storms the ear of Zeus
With swelling words. But he shall have, y-wis,
Fit answer, when that firebearer comes
Which is the burning bolt, fashioned no wise
In likeness to the warmth of noonday sun.
'Gainst him a man, exceeding slow of speech,
In spirit very fire, we have set;
The might of Polyphontes; a strong tower
By favour of protecting Artemis
And other Gods withal. Pray you proceed:
Another and the gate that he hath drawn.


Chorus.

Death to the braggart! Fall, thunder, and stay him!
ere with leaping he come and with lifting of spear
To despoil my fair home, my virginal bower,—robber
and wrecker and ravisher!


Messenger.

Now for the next gate and the man that drew it:
The third cast fell upon Eteoclus;
Third from the upturned helm, goodly with bronze,
For him leapt forth the lot to hurl his troop
Against Neistae Portals. Round and round
He reins his mares, and they toss high their heads
With gleam of glancing harness,—all on fire
To fall upon the Gate. Their nozzles pipe
After the mode of barbarous music, filled
With the breath of their proud snortings. On his targe
Is no mean blazon. One armed cap-à-pie
Climbs up a ladder planted 'gainst a tower,
Held by the foe, and means to lay all waste.
In syllables forth-gushing from his lips
He roars 'Not Ares' Self shall hurl me down.'
'Gainst him too send a trusty one, to save
This land of freemen from the servile yoke.


Eteocles.

Here is the man to send, and with him go
Such happy fortune as the Gods vouchsafe!
Not in his mouth his boast, but in his arm.
Megareus, Creon's seed, of the race earth-sown.
The savage, greedy noise of neighing steeds
Shall not affright nor drive him from the Gates;
But either he will fall and with his life
This land for her dear nurture recompense,
Or deck his father's house with two-fold glory:
Two captives taken and that shield-borne tower,
So proudly counterfeited, carried home.
Another boaster: stint me not your tale!


Chorus.

Good luck, good luck have thou who go'st forth,
Champion of home to me! Foul them befall!
Mouthing in madness beneath our wall,
Zeus the Requiter behold them with wrath.


Messenger.

Next—fourth in order—to the Gate hard by
Athena Onca comes Hippomedon
Shouting his war-shout : a resplendent shape,
Cast in a mould of ample magnitude.
His shield might almost serve for a threshing-floor;
And while its round he threateningly revolved
I own a shudder ran through all my frame.
No despicable artist was the man
Who wrought its blazon. On the disk embossed
A Typhon, shooting forth his burning breath,—
A luminous darkness, half smoke and half fire;
The casing of its hollow-bellied orb
Securely hammered on with knots of snakes.
I heard his great voice thunder,—saw his eyes
Glare horribly: a frenzied votarist
He leaped, God Ares' reeling reveller,
By him possessed, mad-drunk for deeds of blood:
'Gainst his assault there needeth wary watch.
Even now before the Gates his vaunt is loud,
And swelling with the note that strikes dismay.


Eteocles.

Suburban Pallas—Onka-Without-the-Walls—
Hard by the Gate, wroth with his insolence,
Shall keep him off,—a serpent, mailed and fanged,
Death in its coils, barred from a brood of birds.
But Oenops' trusty son, Hyperbius,
For mortal succour,—matching man with man—
Shall face him. All he asked was choice for service;
Time and the hour should teach him where to serve.
Faultless in form; of fearless courage, perfect
In martial trim, never did Hermes cast
A luckier throw than when with happy choice
He brought the pair together: for betwixt
Him and the man he meets is enmity,
And in the smiting of their shields shall clash
Opposing deities. For the one presents
Typhon that breathes forth fire; but Father Zeus
Sits on the other, moveless on his throne,
And centred in his hand the bolt that burns!
And who hath yet seen Zeus discomfited?
These are the powers whose favour they invoke,
We with the winners, with the losers they,
If Zeus be more than Typhon's match in battle!
Yea, by his blazon each shall stand or fall;
And Zeus displayed upon his shield shall prove
Zeus the strong Saviour to Hyperbius!


Chorus.

He whose arm Zeus' enemy sustains,—
Monster unfriended, Earth whilome bore,
Whom demons and Gods and mortals abhor,—
Right at the Gate he shall dash out his brains!


Messenger.

Amen to that. Next in the list and fifth
In order, at the Gates of Boreas,
Hard by Amphion's Tomb, the son of Zeus,
This champion takes ground. A spear he hath
Whereby he sweareth,—honouring it more
Than any God,—yea, holding it more dear
Than eyesight: 'I will ravage Cadmus Town,
Ay, maugre Zeus'! Thus he,—a cub, whose dam
Littered among the mountains,—a green chit,
Yet of a comely countenance withal,
Man-boy, or boy-man—call him what you will,—
The down upon his cheeks buds thick and fast,—
For 'tis with him the spring-time of his growth,—
But of a savage temper—in no wise
Maidenly, as befits his name—he strode,
His eyeballs rolling,—not without his boast
Advancing to the Gates. Our infamy
On his bronze shield, orbed to protect his bulk,
He flashed:—the ogrish Sphinx,—so riveted
That its embossed and staring ugliness
His arm convulsed to hideous counterfeit
Of life and motion. Underneath he sports
The figure of a man—a wight Cadmean—
As if on him to centre all our bolts!
He'll prove no petty trafficker in war,—
Nor for a bagman's profit lose his travel,—
Parthenopaeus, waif of Arcady!
Oh, that a rogue like this,—an outlander
In Argos, one who pays his reckoning,
A handsome sum for being handsome-bred,
Should hurl against these walls his boyish spite
And spleenful threats, I pray God bring to naught!


Eteocles.

If the same measure that they mete the Gods
Be meted out to them, then their bad vows
Shall hurl them far in hopeless overthrow!
But for him too, your churl Arcadian,
A knight is found: no braggart,—but his hand
Soon finds the thing to do! Actor his name,
Brother of him just chosen. No foul flood
Of deedless words will he let flow within
To water pale, rank weeds of cowardice;
Nor will he suffer to overpass these walls
The man who comes in guise of foe, escutcheoned
With that abhorréd beast! She shall be wroth
With him that carries her, when, at our gates,
The too industrious hammerstoke of war
Her bulging blazon dints with rude reverse!
Nevertheless, I leave it to the Gods!
And may they prove that I speak verity!


Chorus.

This rives my heart! Ruffles my braided locks
Until each hair with horror stands up stiff!
Blasphemy of unholy men that mocks
Things holy! O ye Gods—if—if
Ye be indeed Gods that requite,
Smite them! with ruin smite!


Messenger.

I am near ended. Sixth there came a man
In temper most majestical, in might
Excelling all—the prophet, Amphiaraus.
Before the Homoloean Gates he stood
Chiding great Tydeus with much eloquence.
'Assassin! Troubler of the public peace!
In Argos arch-preceptor of all wrong!
Erinys' call-boy! Slaughter's acolyte!
Organ of evil counsel to the soul
Of old Adrastus'! Then he called aloud
The name of Polyneices—thy blood-brother,—
And lifting up his eyes to Heaven, paused—
An awful pause—on that last syllable
That speaks of strife. And thus his thoughts break loose:
'Doubtless, this is a deed to please the Gods,—
A noble gest, which they who come hereafter
Will much delight to tell or harken to:—
To wreck thy father's kingdom and thy Gods,
Hurling upon them an invading host!
Is it in Justice' name thou would'st drain dry
The fount that flowed for thee with mother's milk?
And if thou master with thy jealous sword
Thy fatherland, how will it profit thee?
I shall make fat this earth! Yea, prophesy
Here in my grave, in hostile ground interred.
On then to battle! And for me—to death
Not all unhonoured'! So the prophet spake.
His shield of bronze at rest. It bore no blazon:
For his affections hang not on the show
Of seeming to be best, but being so!
And he reaps only where the soil hath depth
The golden wisdom of well-pondered thought!
My counsel is that thou despatch against him
Antagonists: as wise as they are brave;
He's to be feared who reverences the Gods!


Eteocles.

This moves me much! 'Tis the unhappy chance
That couples oft the just with many wicked!
In the affairs of men no ill compares
With bad associates! There springeth thence
A crop no man would harvest. The field of Sin
Brings forth the fruits of Death. For, peradventure,
One righteous man who reverences the Gods
Shall shipmate be with a ruffianly crew,
And, furthering some scheme of villainy,
Perish with the whole tribe by God accursed!
Or, in a state where cynic policy
Goes the broad way of international crime,
And men forget the Gods, there shall be found
One just man, who, though he hath done no wrong,
Caught in the snare of his compatriot's guilt,
Falls, smitten with the chastisement of Heaven
That visiteth them all! So is it now
With the seer, Œcles' son! A man most staid,
Just, valiant. God-fearing, greatly endowed
With prophecy, but 'gainst his better mind
Consorting with blasphemers, when they take
The road which to retrace is hard and long,—
He, if it be the will of Zeus, shall fall
With all his bad confederates dragged down!
I do not think he will so much as move
Against the Gates; not that he lacks the courage
Or is at heart attaint with cowardice,
But having certain knowledge of the way
The fight must end for him; if the oracle
Of Loxias bear fruit; and he is wont
To speak to purpose if he speak at all.
Nevertheless, I make choice of a man
To send against him, valiant Lasthenes:
He keepeth on the stranger at the Gate
A jealous ward: in wisdom of ripe years
But of a youthful brawn yet immature.
A man so quick of eye, so sure of hand,
That instant through the undefended flesh
Crashes his spear, if aught that's vulnerable
Be left uncovered at the buckler's edge.
Howbeit, howsoe'er we thrust or fend
Victory is a gift men owe to Heaven.

 

Chorus.

May the Gods hear our prayers, for they are just;
And grant them for the safety of our land;
And be the invader's weapon backward thrust,
Yea, in his own breast with a mighty hand!
On them may Zeus his bolt let fall
Yonder without the wall!


Messenger.

Last name of all—seventh at the seventh Gate—
Thy brother! Hear what woes his prayers invoke
On thee and on this realm! He'll plant his foot
Upon our walls: our land shall hear his name
Heralded; the loud paean he will uplift,
Yea, he will seek thee out and slay thee first,
Then die beside thee! Or 'If he fall not,
But live; exile for exile, wrong for wrong,
Measure for measure! As he drove me out,
So shall he wander forth a fugitive.'
And for the fair fulfilment of these hopes
He invocates the Gods that knit in love
Each to his kin and all men to their home.
Well named is he 'the Mighty One in Quarrel'!
A new-wrought shield he bears—the Argive buckler,
Round, with two-fold device artificered.
Hammered in gold a man completely armed
Led by a woman-form of sober mien.
Justice he calls her; suiting to that name
Her legend, 'I will bring home the banished man:
He shall possess his land, and come and go,
Free of his father's house.' Here ends the tale
Of all their proud inventions: make thy choice
Whom thou wilt send against him. And as I
Will be the faithful herald of thy word,
Prove thou true Captain of the Ship of State!

[Exit Messenger.


Eteocles.

O house of Œdipus! Our house! O race
God-maddened—God-abominate—all tears!
Oh me! here ends,—here ends my father's curse!
And yet this is no time to weep and wail,
Lest sorrow's debt with usury of sorrow
Gender increase of groans! 'Mighty in Quarrel'!
Well-named! Well-named! Ay, we shall know anon
Where it will end, that blazon,—we shall know
Whether the gilded rant, writ on his shield
And fraught with frenzy, will fetch the bearer home!
If the maid Justice, Zeus' own child, had been
The inspiration of his thoughts,—had lent
Her countenance to his deeds, this might have been!
But neither when from antenatal gloom
He fled—at nurse, in adolescence, nor
When's beard grew thick, did Justice ever own him
Or speak him fair! Nor is it credible
That in this hour when perils thicken fast
To whelm his fatherland, she stands beside him!
No! Justice is Justice! She were falsely named
Succouring such a miscreant! In this faith
I go to meet him! Who hath better right?
Ay, king to king, and brother unto brother,
Foe matched with foe! My greaves! Fetch me my greaves!
Good gear 'gainst javelin-thrust or cast of stone!

 

Chorus.

Be not, belovéd—child of Œdipus—
Like unto him out of whose mouth proceeds
All wickedness! Alas! It is enough
If our Cadmeans with these Argives fight:
There's water for that blood; but brother-murder
Is like the tettered slough that will not off:
'Tis spotted with the guilt that ne'er grows old!
If evil come, so it be free from shame,
Why let it come. All titles else save honour
Die when we die and sleep with us in the grave:
But if to evil thou add infamy
How shall men speak it fair and call it honest?

Child, what crav'st thou? Let not the battle-lust
Bloody with dripping spears thy ruin be!
Forth from thy soul the evil passion thrust
Or e'er it mount apace and master thee!


Eteocles.

Since in this power that speeds the event I feel
The insupportable blast of God's own breath,
Blow, wind! Fill, sails! And where Cocytus' tide
Heaves dark, with gleams of Phoebus' fiery hate,
Down-wind let drift the last of Laius' line!


Chorus.

This is some fierce unnatural appetite
That hungers after flesh unseethed and raw!
Famished for human victims! The loathed rite
Whose fruit is sour, whose blood sins 'gainst the law!


Eteocles.

It is my father's curse! I feel the glare
Of those hard eyes not moist with human tears!
To do things horrible they importune me!
There is a voice which cries 'Swift death were sweet!'


Chorus.

Hear it not, child! No man shall call thee base
If on thy life there dawn a better day!
Hereafter, if the Gods thy offerings grace,
Will not black-stoled Erinys steal away?


Eteocles.

What are the Gods to me! Methinks the hour
When we regarded them is long gone by!
No offering in their eyes is of such worth
As our perdition! Why then pay them court?
Why cringe for respite from the final doom?


Chorus.

Yield now, while yet thou hast the chance! The wind
May change with time, that blows so contrary,
And thy bad Genius at last be kind!
But now thou battiest with a boiling sea!


Eteocles.

Ay! with the yeasty waves of Œdipus
His curse! There was too much of solid sooth
In the slight, fleeting visions of my dreams:
They make division of my father's substance!


Chorus.

Thou art no friend to woman: yet, wilt hear me?


Eteocles.

If thou hast ought to say a man may do,
Speak on; and in few words withal!


Chorus.

Go not
Where thou art going—to the Seventh Gate!

 

Eteocles.

Content thee! Therefore have I filed my mind;
And words are not the stuff to dull its edge.


Chorus.

To win is all: get glory he who can:
The victory won wins God's acknowledgment.


Eteocles.

He who girds on his armour owes no love
To that wise saw.


Chorus.

And yet the greater fault—
To lay rash hands upon thy brother's life
And with those crimson juices stain thy soul—
Mislikes thee not!


Eteocles.

Sin may be thrust upon us:
Evil when Heaven sends it, who shall shun?

[Exit.


Chorus.

By this cold shuddering fit of fear
My heart divines a presence here,
Goddess or Ghost yclept;
Wrecker of homes, and dark adept
Of prophecy, whose vastitude of ill
This hour and all hours shall at last fulfil.
Thou Curse that from the gloom
Of nether Hell
A Sire invoked; implacable
Erinys, whom in fierce excess of wrath
Grief-maddened Œdipus did summon forth,
Thou'rt in this strife to work his children's doom.
Ah, stranger from the far-off land,—
Scyth—Chalyb—in thine iron hand
The lots are shaken; thine award
Is dealt with the devouring sword,
Whose biting edge doth make partition cold
Of all the goodly gear men get and hold.
With them so shall it be,
These, next of kin
In blood and guilt and sin,
Of all their father's famous fields widespread
They shall at last be disinherited,
Lords of so much earth as dead men have in fee.

When children, by one sire begot,
To whom one woeful womb gave birth,
In mortal combat meet and die,
And that bright pool wherein they lie
Drunk by the dust of thirsty earth
Is curdled to a darker clot,
What power of prayer shall purify,
What water wash away the stain?
But, ah, what drops incarnadine
The new, the old, the mingled wine,
That Laius' house must drain!

From springs of old transgression flow
The guilt, the sorrow swift to follow.
Not yet, not yet is vengeance spent,
Son's sons abide the chastisement
Of him who hearkened not Apollo,—
Laius, first-parent of this woe.
Three sacred embassies he sent,
And thrice where Delphic rocks are piled,
Of earth's vast wheel the massy nave,
The priestess cried 'If thou would'st save
Thy kingdom, get no child.'

But Love was master; he begot
Death for himself and shame,
The son that slew him, witting not,—
King Œdipus his name.
Who eared the womb where he lay hid,
Seed of a curse unborn,
Sowing the sacred field forbid
To reap in blood the corn.
Their bridal torch Erinys fed.
And madness strewed their nuptial bed.

And now, as 'twere a sea of woe
That may not come to rest,
Wave follows after wave; and, lo,
A third with triple crest
That breaks with moaning thunder stored
About the ship of State;
Scarce wall-wide is the weather-board
Stretched betwixt us and Fate;
And I have fears lest Cadmus Town,
Whelmed with its royal house, go down!

Like an old debt unpaid is an ancient curse:
And in the soul's commerce
It comes to audit, hath its settling day:
A heavy reckoning for man to pay
When not one damning entry is passed by.
From deck to keelson there is rummage then
And jettison of wealth of moiling men,
Waxed fat with overmuch prosperity.

This was well seen in Œdipus ill-starred.
High in the Gods' regard
He stood; by the fireside of him was laud;
In streets and squares where'er men walk abroad
Or great assemblies gather in debate,
Was never wight so praised, what time he smote
The she-fiend, gobbling down her gory throat
Comers and goers at the City Gate.

But on his noonday broke a ghastly light;
And, sounding all the sorrow of his wooing,
One final grief he wrought to his undoing
With that same hand that laid his father low;
And put away the eyes that gave him sight
Of his loathed offspring, gotten to his woe.

And then he cursed them (for they grudged him bread);
With bitter words of grief and anger chiding:
'A day shall come, a day of sharp dividing,
And he that carves shall carve with steel,' he cried.
Now the curse falls upon his children's head,
And my hushed heart awaits Erinys' stride.

Enter Messenger.


Messenger.

Take courage, weak ones! Mother's children all!
This free land hath escaped the yoke of slaves.
The boastings of the mighty are brought low:
The ship is in still waters: wave on wave
Smote her, but her stout seams have sprung no leak;
Sound are her bulwarks; her ports weather-tight;
Her champions have well-discharged their trust.
Count gate by gate and six have prospered well;
And for the seventh—Apollo, Lord of Seven,
Took that by right of his prerogative:
And there he fitly stayed the Laian rage.


Chorus.

Is not the measure of her mourning full?
And must this stricken realm find room for more?


Messenger.

The realm is safe: but, for her princely seed—


Chorus.

I dread so much the thing thou hast to say
I scarce attend thee; what dost thou mean? Speak on!


Messenger.

If thou hast power to listen, mark my words.
The Sons of Œdipus—


Chorus.

Oh, Misery!
They say prophets of evil utter truth,
And I am of them!


Messenger.

Indistinguishably
They have gone down into the dust.


Chorus.

So far
Fallen! Thy tale is heaviness; nevertheless
Tell it to the end!


Messenger.

I tell thee they are dead:
They slew each other!


Chorus.

Ah, fraternal hands!
Too near were ye in birth, too near in blood.

 

Messenger.

Yea! And their undivided destiny
Twinned them in death: their evil Genius slew them,
And blotted from the world an ill-starred race.
Such cause we have for thankfulness and tears;
The land is well at ease; that twin-born pair,
Lords and disposers of the Commonwealth,
Have made partition with the hammered steel,
Tough Scyth, of all their substance, scot and lot,
And they shall hold it indefeasibly,
Quieted in possession by the grave!
There, to that final resting place borne down
By the dark current of a father's curse.
The realm is safe: dark earth hath drunk their blood,
The royal blood that like twin fountains rose;
One hour of birth—one hour of combat—one
Of death—dealt mutually by fraternal hands.

[Exit Messenger.


Chorus.

O Sovran Zeus, Protecting Powers,
Who have indeed kept safe these well-beloved towers,
Whether shall I rejoice
For that the city stand inviolate
Or shall I rather with a lamentable voice
Weep and bewail her leader's fate?
Ah, cruel doom! Ah, children dead!
Mighty in Quarrel ye have ended
Even as the name portended,
Yea, in your wickedness ye are perished.

O curse of Œdipus! O malison
Dark—unrelenting—damning all his line!
Over this heart of mine
Comes creeping on,
Cold Misery, your chilly breath,
Because, when like a Thyiad in her madness
I seemed to hear
The blood that drips
Where men lie slain,
Then with the voice of mourning- and with rueful lips
I sang the song of death!
O ill refrain,
Glee chanted without mirth or gladness,
That keeps a sorry burden to the spear.

Rather the word, the never wearying
Once uttered malediction of their sire,
Wrought to this issue dire.
Nay, Laius King
Hath here his wish; the course he chose
Begun in blindness and in disobeying
Toucheth its bourne.
Ambitions high
And cares of State
Blunt not the edge of heavenly prophecy.
O, wailed for many woes,
Past belief in hate
And past belief in fratricidal slaying,
Is this a tale or is it sooth we mourn?

[The bodies of Eteocles and Polyneices are borne on to the Stage.]

 

Behold! self-manifest they come;
They need no harbinger;
A double woe, a mutual doom,
Care that hath slaughtered care.
New sorrows from old sorrows spring,
And both have here their home-bringing.

Ah! pilgrim-ship, your lofty poop
No festal garlands wreathe:
The drowsy sails half idly droop,
And they are dark as death:
Bound where no sunny Cyclads shine,
And bright Apollo hath no shrine.

Waft, waft her down the wind of sighs,
With, speed of plangent hand
Row her beyond these happy skies
Unto the sunless land,—
Where across Acheron voices call,
And region darkness welcomes all.


Enter Antigone and Ismene.


But dearer lips must chant their threnody;
And that unhappy cause
Here to their brethren draws
A sister pair, the maid Antigone,
Ismene by her side. Tears may be sold,
And raiment rent for mercenary gold
And money purchaseth the hireling's cries:
These warm, white breasts shall heave with heartfelt sighs;
But ere the dirge begin, let us prolong
With well accordant breath
Erinys' loud, harsh, unmelodious song,
The dismal paean of the Lord of Death.

Unhappy sisters, most unblest
Of all that e'er held brother dear,
Or bound beneath a tender breast
The cincture noble women wear;
From feigned grief no forced lament I borrow;
The heart's voice speaks when I shrill forth my sorrow.

O ye perverse, to counsel blind
Ye weariless in woe!
Must courage turn its hand 'gainst kind,
Power its own house lay low?
And sought ye death or sought ye doom
And ruin for your house and home?

Her princely walls ye tumbled flat;
In rivalry for her
A bitter monarchy ye gat,—
The sword your peacemaker.
Sceptred Erinys keeps your house,
Wreaking the wrath of Œdipus.

Oh, ill encounter! Fellowship
Of hands that hatred joins!
The drops that from these gnashes drip
Flow from the self-same loins!
Woe for the curse with Heaven allied,
Red with the blood of fratricide!

Oh gaping wound, still bleeding fresh:
O rent that ruined all,
And thrusting through fraternal flesh
Struck home at house and hall.
One bitter curse for both; yea, none
Hath less or more of malison!

Realm-wide the sound of mourning runs:
The bastioned walls make moan;
This earth that loveth her strong sons
Sends up a hollow groan;
And all they perished to possess
Waiting new heirs lies ownerless.

Too keen their cause to prosecute,
Too jealous for just share;
And he who solved their bitter suit
Think ye that he judged fair?
Ares that judgeth by the sword,—
Small thanks hath he for his reward!

To battle they had made appeal,
And battle heard their cause;
That iron judge, the trenchant steel,
Hath brought them to this pause,
In undisturbéd tenure cold
Their father's grave to have and hold!

Loud is my wail! My heart is rent
With grief's authentic cry!
No gladness lurks in this lament,
Feigned grief false thoughts belie!
The fountains of my being flow
For royal men in death laid low!

How shall we praise them? Shall we say
Their own should love them well,
Seeing they wrought much in their day,
Were wondrous hospitable?
When host met host, the pledge was graced
They lavished all—in laying waste!

O crown of women, woe-begone!
Of mothers, most unblest!
Who took to husband her own son,
And suckled at her breast
Babes, that in mutual slaughter bleed:
Here ends that sowing—and the seed!

Yea, in their seed-time they were twinned,
And clove in twain by hate
They are clean gone—a stormy wind
Hath swept them to their fate:
Such peace-making these brawlers have,
And their conclusion is the grave.

There they forget to hate: their strife
Springs to no fierce rebirth:
The sundered rivers of their life
Mingle in peaceful earth;
And in that dark, distempered clay
Too near, too near in blood are they.

Alack! The alien of the sea,
Keen iron, fire's own child,
With bitter blows, unlovingly
Their quarrel reconciled;
Ares hath sharp division made;
He heard the prayer their father prayed.

They have their portion! poor, poor souls!
A little fathom-span
Of ground, illiberal fortune doles;
No more the gods give man;
And 'neath them lying stark and cold
Earth's wealth unplumbed, her gems and gold.

Wail for the wreath of victory
That crowns their race with woe!
Wail for the Curse's triumph-cry,
Shrieked for their overthrow!
Wail for the line that broke and fled—
And found a refuge with the dead!

There stands a trophy at the gate.
Where breast to breast they fell;
The votive offering of Hate
And Havoc hot from hell;
There their ill star its strength essayed,
Nor till both sank its fury stayed!


THE DIRGE.

Antigone.

Smiter smitten!


Ismene.

Slayer slain!


Antigone.

Blood on thy spear!


Ismene.

On thy breast that stain!


Antigone.

Weep the wrong!

 

Ismene.

Wail the woe!


Antigone.

Make grief thy song!


Ismene.

Let thy tears flow!


Antigone and Ismene.

Misery! Ah, misery!


Antigone.

Oh, maddened breast!


Ismene.

Oh, moaning heart!


Antigone.

Wept with all tears thou art!


Ismene.

And thou of all unhappy things unhappiest!


Antigone.

Slain by thine own thou liest dead!


Ismene.

Yea, and this hand its own blood shed!


Antigone.

So is a tale of grief twice told!


Ismene.

A double horror to behold!


Antigone.

Two woes in dreadful neighbourhood!


Ismene.

They lie together mingled in their blood!

 

Chorus.

O Fate! How heavy is thy hand!
How grievous are the gifts that thou dost bring!
Great shade of Œdipus who banned
His own offspring,—
Offended ghost—Erinys black as hell,
Surely thou art of might unconquerable!


Antigone and Ismene.

Misery! ah, misery!


Antigone.

Sorrow's gifts are ill to see!


Ismene.

These back from exile thou didst bring to me!


Antigone.

He fought and slew; yet home is far away!


Ismene.

He won the cause, but perished in the fray!


Antigone.

Ill he sped—for he is fled!


Ismene.

And this poor soul is numbered with the dead!


Antigone.

Bad brotherhood was this!


Ismene.

Yea, and they had but little bliss!


Antigone.

One sorrow! One death-song!


Ismene.

Bewept with tears that weep a threefold wrong!

 

Chorus.

O Fate! How heavy is thy hand!
How grievous are the gifts that thou dost bring!
Great shade of Œdipus who banned
His own offspring,—
Offended ghost—Erinys black as hell,
Surely thou art of might unconquerable!


Antigone.

Now thou know' St thou didst transgress!


Ismene.

Now thou own'st thy wickedness!


Antigone.

Back returned with murderous stride!


Ismene.

Fugitive and fratricide!


Antigone.

Oh, the woeful victory!


Ismene.

Oh, the sorry sight to see!


Antigone.

Wail the grief!


Ismene.

Weep the wrong!


Antigone.

To home and country both belong!


Ismene.

Mine the woe!


Antigone.

This long anguish ends even so!

 

Ismene.

Wretchedest of mortal kind!


Antigone and Ismene.

Sinning with a frenzied mind!


Antigone.

Where to lay them—in what grave?


Ismene.

Where most honour they may have!


Antigone and Ismene.

Yea, these children of his woe
Shall be their father's bedfellow!


Enter a Herald.


Herald.

Hold! Let me first discharge a duty. I
Am come with mandate from the Governors
Appointed by the people of this realm
Cadmean. Their high will and pleasure is
That, forasmuch as good Eteocles
Was loyally affected to this land,
Ye do inter him in its tender soil;
Thereby acknowledging he gave his life
For love of her and hatred of her foes;
And, being perfect and without reproach
God-ward and to the temples of his fathers,
Died, as became his youth, in guiltlessness.
Touching the said deceased Eteocles
So much I am commanded to convey.
But for his brother—Polyneices—ye
Are to cast forth unburied his remains
For dogs to gnaw; as a conspirator
Against the integritv of Cadmus' realm,
Who would have turned this kingdom upside down,
Had not a God from heaven braced yonder arm.
Outlawed in death is he, with the same ban
Wherewith the Gods attached him, when he led
An army hither to possess the land.
Therefore it seemeth good that birds of the air
Shall give him burial; and, in dishonour,
He shall have all the honour he hath earned:—
No following of slaves to build his tomb;
No keening note of ceremonial woe;
His own kin shall deny him obsequies.
This touching him is formally resolved
By the good lords that govern Cadmus Town.


Antigone.

Tell your good lords that I will bury him
If none will help me. If it be dangerous
To bury mine own brother, I am ready!
Shame have I none for this rebellion!
A mighty yearning draws me; that great bond
Which binds us, sprung from the same parent's loins,
And makes us joint-heirs of their misery.
Therefore, my soul, make thou his griefs thine own,
Though he can neither hear nor answer thee,
And be a sister to the slumbering dead!
This body never hollow-bellied wolf
Shall tear and rend ! So let no man 'resolve it'!
For I will scoop for him a shallow grave,
Ay, with these woman's hands! I'll fold my robe
And carry him in my lap, and cover him!
Let no 'good lords' 'resolve it' otherwise!
Courage! For what I will I'll find a way!

 

Herald.

'Tis my most strict command that thou forbear!
Flout not authority!


Antigone.

And it is mine
That thou refine not on thy herald's office.


Herald.

Let me say this: a people long oppressed
When they win free, turn savage.


Antigone.

Let them be
As savage as you please,—he shall have his grave.


Herald.

And wilt thou pay the honours cf the grave
To one whom the supreme authority
Holdeth accurst?


Antigone.

Alas! The Gods, methinks,
Have meted out to him his meed of honour.


Herald.

For grievous outrage on the commonweal!
He did most wickedly imperil her!


Antigone.

Gave back what he received! Evil for evil!


Herald.

To be revenged upon one man, his foe,
He struck at all!

 

Antigone.

So might we wrangle on!
And so should wrangling still have the last word!


Herald.

Then I have done; reck thine own rede and rue it!

[Exit Herald.


Chorus.

What sorrow like thine is!
And ye angry ghosts,
Blood-boltered Erinys,
Loud, loud are your boasts!
Race-wreckers, your feet have not tarried!
The tree-root and branch lies shattered!
The ruins of Œdipus' line
With the dust of its dead shall be scattered!
And how shall my heart incline?
On thy poor corse shall I shed no tear?
Shall I not walk before thy bier
When thou to the grave art carried?

Ah! maugre all pity,
I am afraid!
From the wrath of the city
My soul shrinks dismayed!
New sorrow is here for my grieving!
Yea! for there shall not fail thee
The meed of a multitude's tears!
Thou shalt have many to wail thee,
Lost in the wreck of the years!
And must this poor soul go without his moan
Save the death-song his sister singeth alone?
O bitter past believing!


Semi-Chorus.

What the city declareth
Be done or forborne!
Little my heart careth,—
Too deeply I mourn,—
Yea, my sorrow their anger despiseth!
Lead on! Though his people disown him
And no proud funeral pomp he shall have,
Together our hearts shall bemoan him,—
Together our hands build his grave!
For to-day goeth by as a tale that is told,
And Time metes new censure, revoking the old,
And Justice her dooms reviseth!


Semi-Chorus.

Go thy ways! Where my trust is
My mourning shall be!
When the stern soul of Justice
And man's censure agree,
Shall I question or shall I upbraid her?
Nay, rather my dirge shall be chanted
For him who wrought most for his land,
And the city that Cadmus planted,
Under Heaven and Zeus' mighty hand,
When she was like to be cast away,
Foundered far from the light of day
'Neath the wave of the strong invader.


[Exeunt; one half following Antigone with the body of Polyneices, and the other half Ismene with the body of Eteocles.