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Tragedies of Euripides (Way)/The Phoenician Maidens

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Phoenician Women (Euripides).

 

THE PHŒNICIAN MAIDENS.

 

 

ARGUMENT.


When Oedipus, king of Thebes, was ware that he had fulfilled the oracle uttered ere he was born, in that he had slain his father, king Laius, and wedded his mother Jocasta, he plucked out his own eyes in his shame and misery. So he ceased to be king; but, inasmuch as his two sons rendered to him neither love nor worship, he cursed them with this curse, "that they should divide their inheritance with the sword." But they essayed to escape this doom by covenanting to rule in turn, year by year. So Eteokles, being the elder, became king for the first year, and Polyneikes his brother departed from the land, lest any occasion of offence should arise. But when after a year's space he returned, Eteokles refused to yield to him the kingdom. Then went he to Adrastus, king of Argos, who gave him his daughter to wife, and led forth a host of war under seven chiefs against Thebes.

And herein is told how the brothers met in useless parley; by what strange sacrifice Thebes was saved; of the Argives' vain assault; and how the brothers slew each other in single combat.

 

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ.


Jocasta,[1] wife of Oedipus.

Old Servant, attendant on Antigonê.

Antigone, daughter of Oedipus.

Polyneikes, exiled son of Oedipus.

Eteokles, son of Oedipus, and king of Thebes.

Kreon, brother of Jocasta.

Teiresias, a blind prophet.

Menoikeus, son of Kreon.

Messenger, armour-bearer of Eteokles.

Oedipus, father of Eteokles and Polyneikes.

Chorus, consisting of Phœnician Maidens, dedicated by the
Tyrians to the service of Apollo at Delphi, who, resting at
Thebes on their journey, have been detained there by the siege
.

Daughter of Teiresias, guards of Eteokles, attendants of Jocasta
and of Kreon
.

Scene:—In front of the Royal Palace at Thebes.

 

 

THE PHŒNICIAN MAIDENS.

 

Enter Jocasta.

Jocasta.

O thou from who cleav'st thy path mid heaven's stars,
Who ridest on thy chariot golden-clamped,
Sun, whirling on with flying steeds thy fire,
What beams accurst on that day sheddest thou
O'er Thebes, when Kadmus came to this our land,5
Leaving Phœnicia's sea-fringed realm afar!
He took to wife Harmonia, Kypris' child,
And begat Polydore, of whom, men say,
Sprang Labdakus, and Laïus of him.
I, daughter of Menoikeus am I named;10
My brother Kreon the selfsame mother bare.
Jocasta men call me: this name my sire
Gave; Laïus wedded me. But when long years
Of wedlock brought no child our halls within,
He went and questioned Phœbus, craved withal15
For me, for him, male heirs unto his house.
The God spake: "King of chariot-glorious Thebes,
Beget not seed of sons in Heaven's despite.
If so thou do, thee shall thine issue slay,
And all thine house shall wade through seas of blood."20
Yet he, to passion yielding, flushed with wine,
Begat a son; and when our babe was born,
Ware of his sin, remembering the God's word,
He gave the babe to herdmen to cast forth
In Hera's Mead upon Kithairon's ridge,25
His ankles pierced clear through with iron spikes,
Whence Hellas named him Swoln-foot—Oedipus.
But Polybus' horse-tenders found him there,
And bare him home, and in their mistress' hands
Laid. To my travail's fruit she gave her breast,30
Telling her lord herself had borne the babe.
Now, grown to man with golden-bearded cheeks,
My son, divining, or of some one told,
Journeyed, resolved to find his parents forth,
To Phœbus' fane. Now Laïus my lord,35
Seeking assurance of the babe exposed,
If dead he were, fared thither. And they met,
These twain, where parts the highway Phocis-ward.
Then Laïus' charioteer commanded him—
"Stand clear, man, from the pathway of a prince!"40
Proudly he strode on, answering not. The steeds
Spurned with their hoofs his ankles, drawing blood.
Then—why tell aught beyond the sad event?—
Son slayeth father, takes the car, and gives
To Polybus, his fosterer. While the Sphinx45
Was ravaging Thebes, when now my lord was not,
Kreon my brother published that the man,
Whoso should read the riddle of that witch-maid,
Even he should wed me. Strangely it befell—
Oedipus, my son, read the Sphinx's song,[2]50
Whence he became the ruler of this land;
Yea, for his guerdon wins the throne of Thebes,
And weds his mother,—wretch!—unwitting he,
Unwitting she that she was her son's bride.
And children to my son I bare, two sons,55
Eteokles and famed Polyneikes' might,
And daughters twain: the one the father named
Ismênê, the elder I, Antigonê.
But, when he knew me mother both and wife,
Oedipus, crushed 'neath utterest sufferings,60
On his own eyes wrought ruin horrible,
Yea, with gold brooch-pin drenched their orbs with blood.
Now, being to bearded manhood grown, my sons
Close-warded kept their sire, that his dark fate,
By manifold shifts scarce veiled, might be forgot.65
Within he lives: but, by his fate distraught,
A curse most impious hurled he at his sons,
That they may share their heritage with the sword.
They, terror-stricken lest, if they should dwell
Together, Gods might bring the curse to pass,70
Made covenant that Polyneikes first,
The younger, self-exiled, should leave the land,
That Eteokles tarrying wear the crown
One year—then change. But, once in sovranty
Firm-seated, he would step not from the throne,75
And thrust Polyneikes banished forth the land.
To Argos fares he, weds Adrastus' child,
And bringeth huge war-muster of Argive shields.
To our very walls seven-gated hath he come,
Claiming his father's sceptre and his right.80
And I, to allay their strife, persuaded son
In truce to meet son, ere they touch the spear:
And, saith the messenger I sent, he comes.
O dweller Zeus in heaven's veiling light,
Save us, grant reconciling to my sons!85
Thou oughtest not, so thou be wise, to leave
The same man evermore to be unblest.

[Exit.

Enter, above, Old Servant and Antigonê.


Old Servant.

Fair flower of thy sire's house, Antigonê,
Albeit thy mother suffered thee to leave
Thy maiden-bower at thine entreaty, and mount90
The palace-roof to view the Argive host,
Yet stay, that I may scan the highway first,
Lest on the path some citizen appear,
And scandal light—for me, the thrall, 'twere nought,—
On thee, the princess. This known, will I tell95
All that I saw, and heard from Argive men,
When, to thy brother on truce-mission sent,
I passed hence thither, and then back from him. . . .
Nay, not a citizen draws nigh the halls.
Climb with thy feet the ancient cedar-stair;100
Gaze o'er the plain, along Ismenus' stream
And Dirkê's flow, on yon great host of foes.


Antigone.

Stretch it forth, stretch it forth, the old man's hand, unto me
The child, from the stair, and my feet upbear,
As upward I strain.


Old Servant.

Lo, maiden, grasp it: in good time thou com'st,
For yon Pelasgian host is moving now.
Battalion from battalion sundering.


Antigone.

O Queen, O Child of Latona, Hekatê!
Lo, how the glare of the brass flashes there
Over all the plain!110


Old Servant.

Ay, for not feebly Polyneikes comes
With thunder of many a steed, with countless shields.

 

Antigone.

Ah, be the gates secure, be the brass-clamped bolts made sure
In the walls that Amphion in days bygone
Fashioned of stone?


Old Servant.

Fear not; the city wards all safe within.
Mark yonder foremost chief, if thou wouldst know him.


Antigone.

Who is he with the white helm-crest
Who marcheth in front of their war-array,120
And a brazen buckler fencing his breast
Lightly his arm doth sway?


Old Servant.

A captain, princess.


Antigone.

What his land, his birth?
Make answer, ancient. What name beareth he?


Old Servant.

Yon chief proclaims him of Mycenian race:
By streams of Lerna King Hippomedon dwells.


Antigone.

Ah me, how haughty, how fearful he is to see,
Like to a Giant, a child of Earth!
Star-blazonry gleams on his shield: not like is he
Unto one of mortal birth.130

 

Old Servant.

See'st thou not him who crosseth Dirkê's flood?


Antigone.

Of other, of stranger fashion his armour shows!
Who is he?


Old Servant.

Tydeus he, of Oineus' blood.
Aetolia's battle-fire in the breast of him glows.


Antigone.

Is this he, ancient, by spousal-ties
Unto mine own Polyneikes allied,
Whose wife's fair sister he won for his bride?
How half-barbaric his harness, of no Greek guise!


Old Servant.

Nay, child, shield-bearers all Aetolians are,
And most unerring hurlers of the lance.140


Antigone.

And thou, how know'st thou, ancient, all so well?


Old Servant.

Even then I noted their shield-blazonry,
When to thy brother with truce-pact I fared:
I marked them, and I know their bearers now.


Antigone.

Who is this by Zethus' sepulchre going,
With the keen, stern eyes and the curls long-flowing?
A warrior young,
Yet a chief—for in armour brazen-glowing
See his followers throng!

 

Old Servant.

Parthenopæus, Atalanta's son.150


Antigone.

Now may Artemis, over the mountains hasting
With his mother, smite with her bow, and in death lay yon man low,
Who is hitherward come for my city's wasting!


Old Servant.

So be it, child: yet for the right they come;
Wherefore I dread lest God defend the right.


Antigone.

And where is he whom the selfsame mother bore
With me, to a doom of travail sore?
Dear ancient, where is Polyneikes, tell.


Old Servant.

He standeth near Adrastus, near the tomb
Of Niobê's unwedded daughters seven.160
See'st thou?


Antigone.

I see—not clearly—yet discern
Half-guessed, the outline of his frame and chest.
O that as wind-driven clouds swift-racing
I might speed with my feet through the air, and light
By my brother, mine own, and with arms embracing
Might hold but his dear neck close-enfolden—
So long an exile in dolorous plight!
Lo, how he flasheth in armour golden,
Like the morning shafts of the sun bright-blazing!

 

Old Servant.

Hither with joy to fill thee shall he come170
By truce.


Antigone.

But yon chief, ancient, who is he,
Car-borne, who sways the reins of horses white?


Old Servant.

The prophet Amphiaraus, Lady, is this.
With him are victims, Earth's blood-offerings.


Antigone.

O Daughter of Leto the Queen of the radiant zone,[3]
O Moon, thou golden-rounded gleam,
How calmly, how soberly ever he driveth on,
One after other goading his team!
And where is Kapaneus—he who hurls at Thebes180
Outrage of threats?


Old Servant.

There:—he counts up and down
The wall-stones, gauging our towers' scaling-height.


Antigone.

O Nemesis, O ye thunders rolling deep
Of Zeus, thou flaming light of his levin,
Overweening vaunts dost thou hush into endless sleep!
And is this the hero by whom shall be given
Into bondage to dames of Mycenæ the spear-won daughters
Of Thebes,—to the Trident of Lerna, the fountain-waters
Amymonian, at stroke of Poseidon that leapt,—
When his net of thraldom around them is swept?
Never, ah never, O Artemis Queen,190
Zeus' child, with the tresses of golden sheen,
Bowed under bondage may I be seen!


Old Servant.

Daughter, pass in, and 'neath the roofs abide
Thy maiden bowers within; for thy desire
Hast thou attained, even all thou fain wouldst see.195
Lo, to the royal halls a woman-throng
Comes, now confusion through the town hath passed.
And scandal-loving still is womankind;
For, so they find slight cause for idle talk,
More they invent. Strange pleasure women take200
To speak of sister-women nothing good.

[Exeunt Old Servant and Antigonê.

Enter Chorus.

Chorus.

(Str. 1)

Afar from the tides against Tyre's walls swelling,
For Loxias chosen an offering,
From the Isle of Phœnicia I came, to be thrall
Unto Phœbus, to serve in his palace-hall
Where 'neath crags of Parnassus, with arrowy fall
Of the snow oversprent, he hath made him a dwelling.
O'er Ionian seas did it waft me, the wing
Of the oar, while the West-wind's chariot sped
Over the furrows unharvested210
That from Sicily roughened;—before him fled
Music, till all the heavens were telling
The glory of beauty his breathings bring.

(Ant. 1)

The choice of my city's virgin-flowers,
A gift of beauty to Loxias made,
To the land of the children of Kadmus we came,
To the sons of Agenor of ancient fame,
Hither brought to a people by lineage the same
With my fathers, even to Laïus' towers.
But as gold-wrought statues to stand arrayed220
For the service of Phœbus appointed we were;
And Kastaly's fount yet waiteth us there,
That my maiden glory of shining hair
May be oversprayed by its hallowing showers
Ere for Phœbus's service its tresses I braid.

(Mesode)

Hail, rock that flashest a splendour of light
From the cloven tongue of thy flame o'er the height
Of the Bacchic peak Dionysus haunteth!
Hail, vine that with each morn offerest up
Thy giant cluster to brim the cup230
That never the mystic ritual wanteth![4]
Hail, cavern revered where the Dragon abode!
Hail, watchtower scaur of the Archer-god!
Hail, snow-smitten ridges by mortal untrod!
O that the wreaths of the dance I were weaving,
With soul unafraid, to the Goddess undying,
These fear-stricken waters of Dirkê leaving
For Apollo's dells[5] by the world's heart lying!

(Str. 2)

But this day before the wall
Furious Arês comes; his hand240
Lights for Thebes the slaughter-brand—
God forefend his will befall!
Friend with friend is one in pain;
And Phœnicia with all bane
Of the stately-towered land
Shall condole, a mourning nation.
One our lineage, one our blood;
All be horned Io's brood:[6]
Mine is all your tribulation.

(Ant. 2)

Round the town a shield-array250
Cloudlike flashes levin-light—
Grim presentment of red fight!
Yet shall Arês rue the day[7]
If the Avengers' curse he bring
On the sons of that blind king.
Argos, thy Pelasgian might
Dread I, and the hand of heaven!
For the strife of him who comes
Mail-clad to the ancient homes
Shall with Justice' help be striven.260

Enter Polyneikes.


Polyneikes.

Lightly, too lightly, have the warders' bolts
Made way for me to pass within the walls.
Wherefore I fear lest, once within their net,
They shall not let me 'scape but with my blood.
Needs must I then turn every way mine eye265
Hither and thither, lest some treachery lurk.
Mine hand with this blade armed shall give to me
The assurance of a desperate courage born.
Ha! who goes there?—or fear I but a sound?
All perilous seems to them that venture all,270
Soon as their feet are set on hostile soil.
Yet do I trust my mother—and mistrust,—
Who drew me to come hither under truce.
But help is nigh; for lo, the altar-hearth
At hand; nor void the palace is of folk.275
Into its dark sheath let me plunge my sword,
And ask these by the palace who they be.
Ye alien women, say, from what far land
Unto the homes of Hellas are ye come?


Chorus.

Phœnician was the land that fostered me.280
Agenor's sons' sons sent me hitherward
To Phœbus, firstfruits of their battle-spoil.
When Oedipus' famed son would speed me on
To Loxias' awful oracle and hearths,
Even then the Argives marched against the town.285
But thou, make answer, who art thou that com'st
Into this fortress of seven-gated Thebes?


Polyneikes.

Oedipus, son of Laïus, was my sire;
Menoikeus' child Jocasta gave me birth;
And me the Theban folk Polyneikes name.290


Chorus.

O kinsman thou of old Agenor's race,
My rulers, who forth sent me to this place!—
Low on my knees in obeisance I fall,
After the wont of my people, O king!
Thou art come at the last—to the land of thy fathers comest thou!
What ho, queen, ho! fare forth of the hall!
Wide let the palace-portals swing.
Mother that barest him, hear'st thou my call?
Why dost thou linger to pass from thine high-roofed bowers now,
And around thy son with thine arms to cling?300

Enter Jocasta.


Jocasta.

Your Tyrian accents ringing clear
Smote, O ye maidens, on mine ear,
And lo, my tottering feet, for eld slow-trailed, draw near.

Catches sight of Polyneikes.

(Str.)

O my son, I behold
Thy face at the last,
After days untold,
O my son!—now cast
Thine arms round thy mother, and bosom to bosom enfold me fast.

Stoop to me, stoop,
Dear face, from above!
Let the dark head droop
The tresses thereof,
Overshadowing my neck with its clustering curls, with the banner of love.

(Ant.)

Hopes, dreams, they were past310
As a tale that is told;
Yet thou comest at last
For mine arms to enfold!
What shall I say to thee?—how shall I grasp it, the rapture of old?

By assurance of word,
Or by hands that embrace,
Or by feet that are stirred,
Or by body that sways,
Hitherward, thitherward, tossed as the dance intertwineth its maze?

Ah son, thy father's desolate home forsaking,
Wast thou by thine own brother's tyrannous wrong
Exiled!—for thee thy lovers' hearts were aching,320
Thebes' heart for thee ached long.

Therefore my white hair have I shorn for mourning,
With weeping let it fall for thee, my son:
Of white robes disarrayed, for all adorning
These night-hued rags I don;

While in our halls the sightless ancient, ever
Yearning and weeping o'er that noble twain
Whom from home's yoke of love did hatred sever,
Rushed, eager to be slain330

By his own hand, with sword, with noose down-trailing
From rafters dim,—now groaning o'er the doom
His malison brought on you, ever wailing
With anguish, hides in gloom.

But thou, my son, men say, hast made affiance
With strangers: children gotten in thine halls
Gladden thee, yea, thou soughtest strange alliance!340
Son, on thy mother falls

Thine alien bridal's curse to haunt her ever.
Thee shall a voice from Laïus' grave accuse.
The spousal torch for thee I kindled never,
As happy mothers use;

Nor for thy bridal did Ismenus bring thee
Joy of the bath; nor at the entering-in
Of this thy bride did Theban maidens sing thee.
A curse be on that sin,[8]350

Whether of steel's spell,[9] strife-lust, or thy father
It sprang, or whether revel of demons rose
In halls of Oedipus!—on mine head gather
All tortures of these woes.


Chorus.

Mighty with women is their travail's fruit;355
Yea, dear the child is to all womankind.


Polyneikes.

Wisely, and yet not wisely, have I come,
Mother, mid foes: yet all men are constrained
To love their fatherland; who saith not so,
Sporteth with words, his heart is otherwhere.360
In such misgiving came I, in such dread
Lest treachery slay me, of my brother framed,
That through the city sword in hand I passed,
Aye keenly glancing round. One stay I had;—
The truce and thy fair faith drew me within365
These walls ancestral. Full of tears I came,
So late to see home, altars of the Gods,
The athlete-stead that trained me, Dirkê's spring,
Whence banished wrongfully, in a strange town
I dwell, mine eyes a fountain ever of tears.370
Thee too, for sorrow's crown of sorrow, I see
With shaven head, and in dark mourning robes
Clad—woe is me for my calamities!
Mother, how dire is strife betwixt near kin,
How hopeless reconciliation is!375
What doth mine ancient father in his halls,
Whose light is dark? What of my sisters twain?
Do these bemoan mine exile's misery?


Jocasta.

Foully doth some God ruin Oedipus' line.
Thus it began—I bare forefended issue;380
Wed under curse thy sire,—and thou wast born!
Yet wherefore this? The Gods' will must we bear.
But how to ask the thing I would I fear,
Lest I should gall thy soul, yet long for this.


Polyneikes.

Nay, ask; leave no desire unsatisfied;385
For, mother, that thou wouldst is dear to me.


Jocasta.

First, then, I ask thee that I fain would learn.
What meaneth exile? Is it a sore ill?

 

Polyneikes.

The sorest. In deed sorer than in word.


Jocasta.

In what wise? Where for exiles lies its sting?390


Polyneikes.

This most of all—a curb is on the tongue.


Jocasta.

That is the slave's lot, not to speak one's thought!


Polyneikes.

The unwisdom of his rulers must one bear.


Jocasta.

Hard this, that one partake in folly of fools!


Polyneikes.

Yokes nature loathes must be for profit borne.395


Jocasta.

Yet hopes be exiles' meat, so runs the saw.


Polyneikes.

Hopes look with kind eyes, yet they long delay.


Jocasta.

But doth not time lay bare their emptiness?


Polyneikes.

Ah, but sweet witchery mid ills have they!

 

Jocasta.

Whence wast thou fed, ere marriage brought thee substance?400


Polyneikes.

Whiles had I daily bread, and whiles had not.


Jocasta.

Helped they not thee, thy father's friends and guests?


Polyneikes.

Prosper:—friends vanish if thou prosper not.


Jocasta.

Did high birth bring thee not to high estate?


Polyneikes.

A curse is penury. Birth fed me not.405


Jocasta.

Most dear, meseems, to men is fatherland.


Polyneikes.

How dear, thou couldst not even utter it.


Jocasta.

To Argos how cam'st thou? With what intent?


Polyneikes.

I know not. Heaven to my fate summoned me.


Jocasta.

Wise is the God. How didst thou win thy bride?410

 

Polyneikes.

To Adrastus Loxias spake an oracle.


Jocasta.

What was it? How mean'st thou? I cannot guess.


Polyneikes.

"Thy daughters wed to a lion and a boar."


Jocasta.

Son, with a brute's name what hadst thou to do?


Polyneikes.

'Twas night: to Adrastus' palace-porch I came.415


Jocasta.

Seeking a couch?—or but as exiles roam?


Polyneikes.

Even that. Another exile thither came.


Jocasta.

Who? In what hapless plight was he withal?


Polyneikes.

Tydeus, who sprang, men say, of Oineus' loins.


Jocasta.

Why to Adrastus seemed ye as wild beasts?420


Polyneikes.

For that we fell to fighting for our couch.

 

Jocasta.

Then Talaus' son read right the oracle?


Polyneikes.

Yea—to us twain gave his young daughters twain.


Jocasta.

Blest or unblest, then, art thou in thy bride?


Polyneikes.

Unto this day I find no fault in her.425


Jocasta.

How didst thou win yon host to follow thee?


Polyneikes.

To his two daughters' husbands swore Adrastus,
Tydeus and me,—my marriage-kinsman he,—
To bring both home from exile, me the first.
And many a Danaan and Mycenian chief430
Is here—a needful, yet a mournful grace
To me, for I against my country march.
And, by the Gods I swear, unwillingly
I lift the spear against my best-beloved.
But with thee rests the assuaging of these ills,435
Mother, to set at one those one in blood,
And end mine, thine, and all the city's toils.
Old is the saw, yet will I utter it:—
Wealth in men's eyes is honoured most of all,
And of all things on earth hath chiefest power.440
Captaining countless spears for this I come;
For the high-born in poverty is naught.

 

Chorus.

Lo, unto parley Eteokles comes.
Mother Jocasta, thine the task to speak
Words whereby thou shalt set thy sons at one.445

Enter Eteokles.

Eteokles.

Here am I, mother—all for grace to thee
I come. What needs to do? Be speech begun.
For I have stayed from marshalling round the walls
The close-linked cordon of defence, to hear
Thy mediation for the which thou hast wrought450
On me to admit this man within our walls.


Jocasta.

Forbear: haste brings not justice in its train:
But slow speech winneth oftenest wisdom's end.
Refrain fierce look and passion's stormy breath:
The Gorgon's severed head thou seest not:455
Thou seest thine own brother hither come.
And thou, unto thy brother turn thy face,
Polyneikes; for, if thou but meet his eye,
Thou shalt the better speak, and hear his words.
Fain would I wisely counsel thee, and thee.460
When he whose wrath is hot against his friend
Cometh to meet him, standeth eye to eye,
Let him look only at that for which he came,
And cherish no remembrance of old wrongs.
Son Polyneikes, be the first word thine,465
For thou hast brought yon host of Danaus' sons,
Wronged, as thou pleadest. Now be some God judge
Hereof, and reconciler of these ills.

 

Polyneikes.

Plain and unvarnished is the tale of truth,
And justice needs no subtle sophistries:470
Itself hath fitness; but the unrighteous plea,
Having no soundness, needeth cunning salves.
I had regard unto my father's house,
My weal, and this man's: fain to 'scape the curse
Uttered of Oedipus against us once,475
Of mine own will I went from this realm forth,
And left him one year's round to rule our land,
Myself in turn to take the sovereignty,
And not in hate and bloodshed clash with him,
And do and suffer ill—as now befalls.480
And he consented, in the Gods' sight swore,
Yet no whit keepeth troth, but holdeth still
The kingship and mine half the heritage.
Now ready am I, so I receive mine own,
Forth from this land to send my war-array,485
To take mine house, in turn therein to dwell,
And for like space to yield it him again,
And not to waste my fatherland, nor bring
Assault of scaling-ladders to her towers,
Which, save I win my right, will I essay490
To do. I call the Gods to witness this—
That, wholly dealing justly, robbed am I
Of fatherland, unjustly, impiously.
These things have I said, mother, point by point,
Not wrapped in webs of words, but, in the eyes495
Of wise or simple, naked right, meseems.


Chorus.

To me—albeit Hellas nursed me not,
Yet to me soundly seemest thou to plead.

 

Eteokles.

Were wisdom gauged alike of all, and honour,
No strife of warring words were known to men.500
But no men judge alike, no men agree,
Save touching names; no being hath the deed.[10]
Yea, mother, nothing feigning will I speak:—
I would mount to the risings of the stars
Or sun, would plunge 'neath earth, if this I could,505
So to win Power, diviner than all gods.
This precious thing, my mother, will I not
Yield to another, when myself might keep.
No man's part this, to let the better slip
And grasp the worse! Nay more—I think foul shame510
That he should come with arms, lay waste the land,
And win his heart's desire. This were reproach
To Thebes, if I, by spear Mycenian cowed,
Should yield my sceptre up for him to hold.
With arms should he not come in quest of peace,515
Mother; for parley can accomplish all
That even steel of foes can bring to pass.
If he on other terms will dwell in Thebes,
That may he. This consent I not to yield.
I, who may rule, shall I be thrall to him?520
Wherefore let fire have way, let swords have way,
Yoke ye the steeds, with chariots fill the plains:—
I will not render him my sovereignty.
If wrong may e'er be right, for a throne's sake
Were wrong most right:—be God in all else feared!525

 

Chorus.

Befits not fair speech glozing deed unfair:
Not fair it is, but an offence to justice.


Jocasta.

My son Eteokles, evil unalloyed
Cleaves not to old age: nay, experience
Can plead more wisely than the lips of youth.530
Why at Ambition, worst of deities,
Son, graspest thou? Do not: she is Queen of Wrong.
Homes many and happy cities enters she,
And leaves for ruin of her votaries.
Thou art mad for her!—better to honour, son,535
Equality, which knitteth friends to friends,
Cities to cities, allies unto allies.
Man's law of nature is equality,
And the less, ever marshalled foe against
The greater, ushers in the dawn of hate.540
Measures for men Equality ordained,
Meting of weights and number she assigned.
The sightless face of night, and the sun's beam
Equally pace along their yearly round,
Nor either envieth that it must give place.545
Sun, then, and night are servants unto men.
Shalt thou not brook to halve your heritage
And share with him? . . . Ah, where is justice then?
Wherefore dost thou prize lordship overmuch,—
A prosperous wrong,—and count it some great thing?550
Is worship precious? Nay, 'tis vanity.
Wouldst have, with great wealth in thine halls, great travail?
What is thy profit?—profit but in name;
Seeing enough sufficeth for the wise.
Mortals hold their possessions not in fee:555
We are but stewards of the gifts of God:
Whene'er he will, he claims his own again.
And wealth abides not, 'tis but for a day.
Come, if I set two things before thee, and ask
"Wouldst thou be lord or saviour of thy Thebes?"560
Wilt thou say, "Lord?" But if this man prevail,
And Argos' spears bear down Kadmean might,
Then conquered shalt thou see this city of Thebes,
And many captive maidens shalt thou see
Dishonoured with foul outrage by the foe.565
Then were the wealth, that thou dost covet, made
Anguish to Thebes . . . . Ah me! ambitious still!
This to thee: and to thee, Polyneikes, this:—
A foolish grace Adrastus did to thee;
Madly thou too hast marched to ravage Thebes.570
Come, if thou smite this land,—which God forbid,—
'Fore heaven, how wilt thou set Zeus' trophies up?
How sacrifice for fatherland o'ercome?
And how at Inachus' streams inscribe the spoils—
"Polyneikes hath burnt Thebes, and to the Gods575
Offers these shields?" Never, my son, be thine
To win from lips of Hellenes such renown!
But, he triumphant, vanquished thou, to Argos
How canst thou come, here leaving myriads dead?
And one shall say, "O cursed betrothal made580
By thee, Adrastus! For one bridal's sake
We are ruined!" Evils twain thou draw'st on thee,—
There, to lose all, here, fail mid thine emprise.
Forbear, forbear your vehemence! When meet
Two headstrong fools, the issue is foulest ill.585

 

Chorus.

Ah Gods, be ye averters of these ills,
And set at one the sons of Oedipus!


Eteokles.

Mother, 'tis too late for parley; nay, the time in dallying spent
Doth but run to waste, nor aught availeth this thy good intent.
Never shall we be at one, except as I have laid it down,590
That in lordship over Thebes I sway the sceptre, wear the crown.
Have thou done with tedious admonitions then, and let me be:
And, for thee, thou get thee forth these walls, ere death shall light on thee.


Polyneikes.

Death?—of whom?—what man so woundless, as to plunge his murderous sword
Into this my body, and not win himself the like reward?595


Eteokles.

Nigh he is: not far thou standest: lo, these hands—hast eyes to see?


Polyneikes.

Yea—and know how clings to life that craven thing, prosperity![11]

 

Eteokles.

Yet against a battle-blencher thou must lead yon huge array!


Polyneikes.

Yea, for better than the reckless is the prudent captain aye.


Eteokles.

Safe behind the truce, from death that screens thee, vaunting dost thou stand! 600


Polyneikes.

Once again I claim of thee my crown, my share of fatherland.


Eteokles.

Nought to me are claims: for I will dwell in this mine house—mine own.


Polyneikes.

Grasping more than thine is?


Eteokles.

Ay!—now get thee forth the land—begone!


Polyneikes.

Altars of our Gods ancestral,—


Eteokles.

Whom to ravage thou art come!


Polyneikes.

Hear me!—605

 

Eteokles.

Who shall hearken thee, who bringest war against thine home?


Polyneikes.

And ye temples of the Gods of Stainless Steeds!—


Eteokles.

Who loathe thy name!


Polyneikes.

I am banished from my country!—


Eteokles.

He that to destroy it came.


Polyneikes.

Wrongfully, ye Gods!


Eteokles.

To Gods not here, but at Mycenae, cry.


Polyneikes.

Impious art thou—


Eteokles.

Yea?—but not my country's foe, as thou, am I.


Polyneikes.

Who dost drive me forth defrauded!


Eteokles.

Death withal I'll deal to thee.610

 

Polyneikes.

Father, hear'st thou what I suffer?


Eteokles.

Nay, thy doings heareth he.


Polyneikes.

And thou, mother?


Eteokles.

That thou name our mother, sacrilege it were.


Polyneikes.

O my city!


Eteokles.

Hence to Argos: call on Lerna's water there.


Polyneikes.

Fret thee not—I go. I thank thee, mother.


Eteokles.

Forth the city! Go!


Polyneikes.

Forth I go: yet on my father let me look!


Eteokles.

Thou see him! No!615


Polyneikes.

Nay then, but my maiden sisters.

 

Eteokles.

These thou never more shalt see.

Polyneikes.

O my sisters!

Eteokles.

Why dost call on these, their bitterest enemy?

Polyneikes.

Farewell, O my mother!

Jocasta.

Sooth, my son, in gladness well I fare!

Polyneikes.

Son of thine no more!—

Jocasta.

For many a sorrow me my mother bare!

Polyneikes.

Since he doth me foul despite!

Eteokles.

For foul despite received, I wis!620

Polyneikes.

Where before the towers wilt plant thee?

Eteokles.

Wherefore dost thou question this?

 

Polyneikes.

I will face thee there to slay thee.


Eteokles.

Ha! I long to have it so!


Jocasta.

Woe is me! what will ye do, my sons?


Polyneikes.

The issue's self shall show.


Jocasta.

Flee, O flee your father's curses!


Eteokles.

All our house let ruin seize!


Polyneikes.

Soon my sword, blood-reddened, shall abide no more in deedless ease.625
But I call to witness earth that nursed me, witness Gods in heaven,
How with shame and piteous usage from the homeland I am driven,
Like a bondman, not a son of very Oedipus that came.
City, whatsoe'er befall thee, blame not me: yon tyrant blame.
Willingly I came not, from the land am cast unwillingly.630
Farewell, Phœbus, Highway-king, O palace-bowers, farewell ye!
Friends of youth, farewell, and statues of the Gods where sheep are slain!
For I know not if to me 'tis given to speak to you again.
But my hope not yet doth sleep, wherein I trust, with Gods to aid,
Him to slay, and hold the land of Thebes beneath my sceptre swayed.635


Eteokles.

Get thee forth! Ha, truly Polyneikes, "Man of many a feud,"
Named thy father thee, with heavenly prescience of thy feuds endued!

[Exit Polyneikes.


Chorus.

(Str. 1)

To this land from Phœnicia Kadmus speeding
Came, till the heifer unbroken, leading
The wanderer, cast her to earthward, telling640
That so was accomplished the oracle spoken
When the God for the place of his rest gave token,
Bidding take the Aonian plains for his dwelling,
Where the golden spears of the wheat-ranks quiver,
Where the outgushing flood of the lovely river
Forth flashes from fountains of Dirkê welling

Over meadows and tilth-lands harvest-teeming,
Where sprang from the spousals levin-gleaming
Of Zeus, the God of the shout wild-ringing;[12]640
And the ivy arching its bowers around him,
With the fairy chains of its greenness bound him,
To the babe with its sudden tendrils clinging,
Overmantling with shadow the Blessing-laden,
For a theme of the Bacchanal dance unto maiden
Of Thebes, and to matron evoë-singing.

(Ant. 1)

There on the hallowed fountain's border
Was the dragon of Ares, a ruthless warder;
And the glare of his eyeballs fearful-flashing
Wandered in restless-roving keenness
O'er the brimming runnels, the mirrored greenness:660
Then came to the spring for the lustral washing
Kadmus, and hurled at the monster, and slew it;
For he snatched a boulder, his strong arm threw it
Down on the head of the slaughterer crashing.

Then, of Pallas, the motherless Goddess, bidden,
O'er the deep-furrowed earth, in her breast to be hidden,
He scattered the teeth from the grim jaws parted.
And the travailing glebe flung up bright blossom670
Of mail-clad warriors over the bosom
Of the earth: but slaughter the iron-hearted
Again with the earth their mother blent them,
And drenched with their blood the breast which had sent them
Forth, when to sun-quickened air they upstarted.[13]

(Str. 2)

Unto thee too, Epaphus, scion
Of our first mother Io, I moan,
Unto thee, of our lord Zeus sprung,
With my alien chant upflung
And with prayers of an alien tongue!680
Thy sons, who reared Thebes to thee, cry on
Their father—O come to thine own!

(Ant. 2)

For Demeter, Persephonê, wearing
Twin names, have our land in ward—
Even gracious Demeter All-queen,
Who is Earth, nurse of all that hath been,—
O send them, thy people to screen
From the evil, the Queens Torch-bearing!—
Is there aught for the Gods too hard?


Eteokles (to attendant).

Go thou, and Kreon bring, Menoikeus' son,690
Who is my mother's, even Jocasta's brother.
This tell him, that I would commune with him
Touching our own advantage and the land's,
Ere we go battleward and range the spears.
But lo, he cometh, sparing thy foot's toil.695
Myself behold him drawing nigh mine halls.

Enter Kreon.

Kreon.

Seeking to see thee, far I have wended, King
Eteokles; round to all Kadmean gates
And guards, still searching for thy face, I passed.


Eteokles.

Sooth, Kreon, fain was I to look on thee:700
For little worth I found his terms of peace,
When I for parley Polyneikes met.


Kreon.

Beyond Thebes his ambition soars, I hear,
By Adrastus' kinship, and his host, puffed up.
But these things in the Gods' hands must we leave.705
Of our main stumblingblock I came to tell.


Eteokles.

What shall this be? Thy drift is dark to me.


Kreon.

A captive from the Argive host is come.


Eteokles.

What tidings bringeth he of dealings there?


Kreon.

That Argos' host will straightway wind the net710
Of arms round Kadmus' burg, all round her towers.


Eteokles.

Then Kadmus' burg must lead forth her array,—


Kreon.

Whither? Sees not thy rash youth what it should?


Eteokles.

Across yon trenches, as to fight forthwith.


Kreon.

Small is the host of this land, countless theirs.715

 

Eteokles.

I know them for tongue-valiant warriors.[14]


Kreon.

Argos hath high repute mid Hellas' sons.


Eteokles.

Fear not: their slaughter soon shall load the plain.


Kreon.

That would I: yet herein I see grim toil.


Eteokles.

Not I will pen mine host within the walls!720


Kreon.

Yet wholly in good counsel victory lies.


Eteokles.

Wouldst thou I turned me unto other paths?


Kreon.

Any path, ere on one cast all be staked.


Eteokles.

How if by night we fall on them from ambush?


Kreon.

Yea,—if, miscarrying, safe thou mayst return.725


Eteokles.

Night equals all, yet helps the venturous most.

 

Kreon.

Yet, for ill-speed, night's gloom is terrible.


Eteokles.

Shall I make onset even as they sup?


Kreon.

A brief alarm:—'tis victory we need.


Eteokles.

Dirkê's deep ford should hamper their retreat.730


Kreon.

Nought were so good as ward us warily.


Eteokles.

How, if our horse charge down on Argos' host?


Kreon.

There too their lines be fenced with chariots round.


Eteokles.

What shall I do then?—yield our town to foes?


Kreon.

Never. Take thought, if prudent chief thou art,—735


Eteokles.

What counsel is more prudent, then, than these?


Kreon.

Seven champions are there with them, have I heard,—

 

Eteokles.

Whereto appointed? Seven men's might were small!


Kreon.

To lead their bands to assail our seven gates.


Eteokles.

What then? I wait not counsels of despair.740


Kreon.

Seven choose thou too to front them at the gates.


Eteokles.

To lead our bands, or fight with single spear?


Kreon.

To lead our bands: choose thou our mightiest;—


Eteokles.

Ay so—to avert the scaling of the walls.


Kreon.

And under-captains: one man sees not all.745


Eteokles.

For valour chosen, or for prudent wit?


Kreon.

Nay, both: without its fellow, each is naught.


Eteokles.

This shall be. Now to the seven towers will I,
And plant chiefs, as thou biddest, at the gates,
Champion for champion, ranged against the foe.750
To tell each o'er, were costly waste of time,
When foes be camped beneath our very walls.
But I will go, that mine hands loiter not.
God grant I meet my brother face to face,
Clash in the grapple, and slay him with the spear—755
Slay him, who came to lay my country waste!
But, for Antigonê's marriage with thy son
Haimon,—if aught untoward hap to me,—
See thou to this. Their late betrothal-plight
Now, as I go forth, do I ratify.760
Thou art my mother's brother; why waste words?
Give her fair nurture, for thy sake and mine.
My father hath wrought folly against himself,
Blinding his eyes;—scant praise of mine he hath;—
And us his curse shall slay, if so it hap.765
One thing abides undone, to ask the seer
Teiresias touching this, if aught he hath
Of oracles to tell; and I will send
Thy son Menoikeus, of thy father named,
Kreon, to bring Teiresias hitherward.770
With a good will shall he commune with thee:
But the seer's art in time past have I mocked
Unto his face; so he may bear me grudge.
This, Kreon, is mine hest to Thebes and thee:—
If my cause conquer, never bury ye775
Polyneikes' corpse upon this Theban soil.
Who buries him—though closest friend—must die.
This to thee:—to mine henchmen now I speak.
Bring forth mine arms, mine harness-panoply,
That to the imminent conflict of the spear780
I may set forth, with Right to crown mine arms.
To Heedfulness, of all Gods helpfullest,
That she will save this city, now we pray.

[Exit.


Chorus.

(Str.)

Ares the troublous, O whence is thy passion
For blood and for death, unattuned to the feasts of the Revelry-king?
Not for the dances, the circlings of beauty, in virginal fashion
Tossed are thy tresses abroad, nor to breathings of flutes dost thou sing
A strain to whose witchery dances are wreathing:
But with clangour of harness of fight through the
Argive array art thou breathing
War-lust for the blood of our Thebes athirst,790
As thou leadest the dance of a revel accurst
Where no flutes ring.
Thou art found not where fawnskin and thyrsus in mad reel mingle and sunder,
But with chariots and clashing of bits and with war-horses' footfall of thunder
By Ismenus' brimming marge
With the rushing of steeds dost thou charge,
Into Argives breathing the battle-hate
Against the sons of the Dragon-state;
And with harness of brass and with targe,
Fronting our ramparts of stone, dost array
A host for the fray.
A fearful Goddess in sooth is Strife,
Of whose devising the troublous life
Of the Labdakid kings of the land is anguish-rife.800

(Ant.)

Gorges mysterious of frondage, Cithæron
Beast-haunted, O birth-bed of snows, O thou apple of Artemis' eye,
Ah that thou ne'er hadst received him, the babe of Jocasta, to rear on
Thy lap such a fosterling, Oedipus, thrust from his home as to die,
Life-marked with the brooch-pin golden-looping!
And O that the portent, the wings of the Sphinx from the mountain swooping,
Down on the land for its woe had not come,
The maiden that sang us a chant of doom,
An untuneable cry,
When with talons of feet and of hands on the ramparts of Kadmus she darted,
And bearing his offspring to sun-litten cloudland untrodden departed,
She whom Hades from dens of the dead810
Against Kadmus' children sped!
But a new curse lights upon Thebes and her halls;
For 'twixt Oedipus' sons the hell-seed falls
Of strife, and it blossometh red.
For never may aught that is utter shame
Bear honour's name;
Nay, nor the unblest spousal's fruit
Are sons true-born, but with stain they pollute
Their begetter, the stock that sprang from the self-same root.

(Epode)

Thou didst bear, O land, thou didst bear of old—
For I heard, yea, I heard in mine home, in an alien tongue, the story—
From the dragon of crimson crest that battened on beasts of the wold820
A race of the seed of his teeth, to be Thebes' reproach and her glory.
To Harmonia's bridal descended of yore[15]
The children of Heaven; and Thebes' walls rose to the harp's voice singing,
When the spell of Amphion's lyre fashioned towers for her brows' enringing,
In the space 'twixt the rivers twain that pour
Out of Dirkê, whose dews drift greenness, shedding
Life o'er the plain by Ismenus spreading.
And our ancestress Io of hornèd brows
Was mother of kings unto Kadmus' house.
Lo, how hath this city, through line on line830
Of blessings unnumbered, attained to the height
Where the War-god's crowns of victory-might
Shine!

Enter Teiresias led by his daughter, with Menoikeus.


Teiresias.

Lead on, my daughter: to my sightless feet
As eyes art thou, as star to mariners.835
Hither, on even ground, plant thou my steps.
Guide, lest I stumble: strengthless is thy sire.
Guard in thy maiden hand the augury-lots
Which, when I marked the bodings of the birds,
In the holy seat I took, where I divine.840
Thou child Menoikeus, son of Kreon, tell
How much remaineth of the townward way
To where thy father waits. Faint wax my knees;
Journeying so long, scarce have I strength to go.


Kreon.

Take heart, Teiresias, thou art nigh thy friends,845
And thy foot's anchorage. Grasp his hand, my child.
Mule-car and agèd foot alike are wont
To await the upbearing of another's hand.[16]


Teiresias.

Here am I. Why this instant summons, Kreon?


Kreon.

We have not forgotten. Gather strength, regain850
Thy breath, cast off thy journey's toil and strain.


Teiresias.

Sooth am I spent with toil, brought hitherward
But yesterday from King Erechtheus' folk.
There too was war, against Eumolpus' spear,
Where I to Kekrops' sons gave victory.855
This crown of gold, as thou mayst see, have I
As firstfruits of the foemen's spoils received.


Kreon.

I take thy triumph-crown for omen fair;
For we are, as thou knowest, in mid-surge
Of Danaïd war, and Thebes must wrestle hard.860
King Eteokles, clad in war-array,
Even now is gone to face Mycenæ's might;
But to me gave in charge to inquire of thee
What deeds of ours shall best deliver Thebes.


Teiresias.

For Eteokles sealed my lips had been,865
The oracles withheld:—since thou wouldst know,
I tell thee. Kreon, long this land hath ailed
Since Laïus in heaven's despite begat
Oedipus, his own mother's wretched spouse.
Yea, and the gory ruin of his eyes870
Was heaven's device, for warning unto Greece.
And Oedipus' sons, who fain had cloaked it o'er
With time, as though they could outrun the Gods,
In folly erred: vouchsafing to their sire
Nor honour nor free air, they stung to fury875
His misery: dread malison he breathed
Against them, suffering and shamed withal.
What did I not? What warnings spake I not?—
And had for guerdon hate of Oedipus' sons.
But nigh them, Kreon, mutual slaughter looms;880
And corpses many upon corpses piled—
Shafts Argive and Kadmean all confused—
With bitter wails shall dower the Theban land.
Thou, hapless town, art made a ruin-heap—
Except unto my bodings one give heed!885
This thing were best, that none of Oedipus' line
Remain in Thebes, nor citizen nor king:
They are fiend-possessed and doomed to wreck the state.
But, seeing the evil hath o'erborne the good,
One other way of safety yet remains.890
But this to tell, for me were all unsafe,
And bitter unto those whom fate endows
With power to give their city safety's balm.
I go. Farewell! What must befall will I—
One midst a multitude—endure:—what help?895

Turns to go.


Kreon.

Abide here, ancient!


Teiresias.

Lay not hold on me.


Kreon.

Tarry: why flee?


Teiresias.

Thy fortune flies, not I.


Kreon.

Tell citizens and city safety's path.


Teiresias.

Ay, fain art thou!—but loth thou soon shalt be.


Kreon.

How?—not desire to save my fatherland?900


Teiresias.

Wouldst thou indeed hear? Art thou set thereon?


Kreon.

Yea: whereunto more earnest should I be?


Teiresias.

Then straightway shalt thou hear mine oracles.
But of this first would I be certified—
Where is Menoikeus, who hath led me hither?905


Kreon.

He stands not far, but even at thy side.


Teiresias.

Let him withdraw now from my bodings far.


Kreon.

He is my son, will keep what must be secret.


Teiresias.

Wilt thou indeed I speak before his face?


Kreon.

Yea; of this safety gladly shall he hear.910


Teiresias.

Hear then the tenor of mine oracle,
What deed of yours shall save the Thebans' town.
Menoikeus must thou slay for fatherland,
Thy so—since thou thyself demandest fate.


Kreon.

How say'st thou? Ancient, what was this thy word?915


Teiresias.

As hath been doomed, even this thou needs must do.


Kreon.

Oh countless ills told in one little word!

 

Teiresias.

Thine ills—but great salvation for thy land.


Kreon.

I hearkened not!—heard not!—away, thou Thebes!


Teiresias.

Not the same man is this: he flincheth now.920


Kreon.

Depart in peace: thy bodings need I not.


Teiresias.

Is truth dead, for that thou art fortune-crost?


Kreon.

Oh, by thy knees, and by thy reverend hair!—


Teiresias.

Why pray me? Bow[17] to ills inevitable.


Kreon.

Keep silence: to the city tell not this.925


Teiresias.

Thou bidd'st me sin: I will not hold my peace.


Kreon.

What wilt thou do to me?—wilt slay my son?


Teiresias.

Others shall see to that. 'Tis mine to speak.

 

Kreon.

Whence came on me this curse, and on my son?


Teiresias.

Fair question and demand that I show cause.930
In that den where the earth-born dragon lay
Watching the streams of Dirkê, must he yield,
Slaughtered, a blood-oblation to the earth;
For Ares, nursing wrath 'gainst Kadmus long,
Now would avenge his earth-born dragon's death.935
Do this, and Ares for your champion win.
If earth for seed gain seed, and human blood
For blood, then kindly shall ye prove the earth
Which once sent up a harvest golden-helmed
Of Sown-men. And it needeth that one die940
Born of the lineage of the Dragon's Teeth.
And sole survivor art thou of the Sown
Of pure blood both on sire's and mother's side,
Thou and thy two sons. Haimon's spousals bar
His slaughter, for he is not virgin man.945
Though sealed the rite be not, betrothed is he.
But this lad, to his city consecrate,
Dying, should yet redeem his fatherland,
And for Adrastus and the Argives make
Bitter return, their eyes with black death palled,950
And make Thebes glorious. One of these two fates
Choose: either save the city, or thy son.
Now hast thou all my tale. Lead on, my child,
Homeward. Who useth the diviner's art
Is foolish. If he heraldeth ill things,955
He is loathed of those to whom he prophesies.
If, pitying them that seek to him, he lie,
He wrongs the Gods. Sole prophet unto men
Ought Phœbus to have been, who feareth none.

[Exit.


Chorus.

Why silent, Kreon, with lips held from speech?960
On me, too, consternation weighs no less.


Kreon.

What should one say?—But clear mine answer is:
Never such depth of misery will I seek,
As offer for my city a slaughtered son!
For love of children filleth all men's life,965
And none to death would yield up his own child.
Let no man's praise lure me to slay my sons![18]
Myself—who have reached the ripeness of my years—
For death stand ready, to redeem my land.
But up, my child, ere all the city hear.970
Heed not the reckless words of soothsayers:
But fly—with all speed get thee from the land!
To the seven gates, the captains, will he go,
And tell the rulers and the chieftains this.
Yet, may we but forestall him, thou art saved.975
But if thou lag, undone we are—thou diest.


Menoikeus.

But whither flee?—what city seek?—what friend?


Kreon.

Where thou from this land's reach shalt farthest be.

 

Menoikeus.

It best beseems that thou tell, I perform.


Kreon.

Pass Delphi—


Menoikeus.

Whither, father, must I go?980


Kreon.

Unto Aetolia.


Menoikeus.

Whither journey thence?


Kreon.

Thesprotia's soil.


Menoikeus.

Dodona's hallowed floor?


Kreon.

Thou say'st.


Menoikeus.

What shall be my protection there?


Kreon.

The God shall speed thee.


Menoikeus.

How supply my need?

 

Kreon.

I will find gold.


Menoikeus.

Father, thou sayest well:985
Haste then. Unto thy sister will I go,—
Jocasta, on whose bosom first I lay,
Reft of my mother, left an orphan lone,—
To bid her farewell, ere I flee for life.[19]
On then: pass in, be hindrance not in thee.990

[Exit Kreon.

Maidens, how well I have stilled my father's fear
By guileful words, to attain the end I would!
Me would he steal hence, robbing Thebes of hope,
Branding me coward! This might one forgive
In age; but no forgiveness should be mine995
If I betray the city of my birth.
Doubt not but I will go and save the town,
And give my soul to death for this land's sake.
'Twere shame that men no oracles constrain,
Who have not fall'n into the net of fate,1000
Shoulder to shoulder stand, blench not from death,
Fighting before the towers for fatherland,
And I, betraying father, brother, yea,
My city, craven-like flee forth the land—
A dastard manifest, where'er I dwell!1005
By Zeus star-throned, by Ares, slaughter's lord,
Who set on high in lordship over Thebes
The Dragon-brood that cleft the womb of earth,
Go will I, on the ramparts' height will stand,
And o'er the Dragon's gloomy chasm-cave,1010
Whereof the seer spake, will I slay myself,
And make my country free. The word is said.
I go, to give my country no mean gift,
My life, from ruin so to save the land:
For, if each man would take his all of good,1015
Lavish it, lay it at his country's feet,
Then fewer evils should the nations prove,
And should through days to come be prosperous.

[Exit.


Chorus.

(Str.)

Thou camest, camest, O thou wingèd doom,
Fruit of Earth's travailing,1020
Begotten of the Worm of Nether-gloom,
On Kadmus' sons to spring
Death-fraught, and fraught with moanings for the dead,
Half maiden, half brute-beast,
Monster of roving pinions, talons red
From that raw-ravening feast,
Snatching from Dirkê's meads her young men, shrieking
O'er them thy dissonant knell,
Anguish of slaughter on our country wreaking,
Wreaking a curse-doom fell!1030
Ah, murderous God, these ills for us who fashioned!
Moanings of mothers filled
The shuddering homes, and maidens' moanings passioned:
And wail to wail aye thrilled,
And dirge to death-dirge, each to each replying
The stricken city through—
A nation's pang—as thunder pealed their crying,1040
As the winged maid with each new victim flying
From earth, was lost to view.

(Ant.)

At last was Oedipus, woe-fated, bound
From Pytho, hither led,—
Our joy, but soon our grief,—who, triumph-crowned
From that dark riddle read,
Wretch, in ill bridal made his mother wife,
Polluted Thebes, and banned1050
His sons to stain in this accursèd strife
With brother-blood the hand.
Praise to him, praise, who unto death is faring,
Yea, for his land to die,
Leaving to Kreon moans of love's despairing,
But setting victory
For crown upon the city seven-gated!
Ah, may such noble son
To bless mine happy motherhood be fated,
O Pallas, gracious one!—1060
Pallas, of whom the sudden stone leapt, spilling
The dragon-warder's blood:
Thou gav'st the thought the heart of Kadmus thrilling
To dare the deed whence rushed, with ravin filling
The land, a God's curse-flood.


Enter Messenger.

Messenger.

Ho there! Who standeth at the palace-gate?
Open ye, bring Jocasta forth her bowers.
Ho there, again! Though late, yet come thou forth:
Hearken, renowned wife of Oedipus;1070
Cease from thy wailings and thy tears of grief.

Enter Jocasta.

Jocasta.

Friend—friend!—thou com'st not sure with ill news fraught
Of Eteokles' death, by whose shield aye
Thou marchedst, warding him from foemen's darts?
What word of tidings bringest thou to me?1075
Dead is my son, or liveth he?—declare.


Messenger.

He lives. Fear not! I rid thee so of dread.


Jocasta.

And the seven towers, how fares the fence thereof?


Messenger.

They stand unshattered: Thebes not yet is spoiled.


Jocasta.

Were they sore perilled of the Argive spear?1080


Messenger.

At ruin's brink: but stronger proved the might
Of Kadmus' people than Mycenæ's spear.


Jocasta.

One thing, by heaven!—of Polyneikes aught
Canst tell? I yearn for this! Doth he see light?


Messenger.

Liveth thus far thy chariot-yoke of sons.1085


Jocasta.

Blessings on thee! How did ye thrust the spear
Of Argos back from your beleaguered gates?
Tell, that I may rejoice the blind old man
The halls within, with news of this land saved.

 

Messenger.

When Kreon's son, who for his country died,1090
Climbing a tower's height, had thrust the sword
Black-hafted through his throat to save the land,
Seven bands with captains to the seven gates,
For watch and ward against the Argive spear,
Thy son set, horsemen covering horsemen ranged,1095
And men-at-arms behind the shield-bearers,
That, where the wall's defence failed, succour of spears
Might be hard by. Then from the soaring towers
We marked the white shields of the Argive host
Leaving Teumessus. Having neared the foss,1100
Suddenly charging closed they on Kadmus' burg.
Then pæan swelled, and shattering trumpet shrilled,
All blended, from the foe and from the walls.
Parthenopaius, that famed huntress' son,
First led against the Gate Neïstian1105
A squadron horrent all with serried shields,
On his mid-targe the blazon of his house,
Atalanta slaying the Aetolian boar
With shafts far-smiting. Against Proitus' Gate,
Slain victims on his chariot, marched the seer1110
Amphiaraus, with no proud device,
But sober weapons void of blazonry.
The gates Ogygian King Hippomedon
Assailed, in mid-targe bearing for device
Argus, with gemmy eyes for aye at gaze,1115
Some with the rising of the stars aglare,
While, as the stars set, some were slumber-veiled,
As might be seen thereafter, he being slain.
Against the Gate of Homolê Tydeus took
His stand, his shield draped with a lion's hide1120
All shaggy-haired. Titan Prometheus bore
A torch in hand there, as to burn the town.
Thy son Polyneikes at the Fountain Gate
Led on the war. Upon his shield the steeds
Of Potniæ racing in fear-frenzy sprang,1125
Wheeled round within by pivots cunningly
Hard by the hand-grip, that they seemed distraught.
High-stomached for the fight as Ares' self,
Led Kapaneus his troop to Electra's Gate;
And, for his iron-faced buckler's blazonry,1130
An earth-born giant on his shoulders bore
A whole town from its basement lever-wrenched,
As token for us of our city's fate.
And at the seventh gate Adrastus was,
His graven shield with five-score vipers thronged1135
Swung on his left arm, even the Argive vaunt,
The Hydra; and its serpents from our walls
Were snatching Kadmus' children in their jaws.
Each chief's device I well might mark, who bare
The watchword to the leaders of our bands.1140
Then first with bows and thong-sped javelins
We battled, and with slings that smote from far,
And crashing stones. But when we 'gan prevail,
Suddenly shouted Tydeus and thy son:
"Sons of the Danaans, ere their bolts quell you,1145
Why do ye tarry, onward-hurling all,
To assault their gates—light-armed, horse, chariot-lords?"
Soon as they heard that cry, was none hung back.
Many, with heads blood-dashed, were falling fast;
And of us many earthward flung thou hadst seen1150
Before the walls, like divers plunging, dead,
Drenching the thirsty soil with streams of gore.
But Atalanta's son—no Argive he—
Hurls like a whirlwind at the gates, and shouts
For fire and mattocks, as to raze the town.1155
But his mid-fury Periklymenus stayed,
The Sea-god's son, who hurled a wain-load crag,
A battlement-coping, down upon his shield,
Spattered abroad the golden head, and rent
The knittings of its bones: the cheeks dark-flushed1160
Dashed he with blood. No life shall he bear back
To his archer-mother, Maid of Mænalus.
Then, marking how at this gate all went well,
Passed to the next thy son, I following still.
There saw I Tydeus with his serried shields,1165
With spears Aetolian javelining the height
Of the roofless towers, that from the rampart's crest
Ours fled in panic. But thy son again
Rallies them, as the hunter cheers his hounds;
So manned the walls anew. To other gates1170
On pressed we, having stayed the mischief there.
But how the madness tell of Kapaneus?
For, grasping the long ladder's scaling rounds,
On came he, and thus haughtily vaunted he,
That not Zeus' awful fire should hold him back1175
From razing from her topmost towers the town.
Thus crying, ever as hailed the stones on him,
He climbed, with body gathered 'neath his targe,
Aye stepping from smooth ladder-rung to rung.
But, even as o'er the ramparts rose his head,1180
Zeus smiteth him with lightning: rang again
The earth, that all quailed. From the ladder flew
His limbs abroad wide-whirling slingstone-like:
Heavenward his hair streamed, earthward rained his blood:
Hands, feet—Ixion on his wheel seemed he—1185
Whirled round. To earth he fell, a blasted corpse.
Adrastus, seeing Zeus his army's foe,
Without the trench drew off the Argive host.
Then, marking Zeus's portent fair for us,
Forth of the gates our horse their chariots drave:1190
Our footmen crashed through Argos' mid-array
With levelled spears;—'twas turmoiled ruin all—
Men dying—falling o'er the chariot-rails—
Wheels leaping—axles upon axles dashed,
And corpses heaped on corpses all confused.1195
So then for this day have we barred the fall
Of our land's towers; but if good fortune waits
On Thebes henceforth, this resteth with the Gods.
Only a God's hand rescued her to-day.


Chorus.

Glorious is victory: if more gracious yet1200
The Gods' intent is, blessèd shall I be.


Jocasta.

Fair are the dealings of the Gods and Fate:
For lo, my sons live, and the land hath 'scaped.
But Kreon hath, meseems, reaped evil fruit
Of mine and Oedipus' marriage—hapless sire,1205
Reft of his son, for blessing unto Thebes,
But grief to him Take up the tale again,
And tell what now my sons are bent to do.


Messenger.

Forbear the rest. Thus far 'tis well with thee.


Jocasta.

Thou stirr'st surmisings! I can not forbear.1210

 

Messenger.

How, wouldst thou more than know thy sons are safe?


Jocasta.

Yea, know if things to come be well for me.


Messenger.

Now let me go: thy son his henchman lacks.


Jocasta.

Some ill thou hid'st—in darkness veilest it!


Messenger.

I would not tell thee evil blent with good.1215


Jocasta.

That shalt thou—except to heaven thou wing thy flight.


Messenger.

Alas! why couldst thou let me not go hence
After good tidings, but wouldst have the ill?
Thy two sons purpose single fight, apart
From all the host—a desperate deed of shame!1220
To Argives and Kadmeans one and all
They spake that which would God they had left unsaid!
Eteokles from a lofty tower began—
Having bid publish silence to the host—
And said: "O battle-chiefs of Hellas-land,1225
Lords of the Danaans who have hither come,
Sell not your lives for nought, nor yet for mine.
For I myself, of this risk freeing you,
Alone will with my brother grapple in fight.1230
If I slay him, mine halls I hold alone:
O'erthrown, I yield the city up to him.[20]
Argives, forbear the struggle, and return
Unto your land, not leaving here your lives;
And of the Sown suffice the already dead."1235
Thus spake he: Polyneikes then, thy son,
Leapt from the ranks, and hailed the challenge-word;
And all the Argives shouted yea to this,
And Kadmus' folk, as righteous in their eyes.
On these terms made they truce, and in mid-space1240
Took oaths whereby the chieftains should abide.[21]
Then ancient Oedipus' two sons straightway
'Gan case their bodies in all-brazen mail,
Holpen of friends; by Theban lords the king
Of this land, and by Danaan chiefs his brother.1245
There stood they gleaming,—never paled their cheeks,—
Each panting at his foe to dart the spear.
On this side and on that their friends drew nigh,
With heartening words thus speaking unto them:
"Thine, Polyneikes, is it to set up1250
Zeus' trophy-statue, and give Argos fame;"
To Eteokles—"Thou for Thebes dost fight:
Now triumph, and thou hold'st her sceptre fast."
So did they hail them, cheering them to fight.
And the priests slew the sheep: flame-tongue they marked,1255 And flame-cleft, steamy reek that bodeth ill,
The pointed flame, which hath decisions twain,
Betokening victory or overthrow.
If any power thou hast, or cunning words,
Or spell of charms, go, pluck thou back thy sons1260
From that dread strife; for grim the peril is,
And dread the guerdon:[22] tears shall be thy portion,
If thou of two sons be this day bereaved.[Exit.


Jocasta.

Daughter Antigonê, come forth the house!
No dances, neither toils of maiden hands,1265
Beseem thee in this hour of heaven's doom.
But heroes twain, yea, brethren unto thee,
Now deathward reeling, with thy mother thou
Must hold from dying, each by other slain.

Enter Antigonê.


Antigone.

Mother that bare me, what strange terror-cry
Before these halls to thy friends utterest thou?1270


Jocasta.

Daughter, thy brethren's life is come to nought.


Antigone.

How say'st thou?


Jocasta.

Met they are for single fight.


Antigone.

Woe! what wilt say?

 

Jocasta.

Nought welcome. Follow me.


Antigone.

Whither, from maiden-bowers?


Jocasta.

To the host.1275


Antigone.

I shrink from throngs!


Jocasta.

Shamefastness cannot help thee!


Antigone.

I—what can I do?


Jocasta.

Part thy brethren's strife.


Antigone.

Mother, whereby?


Jocasta.

Fall at their feet with me.


Antigone.

Lead to the mid-space! We may tarry not.


Jocasta.

Haste, daughter, haste : for, may I but forestall1280
My sons ere fighting, light of life is mine.
If they be dead, dead with them will I lie.

[Exeunt.


Chorus.

(Str.)

Alas and alas!
Shuddering, shuddering horror of soul have I:
Through the very flesh of me pass
Compassion-thrills for a mother in misery.
Two sons—who, slain of the other, in blood shall lie?
Woe, anguish, and dismay!
Zeus!—Earth!—to you I pray!1290
Throat of a brother pierced—a brother sped!—
Cleaving of shields, and blood of brethren shed!
Woe's me and well-a-day!
For whom shall I uplift my voice to wail him dead?

(Ant.)

O land, O land!
Two ravening beasts, two spirits of murderous mood,
With the battle-lust quivering they stand;
But full soon shall bedabble a fallen foe with blood!
Wretches, that ever on duel bent they stood!1300
With wail of alien tongue
Shall my wild dirge be sung,
Tears for the dead, and lamentation's cry.
Fate presseth nearer, murder is hard by,
In the sword's[23] balance hung:—
Curst slaughter, curst, the work of Vengeance-destiny!

Ha, 'tis Kreon I behold, that hitherward with clouded brow
Hasteth to the palace. I will hush the wail begun but now.

 

Enter Kreon, with attendants bearing the body of Menoikeus.


Kreon.

What shall I do? Weeping shall I bemoan1310
Myself, or Thebes whom such a cloud o'erpalls
That she through Acheron's night is passing now?
Dead is my son! He died for fatherland,
Winning a glorious name, but woe for me.
Him from the Dragon's crags but now I caught1315
Self-slain, and woefully bare him in mine arms.
My whole house wails. I for my sister come,
Jocasta,—come, the old to seek the old,—
To bathe and lay out this no more my son.
For he who hath not died must reverence1320
The Nether-gods by honouring the dead.


Chorus.

Gone is thy sister, Kreon, forth the house;
And with her went her child Antigonê.


Kreon.

Whither?—for what mischance?[24] Declare to me.


Chorus.

The purpose of her sons she heard, to fight1325
In single combat for the royal halls.


Kreon.

How sayest thou? Lo, tending my son's corse,
I came not to the knowledge of this deed.

 

Chorus.

Yea, hence thy sister parted long agone:
And that death-struggle, Kreon, now, meseems,1330
Is ended 'twixt the sons of Oedipus.

Kreon.

Ah me! a token yonder do I see,
The joyless eye and face of one who comes
A messenger, to tell whate'er is done.

Enter Messenger.


Messenger.

Woe is me! what story can I tell, or utter forth what wail?[25]1335


Kreon.

Ah, undone! With no fair-seeming prelude thou beginn'st thy tale.


Messenger.

Woe! Again I cry it, for I bring a burden of dismay
Heaped upon calamities already wrought!


Kreon.

What wouldst thou say?


Messenger.

Kreon, those thy sister's sons behold no more the light of day.

 

Kreon.

Alas!
Terrible ills for me and for Thebes dost thou tell—1340


Chorus.

O halls of Oedipus, have ye heard this?


Kreon.

Of sons that by the selfsame fate have died!


Chorus.

Their very stones might weep, could they but know.


Kreon.

Woe's me, the disaster, when fate's stroke heavily fell!
Woe for my sorrows! Ah, unhappy I!1345


Messenger.

Ah, didst thou know the evils more than these!


Kreon.

What can be more calamitous than these?


Messenger.

Dead is thy sister—dead with her two sons.


Chorus.

Upraise, upraise the lamentation-strain,1350
Down on the head let blows of white hands rain!


Kreon.

Hapless Jocasta, what an end of life
And marriage hast thou proved the Sphinx's riddle!
How came to pass the death of her two sons,
The strife, of Oedipus' curse that came?—declare.1355


Messenger.

The land's fair fortune in her towers' defence
Thou know'st: the girdling walls be not so far
But that thou mayest know whate'er is done.
Now when in brazen mail they had clad their limbs,
Those princes, sons of ancient Oedipus,1360
Into the mid-space went they forth and stood,
Those chieftains two, those battle-leaders twain,
As for the grapple and strife of single fight.
Then, gazing Argos-ward, Polyneikes prayed:
"Queen Hera,—for thine am I since I wed1365
Adrastus' child, and dwell within thy land,—
Grant me to slay my brother, and to stain
My warring hand with blood of victory!"—
Asking[26] a crown of shame, to slay a brother.
Tears sprang from many an eye at that dread fate,1370
And each on other did men look askance.
But unto golden-shielded Pallas' fane
Eteokles looked, and prayed: "Daughter of Zeus,
Grant that the conquering spear, of mine hand sped,
Yea, from this arm, may smite my brother's breast,1375
And slay him who hath come to waste my land!"
Then, when the Tuscan trump, like signal-torch,
Rang forth the token of the bloody fray,
Forth darted each at other in terrible rush;
And, like wild boars that whet the tameless tusk,1380
Clashed they, foam-flakes beslavering their beards.
With spears they lunged: yet crouched behind their shields,
That so the steel might bootless glance aside.
And, if one saw foe's eye peer o'er the targe,
Aye thrust he, fain to overreach his fence.1385
Yet cunningly through eyelets of their shields
They glanced, that nought awhile the spear achieved,
While more from all beholders trickled sweat,
Of fear for friends, than from the champions' selves.
But Eteokles, spurning aside a stone1390
That rolled beneath his tread, without his shield
Showed glimpse of fenceless limb. Polyneikes lunged,
Marking the stroke so offered to the steel;
And through the shank clear passed the Argive lance.
Loud cheered the whole array of Danaus' sons.1395
But his foe's shoulder by that effort bared
The stricken marked, and Polyneikes' breast
Pierced with a strong spear-thrust, and gave back joy
To Kadmus' folk; yet brake his spear-head short.
So, his lance lost, back fell he step by step,1400
Caught up a rugged rock, and sped its flight,
Snapping his foe's spear thwart. Now was the fray
Equal, since either's hand was spear-bereft.
Thereupon snatched they at their falchion- hilts,
Closed, clashing shields, and, traversing to and fro,1405
Made rage the stormy clangour of the fight.
But, having learnt it visiting their land,
Eteokles used that feint Thessalian:
For, from the instant grapple springing clear,
Back on his left foot, backward still, he sinks,1410
Watching the while the belly of his foe.
Then, with a right-foot rush, through the navel plunged
His sword, and 'twixt the spine-bones wedged the point.
Then, ribs and belly inarched in anguish-throe,
Down-raining blood-gouts, Polyneikes falls.1415
Our king, as victor, winner of the fight,
Casting his sword down, fell to spoiling him,
Heeding but that, nor recking his own risk;
Which thing undid him. Faintly breathing yet,
Still grasping in his grievous fall his sword,1420
First-fallen Polyneikes with hard strain
Plunged into Eteokles' heart the blade.
Gnashing in dust their teeth, there side by side
They lie, those twain, the victory doubtful still.


Chorus.

Alas! I wail thy sore griefs, Oedipus!1425
Thy malisons, I wot, hath God fulfilled.


Messenger.

Ah, but hear now what woes remain to tell.
Even as her fallen sons were leaving life,
Their wretched mother rusheth on the scene,—
She and the maid, with haste of eager feet;1430
And, seeing them stricken with their mortal wounds,
She wailed, "Ah sons, too late for help I come!"
Then, falling on her sons, on each in turn,
She wept, she wailed, her long vain nursing-toil
Bemoaning: and their sister at her side—1435
"Props of your mother's age, dear brethren, who
Leave me a bride unwed!" One dying gasp
Hard-heaving from his breast, King Eteokles
His mother heard, touched her with clammy hand,
Uttered no word, but from his eyes he spake1440
With tears, as giving token of his love.
But Polyneikes breathing yet, and gazing
On sister and on aged mother, spake:
"Mother, our death is this. I pity thee,
And thee, my sister, and my brother dead.1445
Loved, he became my foe: but loved—yet loved!
Bury me, mother, and thou, sister mine,
In native soil, and our chafed city's wrath
Appease ye, that I win thus much at least
Of fatherland, though I have lost mine home.1450
And close thou up mine eyelids with thine hand,
Mother;"—himself on his eyes layeth it—
"And fare ye well: the darkness wraps me round."
So both together breathed their sad life forth.
And when the mother saw this woeful chance,1455
Grief-frenzied, from the dead she snatched a sword,
And wrought a horror: for through her mid-neck
She drives the steel, and with her best-beloved
Lies dead, embracing with her arms the twain.
Leapt to their feet the hosts with wrangling cries,—1460
We shouting that our lord was conqueror,
They, theirs. And strife there was between the chiefs,
These crying, "First smote Polyneikes' spear!"
Those, "Both be dead: with none the victory rests!"
Antigonê from the field had stol'n the while.1465
Then rushed the foe to arms: but Kadmus' folk
By happy forethought under shield had halted.[27]
So we forestalled the Argive host, and fell
Suddenly on them yet unfenced for fight.
Was none withstood us: huddled o'er the plain1470
Fled they, and streamed the blood from slain untold
By spears laid low. So, victors in the fight,
Our triumph-trophy some 'gan rear to Zeus;
And, some from Argive corpses stripping shields,
Within our battlements the spoils we sent.1475
And others with Antigonê bear on
The dead twain hither for their friends to mourn.
So hath the strife had end for Thebes in part
Most happily, in part most haplessly.


Chorus.

Not a grief for the hearing alone1480
Is the bale of the house: ye may see
Here, now, yon corpses three
By the palace, in death as one,
To the life that is darkness gone.

Enter procession bearing corpses, with Antigone.


Antigone.

Never a veil o'er the tresses I threw
O'er my soft cheek sweeping,
Nor for maidenhood's shrinking I hid from view
The hot blood leaping
'Neath mine eyes, when I rushed in the bacchanal dance for the dead,
When I cast on the earth the tiring that bound mine head,1490
Loose flinging my bright robe saffron of hue—
I, by whom corpses with wailing are grave ward led.
Well wast thou named, Polyneikes![28]—Ah Thebes, woe's me!—
No strife was thy strife: it was murder by murder brought
To accomplishment, ruin to Oedipus' house, and fraught
With bloodshed of horror, with bloodshed of misery.
On what bard shall I call?
What harper of dirges shall I bid come
To wail the lament,—O home, mine home!—1500
While the tears, the tears fall,
As I bear three bodies of kindred slain,
Mother and sons, while the Fiend gloats over our woe
Who brought in ruin the house of Oedipus low,
In the day when the Songstress Sphinx's strain,
So hard to read, by his wisdom was read,
And the fierce shape down unto earth was sped?
Woe for me, father mine!
Who hath borne griefs like unto thine?
What Hellene, or alien, or who that sprang1510
Of the ancient blood of a high-born line,
Whose race in a day is run, hath endured in the sight of the sun
Such bitter pang?

Woe's me for my dirge wild-ringing!
What song-bird that rocketh on high,
Mid the boughs of the oak-tree swinging,
Or the pine-tree, will echo my cry,
The moans of the motherless maiden,
Who wail for the life without friend1520
I must know, who shall weep sorrow-laden
Tears without end?

Over whom shall I make lamentation?
Unto whom with rendings of hair
Shall I first give sorrow's oblation?
Shall I cast them, mine offerings, there
Where the twin breasts are of my mother,
Where a suckling babe I have lain,
Or on ghastliest wounds of a brother
Cruelly slain?

Come forth of thy chambers, blind father;1530
Ancient, thy sorrows lay bare,
Who didst cause mist-darkness to gather
On thine own eyes, thou who dost wear
Weariful days out. O hearken,
Whose old feet grope through the hall,
Who in gloom that no night-tide can darken
On thy pallet dost fall.

Enter Oedipus.


Oedipus.

Why hast thou drawn me, my child, to the light,
Whose sightless hand to thine hand's prop clings,1540
Who was bowed on my bed amid chambers of night,—
Hast drawn by a wail through tears that rings,—
A white-haired shape, like a phantom that fades
On the sight, or a ghost from the underworld shades,
Or a dream that hath wings?


Antigone.

Woe is the word of my tidings to thee!
Father, thy sons behold no more
The light, nor thy wife, who aye upbore
Thy blind limbs tirelessly, tenderly,
O father, ah me!1550

 

Oedipus.

Ah me for my woes! Full well may I shriek, full well may I moan!
By what doom have the spirits of these three flown
From the light of life? O child, make known.


Antigone.

Not as reproaching, nor mocking, I tell,
But in anguish. Thy curse, with its vengeance of hell,
With swords laden, and fire,
And ruthless contention, on thy sons fell:
Woe's me, my sire!


Oedipus.

Alas for me!


Antigone.

Wherefore thy deep-drawn sigh?1560


Oedipus.

For my children!


Antigone.

Thine had been agony,
To the Sun-god's chariot couldst thou but raise
Thine eyes, couldst thou on these bodies gaze,
Dead where they lie.


Oedipus.

For the evil fate of my sons, it is all too plain;
But ah, mine unhappiest wife!—by what doom, O my child, was she slain?

 

Antigone.

Weeping and wailing, that all of her coming were ware,
Hasted she. Unto her children she bare, O she bare
Sacredest breasts of a mother with suppliant prayer.
And she found her sons at Electra's portal,1570
In the mead with the clover fair,
Closing with spears in the combat mortal:
As lions that strive in their lair
They grappled, with falchions ruthless-gashing:
Yea, now the oblation of death fell plashing
Which Ares giveth when Hades the spoil will share.
And she snatched from the dead, and the bronze-hammered blade
through her bosom she thrust;
And in grief for her children, enclasping her children, she fell in the dust.
Lo, all the griefs of our line, one marshalled array,
Have been gathered, O father, against our house this day1580
Of the God in whose hands their accomplishment lay.


Chorus.

Many an ill to Oedipus' house begins
This day. May happier life be yet in store!


Kreon.

Refrain laments: time is it we gave heed
To burial. Unto these words, Oedipus,1585
Hearken: thy son Eteokles gave me rule
O'er this land, making it a marriage-dower
To Haimon with thy child Antigonê.
Therefore thou mayest dwell therein no more;
For plainly spake Teiresias—never Thebes1590
Shall prosper while thou dwellest in the land.
Then get thee forth: this not despiteously
I speak, nor as thy foe, but fearing hurt
To Thebes by reason of thy vengeance-fiends.


Oedipus.

Fate, from the first to grief thou barest me,1595
And pain, beyond all men that ever were.
Ere from my mother's womb I came to light,
Phœbus to Laïus spake me, yet unborn,
My father's murderer—ah, woe is me!
When I was born, my father, my begetter,—1600
Doomed by mine hand to die,—accounting me
From birth[29] his foe, would slay me, sent me forth,
A suckling yet, a wretched prey to beasts.
Yet was I saved. Oh had Cithæron sunk
Down to the bottomless chasms of Tartarus,1605
For that it slew me not!—but Fate gave me
To be a bondman, Polybus my lord.
So mine own father did I slay, and came,—
Ah wretch!—unto mine hapless mother's couch.
Sons I begat, my brethren, and destroyed,1610
Passing to them the curse received of Laïus.
For not so witless am I from the birth,
As to devise these things against mine eyes
And my sons' life, but by the finger of God.
Let be:—what shall I do, the fortune-crost?1615
Who shall companion me, my blind steps guide?
She who is dead? O yea, were she alive!
My sons, a goodly pair? Nay, I have none.
Am I yet young, to win me livelihood?
Whence? Wherefore, Kreon, slay me utterly?1620
For thou wilt slay, if forth the land thou cast.
Yet never twining round thy knee mine hands
A coward will I show me, to betray
My noble birth, how ill soe'er I fare.


Kreon.

Well hast thou said thou wilt not clasp my knees.1625
I cannot let thee dwell within the land.
Of these dead, this within the halls be borne
Straightway: that,—who with aliens came to smite
His father's city—Polyneikes' corpse,
Without the land's bounds cast unburied forth.1630
To all Kadmeans shall this be proclaimed:—
Whoso on this corpse laying wreaths is found,
Or with earth hiding, death shall be his meed.
Unwept, unburied, leave him meat for birds.
But thou thy mourning for the corpses three,1635
Antigonê, leave, and get thee within doors.
Thy maiden state until the morrow keep,
Whereon the couch of Haimon waiteth thee.


Antigone.

Father, in what ills is our misery whelmed!
For thee I make moan more than for the dead.1640
Thine ills are not part heavy and part light,
But in all things art thou in woeful case.
But thee I question, new-created king,
Why outrage thus my sire with banishment?
Wherefore make laws touching a hapless corse?1645


Kreon.

Eteokles' ordinance, not mine, is this.

 

Antigone.

'Tis senseless—witless thou who giv'st it force.


Kreon.

How, were't not just to carry out his hests?


Antigone.

If they be wrong, in malice spoken—no!


Kreon.

How, were't not just to cast yon man to dogs?1650


Antigone.

Nay: so ye wreak on him no lawful vengeance.


Kreon.

Yea, if to Thebes a foe, no foe by birth.[30]


Antigone.

Hath he not[31] unto fate paid forfeit life?


Kreon.

Forfeit of burial now too let him pay.


Antigone.

Wherein sinned he, who came to claim his own?1655


Kreon.

This man shall have no burial, be thou sure.

 

Antigone.

I, though the state forbid, will bury him.


Kreon.

Thyself then shalt thou bury with thy dead.


Antigone.

'Tis glorious that two friends lie side by side.


Kreon.

Seize ye this girl, and hale her within doors!1660


Antigone.

Never! for I will not unclasp this corpse.


Kreon.

God hath decreed, girl, not as seems thee good.


Antigone.

Yea—hath decreed this, Outrage not the dead!


Kreon.

Know, none shall spread the damp dust over him.


Antigone.

Nay!—for Jocasta's, for his mother's sake!1665


Kreon.

Vain is thy labour: this thou shalt not win.


Antigone.

Suffer at least that I may bathe the corpse.

 

Kreon.

This shall be of the things the state forbids.


Antigone.

Let me at least bind up his cruel wounds.


Kreon.

Thou shalt in no wise honour this dead man.1670


Antigone.

Belovèd! on thy lips this kiss at least—


Kreon.

Ruin thy marriage not by thy laments.


Antigone.

How! living shall I e'er wed son of thine?


Kreon.

Needs must thou. Whither from the couch wilt flee?


Antigone.

Me shall that night a Danaus' Daughter prove.[32]1675


Kreon. (to Oedipus).

Dost mark how rails she in her recklessness?


Antigone. (raising Polyneikes' sword).

Witness the steel—this sword whereby I swear.


Kreon.

Wherefore so eager to avoid this bridal?

 

Antigone.

I will share exile with mine hapless sire.


Kreon.

Noble thy spirit, yet lurks folly there.1680


Antigone.

Yea, and with him will die. Know this withal.


Kreon.

Thou shalt not slay my son. Hence, leave the land!

[Exit Kreon.


Oedipus.

Daughter, for thy devotion thank I thee.


Antigone.

I marry, father,—thou in exile lone!


Oedipus.

Ah stay: be happy. I will bear mine ills.1685


Antigone.

Who then will minister to thy blindness, father?


Oedipus.

Where my weird is, there shall I fall, there lie.


Antigone.

Ah, where is Oedipus?—where that riddle famed?


Oedipus.

Lost. One day blessed me, one hath ruined me.

 

Antigone.

Is it not then my due to share thine ills?1690


Oedipus.

'Twere a maid's shame,—exile with her blind sire!


Antigone.

Nay, but—so she be wise—her glory, father.


Oedipus.

That I may touch thy mother, guide me now.


Antigone.

Lo, touch her with thine hand—so old, so dear!


Oedipus.

Ah mother! Ah, most hapless helpmeet mine!1695


Antigone.

Piteous she lies, with all ills crowned at once.


Oedipus.

Eteokles' corse, and Polyneikes'—where?


Antigone.

Here lie they, each by other's side outstretched.


Oedipus.

Lay my blind hand upon their ill-starred brows.


Antigone.

Lo there: touch with thine hand thy children slain.1700

 

Oedipus.

Dear hapless dead sons of a hapless sire!


Antigone.

Ah Polyneikes, name most dear to me!


Oedipus.

Now, child, doth Loxias' oracle come to pass,—


Antigone.

What? Wilt thou tell new ills beside the old?


Oedipus.

That I, a wanderer, should in Athens die.1705


Antigone.

Where? What Athenian burg shall harbour thee?


Oedipus.

Hallowed Colonus, Chariot-father's[33] home.
On then: to this thy blind sire minister,
Since thou art fixed to share my banishment.


Antigone.

To woeful exile pass away.1710
Stretch forth, O father hoary-grey,
Thy dear hand: grasp me. Thee I lead,
As breeze wafts on the galley's speed.

 

Oedipus.

Lo, daughter, I pass on:
Thou guide me, hapless one.


Antigone.

Hapless I am—thou sayest well—
Above all maids in Thebes that dwell.


Oedipus.

Where shall I plant mine old feet now?
Reach me my staff, O daughter thou.


Antigone.

Hitherward, hitherward, tread:1720
Let thy feet follow hither mine hand,
O strengthless as dream of the night!


Oedipus.

Ah thou who on wretchedest exile hast sped
The old man forth of his fatherland!
Ah woes I have borne! Ah horror's height!


Antigone.

Thou hast borne?thou hast borne?—doth Justice regard not then
The sinner? Requiteth she not the follies of men?


Oedipus.

Lo, I am he on breath
Of song upraised to heaven,
When that dark riddle of the Maid of Death1730
To me to read was given.

 

Antigone.

Why raise the ghost of shame, the Sphinx's story?
Forbear to vaunt too late that faded glory.
For thee this anguish lay the while in wait,
Far from thy land to know the exile's fate,
And, father, in some place unknown to die.
To maids who love me leaving tears of yearning,
From fatherland an exile unreturning,
I wander far in plight unmaidenly.


Oedipus.

Woe for the heart where duty's fire is burning!1740


Antigone.

Twined with my father's sad renown
This shall be mine unfading crown.
Woe for thy wrongs! Brother, alas for thine,
Who from thine home a tombless corse art thrust,
Hapless! Though death, my sire, for this be mine,
Yet will I veil him secretly with dust.


Oedipus.

Show thee again to thy companions' eyes.


Antigone.

Why should they weep? Mine own laments suffice.


Oedipus.

Then at the altars bow with suppliant cry.


Antigone.

They weary of my tale of misery.1750

 

Oedipus.

Seek at the least the haunt of Revel's God
Mid Mænad hills by foot profane untrod.


Antigone.

How!—render homage[34] without heart
To Him, for whom erstwhile arrayed
In Theban fawnskins, I had part
In Semelê's holy dance that swayed
By hill, by glade?


Oedipus.

People of a glorious nation, mark me—Oedipus am I,
He who read the riddle world-renowned, the man once set on high,
He whose single prowess quelled the Sphinx's blood-polluted might.1760
Now dishonoured am I banished from the land in piteous plight.
Yet what boots it thus to wail? What profits vainly to lament?
Whoso is but mortal needs must bear the fate of heaven sent.

[Exeunt Oedipus and Antigone.

Chorus.

Hail, reverèd Victory!
Rest upon my life; and me
Crown, and crown eternally!

[Exeunt omnes.

 


  1. Pronounced Yocasta
  2. The Sphinx, couched on a rock commanding the entrance to Thebes, proposed this riddle to all who attempted to pass:—

    "There's a thing two-footed on earth,—four-footed,—three-footed; yet one
    Is the voice thereof; and it changeth its form, this thing alone
    Of all that on earth walk, soar through the air, or in sea- depths swim.
    But lo, whensoever on most limbs borne it essayeth to run,
    Then is it ever the weakest, the slowest in speed of limb."

    All, failing to solve it, were torn to pieces, till Oedipus expounded it thus:—

    "Hearken, how loth soever, thou foul-winged Muse of the slain,
    Unto my voice which tells thee the end of thy guile and thy doom.
    Man is the thing thou hast named: four-footed he crawls on the plain,
    What time he hath first come forth a babbling babe from the womb.
    And when he is old, must a staff, as a third foot, his weakness sustain,
    As he stoopeth his neck 'neath the load of his years, as he bows to the tomb."

    Thereupon the Sphinx hurled herself from the rock, and was killed.

  3. According to MS. reading, "O Child of the Sun-god, the Lord of the radiant zone."
  4. In Bacchus' temple on Parnassus was a vine which was said to yield one ripe cluster daily, to furnish the libation for the God.
  5. Al. "shrines."
  6. Kadmus, founder of Thebes, and Agenor, founder of Tyre, were both descendants of Io.
  7. i.e. Shall see the defeat of those whose leader he is.
  8. The fratricidal strife between Eteokles and Polyneikes.
  9. "For the steel of itself hath a spell, and it draweth men on unto war."—Odyssey, xix, 13.
  10. Paley, reading ὀνομάσαι, interprets

    "But fairness nor equality men regard,
    Save so to name them; no such thing exists."

  11. Intimating that Eteokles has (as commonly happens with kings) too much to lose to be willing to risk it in a personal encounter.
  12. Bacchus, born of Semelê in the hour when she was consumed by the lightnings amid which Zeus appeared to her. The infant god was hidden among ivy from the vengeance of Hera.
  13. Kadmus, after slaying the dragon-warder of the fountain of Dirkê, sowed its teeth, from which a crop of armed men at once arose. He cast a stone amongst them, and they straightway attacked each other, and fought till five only were left. These followed Kadmus, and became the fathers of the indigenous Thebans, the "Sown Men," as they styled themselves.
  14. Al. "I know them by repute right valorous."
  15. Harmonia, daughter of Ares, was given by the Gods to Kadmus to wife.
  16. The mule-car was used by ladies, who required (cf. Electra, 999, and Iph. Aul., 617) a supporting hand in alighting, just as the old man did in walking.
  17. Reading αἴνει vice αἰτεῖ, "ills inevitable thou cravest."
  18. Reading κτείνειν. Al. κτείνων, "Let no man praise me while he slays my sons."
  19. Reading σώσων for σώσω (Paley), "then I flee for life."
  20. Nauck's reading. Paley's, "I yield them up to him alone."
  21. Another reading, "The chiefs took oaths, whereby they should abide."
  22. So Nauck; according to Paley, "And, for dread guerdon, tears," etc.
  23. Reading ξίφος.
  24. Kreon's mental attitude, through which he forebodes evil everywhere (cf. 1311–12), countenances this rendering, though συμφορὰ does not necessarily mean more than "occurrence."
  25. Reading γόους (Porson, adopted by Nauck). From the fact that this messenger resumes (l. 1359), with no prefatory explanation of the situation, the narrative exactly at the point where it was broken off at line 1258, I have assumed that the poet meant him to be identical with the former one.
  26. Reading αἰτῶν, with Nauck.
  27. It was the habit of Greek soldiers, on every occasion of a halt, even in presence of a foe, and on the eve of battle, to disburden themselves of their heavy shields and long spears, which they piled outside the ranks. The delay involved in resuming them was sometimes disastrous; yet such action as that here ascribed to the Thebans remained quite exceptional.
  28. i.e. The man of much strife (cf. l. 636).
  29. Reading πεφυκέναι, vice δυσδαίμονα, "ill-starred."
  30. Nauck reads ἐχθαρτέος, "Hate is his due, if he was foe to Thebes."
  31. οὔκουν (Nauck).
  32. Alluding to the murder of the sons of Aegyptus by Danaus' daughters, whom they wedded perforce.
  33. Poseidon, the Sea-god, who created the first war-horse.
  34. Of the worship of Dionysus jubilant dance and song were essential features: since she could henceforth but simulate the Bacchic rapture, she feels that her presence would be a profanation.