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THE PRIEST OF ZEUS
CHORUS OF THEBAN ELDERS
HERD OF LAIUS
Thebes. Before the Palace of Oedipus. Suppliants of all ages are seated round the altar at the palace doors, at their head a PRIEST OF ZEUS. To them enter OEDIPUS.
OEDIPUSMy children, latest born to Cadmus old,
Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands
Branches of olive filleted with wool?
What means this reek of incense everywhere,
And everywhere laments and litanies?
Children, it were not meet that I should learn
From others, and am hither come, myself,
I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.
Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locks
Proclaim thee spokesman of this company,
Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread
Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?
My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt;
Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate
If such petitioners as you I spurned.
PRIESTYea, Oedipus, my sovereign lord and king,
Thou seest how both extremes of age besiege
Thy palace altars--fledglings hardly winged,
And greybeards bowed with years, priests, as am I
Of Zeus, and these the flower of our youth.
Meanwhile, the common folk, with wreathed boughs
Crowd our two market-places, or before
Both shrines of Pallas congregate, or where
Ismenus gives his oracles by fire.
For, as thou seest thyself, our ship of State,
Sore buffeted, can no more lift her head,
Foundered beneath a weltering surge of blood.
A blight is on our harvest in the ear,
A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds,
A blight on wives in travail; and withal
Armed with his blazing torch the God of Plague
Hath swooped upon our city emptying
The house of Cadmus, and the murky realm
Of Pluto is full fed with groans and tears.
Therefore, O King, here at thy hearth we sit,
I and these children; not as deeming thee
A new divinity, but the first of men;
First in the common accidents of life,
And first in visitations of the Gods.
Art thou not he who coming to the town
Of Cadmus freed us from the tax we paid
To the fell songstress? Nor hadst thou received
Prompting from us or been by others schooled;
No, by a god inspired (so all men deem,
And testify) didst thou renew our life.
And now, O Oedipus, our peerless king,
All we thy votaries beseech thee, find
Some succor, whether by a voice from heaven
Whispered, or haply known by human wit.
Tried counselors, methinks, are aptest found
To furnish for the future pregnant rede.
Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State!
Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yore
Our country's savior thou art justly hailed:
O never may we thus record thy reign:--
"He raised us up only to cast us down."
Uplift us, build our city on a rock.
Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck,
O let it not decline! If thou wouldst rule
This land, as now thou reignest, better sure
To rule a peopled than a desert realm.
Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail,
If men to man and guards to guard them tail.
OEDIPUSAh! my poor children, known, ah, known too well,
The quest that brings you hither and your need.
Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain,
How great soever yours, outtops it all.
Your sorrow touches each man severally,
Him and none other, but I grieve at once
Both for the general and myself and you.
Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams.
Many, my children, are the tears I've wept,
And threaded many a maze of weary thought.
Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught,
And tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus' son,
Creon, my consort's brother, to inquire
Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine,
How I might save the State by act or word.
And now I reckon up the tale of days
Since he set forth, and marvel how he fares.
'Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange.
But when he comes, then I were base indeed,
If I perform not all the god declares.
PRIESTThy words are well timed; even as thou speakest
That shouting tells me Creon is at hand.
OEDIPUSO King Apollo! may his joyous looks
Be presage of the joyous news he brings!
PRIESTAs I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his head
Had scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays.
OEDIPUSWe soon shall know; he's now in earshot range.Enter CREON.My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus' child,
What message hast thou brought us from the god?
CREONGood news, for e'en intolerable ills,
Finding right issue, tend to naught but good.
OEDIPUSHow runs the oracle? thus far thy words
Give me no ground for confidence or fear.
CREONIf thou wouldst hear my message publicly,
I'll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within.
OEDIPUSSpeak before all; the burden that I bear
Is more for these my subjects than myself.
CREONLet me report then all the god declared.
King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate
A fell pollution that infests the land,
And no more harbor an inveterate sore.
OEDIPUSWhat expiation means he? What's amiss?
CREONBanishment, or the shedding blood for blood.
This stain of blood makes shipwreck of our state.
OEDIPUSWhom can he mean, the miscreant thus denounced?
CREONBefore thou didst assume the helm of State,
The sovereign of this land was Laius.
OEDIPUSI heard as much, but never saw the man.
CREONHe fell; and now the god's command is plain:
Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be.
OEDIPUSWhere are they? Where in the wide world to find
The far, faint traces of a bygone crime?
CREONIn this land, said the god; "who seeks shall find;
Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind."
OEDIPUSWas he within his palace, or afield,
Or traveling, when Laius met his fate?
CREONAbroad; he started, so he told us, bound
For Delphi, but he never thence returned.
OEDIPUSCame there no news, no fellow-traveler
To give some clue that might be followed up?
CREONBut one escape, who flying for dear life,
Could tell of all he saw but one thing sure.
OEDIPUSAnd what was that? One clue might lead us far,
With but a spark of hope to guide our quest.
CREONRobbers, he told us, not one bandit but
A troop of knaves, attacked and murdered him.
OEDIPUSDid any bandit dare so bold a stroke,
Unless indeed he were suborned from Thebes?
CREONSo 'twas surmised, but none was found to avenge
His murder mid the trouble that ensued.
OEDIPUSWhat trouble can have hindered a full quest,
When royalty had fallen thus miserably?
CREONThe riddling Sphinx compelled us to let slide
The dim past and attend to instant needs.
OEDIPUSWell, I will start afresh and once againExeunt OEDIPUS and CREON.
Make dark things clear. Right worthy the concern
Of Phoebus, worthy thine too, for the dead;
I also, as is meet, will lend my aid
To avenge this wrong to Thebes and to the god.
Not for some far-off kinsman, but myself,
Shall I expel this poison in the blood;
For whoso slew that king might have a mind
To strike me too with his assassin hand.
Therefore in righting him I serve myself.
Up, children, haste ye, quit these altar stairs,
Take hence your suppliant wands, go summon hither
The Theban commons. With the god's good help
Success is sure; 'tis ruin if we fail.
PRIESTCome, children, let us hence; these gracious wordsExeunt PRIEST and SUPPLIANTS.
Forestall the very purpose of our suit.
And may the god who sent this oracle
Save us withal and rid us of this pest.
CHORUSstrophe 1Enter OEDIPUS.
Sweet-voiced daughter of Zeus from thy gold-paved Pythian shrine
Wafted to Thebes divine,
What dost thou bring me? My soul is racked and shivers with fear.
Healer of Delos, hear!
Hast thou some pain unknown before,
Or with the circling years renewest a penance of yore?
Offspring of golden Hope, thou voice immortal, O tell me.
First on Athene I call; O Zeus-born goddess, defend!
Goddess and sister, befriend,
Artemis, Lady of Thebes, high-throned in the midst of our mart!
Lord of the death-winged dart!
Your threefold aid I crave
From death and ruin our city to save.
If in the days of old when we nigh had perished, ye drave
From our land the fiery plague, be near us now and defend us!
Ah me, what countless woes are mine!
All our host is in decline;
Weaponless my spirit lies.
Earth her gracious fruits denies;
Women wail in barren throes;
Life on life downstriken goes,
Swifter than the wind bird's flight,
Swifter than the Fire-God's might,
To the westering shores of Night.
Wasted thus by death on death
All our city perisheth.
Corpses spread infection round;
None to tend or mourn is found.
Wailing on the altar stair
Wives and grandams rend the air--
Long-drawn moans and piercing cries
Blent with prayers and litanies.
Golden child of Zeus, O hear
Let thine angel face appear!
And grant that Ares whose hot breath I feel,
Though without targe or steel
He stalks, whose voice is as the battle shout,
May turn in sudden rout,
To the unharbored Thracian waters sped,
Or Amphitrite's bed.
For what night leaves undone,
Smit by the morrow's sun
Perisheth. Father Zeus, whose hand
Doth wield the lightning brand,
Slay him beneath thy levin bold, we pray,
Slay him, O slay!
O that thine arrows too, Lycean King,
From that taut bow's gold string,
Might fly abroad, the champions of our rights;
Yea, and the flashing lights
Of Artemis, wherewith the huntress sweeps
Across the Lycian steeps.
Thee too I call with golden-snooded hair,
Whose name our land doth bear,
Bacchus to whom thy Maenads Evoe shout;
Come with thy bright torch, rout,
Blithe god whom we adore,
The god whom gods abhor.
OEDIPUSYe pray; 'tis well, but would ye hear my words
And heed them and apply the remedy,
Ye might perchance find comfort and relief.
Mind you, I speak as one who comes a stranger
To this report, no less than to the crime;
For how unaided could I track it far
Without a clue? Which lacking (for too late
Was I enrolled a citizen of Thebes)
This proclamation I address to all:--
Thebans, if any knows the man by whom
Laius, son of Labdacus, was slain,
I summon him to make clean shrift to me.
And if he shrinks, let him reflect that thus
Confessing he shall 'scape the capital charge;
For the worst penalty that shall befall him
Is banishment--unscathed he shall depart.
But if an alien from a foreign land
Be known to any as the murderer,
Let him who knows speak out, and he shall have
Due recompense from me and thanks to boot.
But if ye still keep silence, if through fear
For self or friends ye disregard my hest,
Hear what I then resolve; I lay my ban
On the assassin whosoe'er he be.
Let no man in this land, whereof I hold
The sovereign rule, harbor or speak to him;
Give him no part in prayer or sacrifice
Or lustral rites, but hound him from your homes.
For this is our defilement, so the god
Hath lately shown to me by oracles.
Thus as their champion I maintain the cause
Both of the god and of the murdered King.
And on the murderer this curse I lay
(On him and all the partners in his guilt):--
Wretch, may he pine in utter wretchedness!
And for myself, if with my privity
He gain admittance to my hearth, I pray
The curse I laid on others fall on me.
See that ye give effect to all my hest,
For my sake and the god's and for our land,
A desert blasted by the wrath of heaven.
For, let alone the god's express command,
It were a scandal ye should leave unpurged
The murder of a great man and your king,
Nor track it home. And now that I am lord,
Successor to his throne, his bed, his wife,
(And had he not been frustrate in the hope
Of issue, common children of one womb
Had forced a closer bond twixt him and me,
But Fate swooped down upon him), therefore I
His blood-avenger will maintain his cause
As though he were my sire, and leave no stone
Unturned to track the assassin or avenge
The son of Labdacus, of Polydore,
Of Cadmus, and Agenor first of the race.
And for the disobedient thus I pray:
May the gods send them neither timely fruits
Of earth, nor teeming increase of the womb,
But may they waste and pine, as now they waste,
Aye and worse stricken; but to all of you,
My loyal subjects who approve my acts,
May Justice, our ally, and all the gods
Be gracious and attend you evermore.
CHORUSThe oath thou profferest, sire, I take and swear.
I slew him not myself, nor can I name
The slayer. For the quest, 'twere well, methinks
That Phoebus, who proposed the riddle, himself
Should give the answer--who the murderer was.
OEDIPUSWell argued; but no living man can hope
To force the gods to speak against their will.
CHORUSMay I then say what seems next best to me?
OEDIPUSAye, if there be a third best, tell it too.
CHORUSMy liege, if any man sees eye to eye
With our lord Phoebus, 'tis our prophet, lord
Teiresias; he of all men best might guide
A searcher of this matter to the light.
OEDIPUSHere too my zeal has nothing lagged, for twice
At Creon's instance have I sent to fetch him,
And long I marvel why he is not here.
CHORUSI mind me too of rumors long ago--
OEDIPUSTell them, I would fain know all.
CHORUS'Twas said he fell by travelers.
OEDIPUSSo I heard,
But none has seen the man who saw him fall.
CHORUSWell, if he knows what fear is, he will quail
And flee before the terror of thy curse.
OEDIPUSWords scare not him who blenches not at deeds.
CHORUSBut here is one to arraign him. Lo, at lengthEnter TEIRESIAS, led by a boy.
They bring the god-inspired seer in whom
Above all other men is truth inborn.
OEDIPUSTeiresias, seer who comprehendest all,
Lore of the wise and hidden mysteries,
High things of heaven and low things of the earth,
Thou knowest, though thy blinded eyes see naught,
What plague infects our city; and we turn
To thee, O seer, our one defense and shield.
The purport of the answer that the God
Returned to us who sought his oracle,
The messengers have doubtless told thee--how
One course alone could rid us of the pest,
To find the murderers of Laius,
And slay them or expel them from the land.
Therefore begrudging neither augury
Nor other divination that is thine,
O save thyself, thy country, and thy king,
Save all from this defilement of blood shed.
On thee we rest. This is man's highest end,
To others' service all his powers to lend.
TEIRESIASAlas, alas, what misery to be wise
When wisdom profits nothing! This old lore
I had forgotten; else I were not here.
OEDIPUSWhat ails thee? Why this melancholy mood?
TEIRESIASLet me go home; prevent me not; 'twere best
That thou shouldst bear thy burden and I mine.
OEDIPUSFor shame! no true-born Theban patriot
Would thus withhold the word of prophecy.
TEIRESIASThy words, O king, are wide of the mark, and I
For fear lest I too trip like thee...
Withhold not, I adjure thee, if thou know'st,
Thy knowledge. We are all thy suppliants.
TEIRESIASAye, for ye all are witless, but my voice
Will ne'er reveal my miseries--or thine.
OEDIPUSWhat then, thou knowest, and yet willst not speak!
Wouldst thou betray us and destroy the State?
TEIRESIASI will not vex myself nor thee. Why ask
Thus idly what from me thou shalt not learn?
OEDIPUSMonster! thy silence would incense a flint.
Will nothing loose thy tongue? Can nothing melt thee,
Or shake thy dogged taciturnity?
TEIRESIASThou blam'st my mood and seest not thine own
Wherewith thou art mated; no, thou taxest me.
OEDIPUSAnd who could stay his choler when he heard
How insolently thou dost flout the State?
TEIRESIASWell, it will come what will, though I be mute.
OEDIPUSSince come it must, thy duty is to tell me.
TEIRESIASI have no more to say; storm as thou willst,
And give the rein to all thy pent-up rage.
OEDIPUSYea, I am wroth, and will not stint my words,
But speak my whole mind. Thou methinks thou art he,
Who planned the crime, aye, and performed it too,
All save the assassination; and if thou
Hadst not been blind, I had been sworn to boot
That thou alone didst do the bloody deed.
TEIRESIASIs it so? Then I charge thee to abide
By thine own proclamation; from this day
Speak not to these or me. Thou art the man,
Thou the accursed polluter of this land.
OEDIPUSVile slanderer, thou blurtest forth these taunts,
And think'st forsooth as seer to go scot free.
TEIRESIASYea, I am free, strong in the strength of truth.
OEDIPUSWho was thy teacher? not methinks thy art.
TEIRESIASThou, goading me against my will to speak.
OEDIPUSWhat speech? repeat it and resolve my doubt.
TEIRESIASDidst miss my sense wouldst thou goad me on?
OEDIPUSI but half caught thy meaning; say it again.
TEIRESIASI say thou art the murderer of the man
Whose murderer thou pursuest.
OEDIPUSThou shalt rue it
Twice to repeat so gross a calumny.
TEIRESIASMust I say more to aggravate thy rage?
OEDIPUSSay all thou wilt; it will be but waste of breath.
TEIRESIASI say thou livest with thy nearest kin
In infamy, unwitting in thy shame.
OEDIPUSThink'st thou for aye unscathed to wag thy tongue?
TEIRESIASYea, if the might of truth can aught prevail.
OEDIPUSWith other men, but not with thee, for thou
In ear, wit, eye, in everything art blind.
TEIRESIASPoor fool to utter gibes at me which all
Here present will cast back on thee ere long.
OEDIPUSOffspring of endless Night, thou hast no power
O'er me or any man who sees the sun.
TEIRESIASNo, for thy weird is not to fall by me.
I leave to Apollo what concerns the god.
OEDIPUSIs this a plot of Creon, or thine own?
TEIRESIASNot Creon, thou thyself art thine own bane.
OEDIPUSO wealth and empiry and skill by skill
Outwitted in the battlefield of life,
What spite and envy follow in your train!
See, for this crown the State conferred on me.
A gift, a thing I sought not, for this crown
The trusty Creon, my familiar friend,
Hath lain in wait to oust me and suborned
This mountebank, this juggling charlatan,
This tricksy beggar-priest, for gain alone
Keen-eyed, but in his proper art stone-blind.
Say, sirrah, hast thou ever proved thyself
A prophet? When the riddling Sphinx was here
Why hadst thou no deliverance for this folk?
And yet the riddle was not to be solved
By guess-work but required the prophet's art;
Wherein thou wast found lacking; neither birds
Nor sign from heaven helped thee, but I came,
The simple Oedipus; I stopped her mouth
By mother wit, untaught of auguries.
This is the man whom thou wouldst undermine,
In hope to reign with Creon in my stead.
Methinks that thou and thine abettor soon
Will rue your plot to drive the scapegoat out.
Thank thy grey hairs that thou hast still to learn
What chastisement such arrogance deserves.
CHORUSTo us it seems that both the seer and thou,
O Oedipus, have spoken angry words.
This is no time to wrangle but consult
How best we may fulfill the oracle.
TEIRESIASKing as thou art, free speech at least is mine
To make reply; in this I am thy peer.
I own no lord but Loxias; him I serve
And ne'er can stand enrolled as Creon's man.
Thus then I answer: since thou hast not spared
To twit me with my blindness--thou hast eyes,
Yet see'st not in what misery thou art fallen,
Nor where thou dwellest nor with whom for mate.
Dost know thy lineage? Nay, thou know'st it not,
And all unwitting art a double foe
To thine own kin, the living and the dead;
Aye and the dogging curse of mother and sire
One day shall drive thee, like a two-edged sword,
Beyond our borders, and the eyes that now
See clear shall henceforward endless night.
Ah whither shall thy bitter cry not reach,
What crag in all Cithaeron but shall then
Reverberate thy wail, when thou hast found
With what a hymeneal thou wast borne
Home, but to no fair haven, on the gale!
Aye, and a flood of ills thou guessest not
Shall set thyself and children in one line.
Flout then both Creon and my words, for none
Of mortals shall be striken worse than thou.
OEDIPUSMust I endure this fellow's insolence?
A murrain on thee! Get thee hence! Begone
Avaunt! and never cross my threshold more.
TEIRESIASI ne'er had come hadst thou not bidden me.
OEDIPUSI know not thou wouldst utter folly, else
Long hadst thou waited to be summoned here.
TEIRESIASSuch am I--as it seems to thee a fool,
But to the parents who begat thee, wise.
OEDIPUSWhat sayest thou--"parents"? Who begat me, speak?
TEIRESIASThis day shall be thy birth-day, and thy grave.
OEDIPUSThou lov'st to speak in riddles and dark words.
TEIRESIASIn reading riddles who so skilled as thou?
OEDIPUSTwit me with that wherein my greatness lies.
TEIRESIASAnd yet this very greatness proved thy bane.
OEDIPUSNo matter if I saved the commonwealth.
TEIRESIAS'Tis time I left thee. Come, boy, take me home.
OEDIPUSAye, take him quickly, for his presence irks
And lets me; gone, thou canst not plague me more.
TEIRESIASI go, but first will tell thee why I came.Exeunt TEIRESIAS and OEDIPUS.
Thy frown I dread not, for thou canst not harm me.
Hear then: this man whom thou hast sought to arrest
With threats and warrants this long while, the wretch
Who murdered Laius--that man is here.
He passes for an alien in the land
But soon shall prove a Theban, native born.
And yet his fortune brings him little joy;
For blind of seeing, clad in beggar's weeds,
For purple robes, and leaning on his staff,
To a strange land he soon shall grope his way.
And of the children, inmates of his home,
He shall be proved the brother and the sire,
Of her who bare him son and husband both,
Co-partner, and assassin of his sire.
Go in and ponder this, and if thou find
That I have missed the mark, henceforth declare
I have no wit nor skill in prophecy.
Who is he by voice immortal named from Pythia's rocky cell,
Doer of foul deeds of bloodshed, horrors that no tongue can tell?
A foot for flight he needs
Fleeter than storm-swift steeds,
For on his heels doth follow,
Armed with the lightnings of his Sire, Apollo.
Like sleuth-hounds too
The Fates pursue.
Yea, but now flashed forth the summons from Parnassus' snowy peak,
"Near and far the undiscovered doer of this murder seek!"
Now like a sullen bull he roves
Through forest brakes and upland groves,
And vainly seeks to fly
The doom that ever nigh
Flits o'er his head,
Still by the avenging Phoebus sped,
The voice divine,
From Earth's mid shrine.
Sore perplexed am I by the words of the master seer.
Are they true, are they false? I know not and bridle my tongue for fear,
Fluttered with vague surmise; nor present nor future is clear.
Quarrel of ancient date or in days still near know I none
Twixt the Labdacidan house and our ruler, Polybus' son.
Proof is there none: how then can I challenge our King's good name,
How in a blood-feud join for an untracked deed of shame?
All wise are Zeus and Apollo, and nothing is hid from their ken;
They are gods; and in wits a man may surpass his fellow men;
But that a mortal seer knows more than I know--where
Hath this been proven? Or how without sign assured, can I blame
Him who saved our State when the winged songstress came,
Tested and tried in the light of us all, like gold assayed?
How can I now assent when a crime is on Oedipus laid?
CREONFriends, countrymen, I learn King Oedipus
Hath laid against me a most grievous charge,
And come to you protesting. If he deems
That I have harmed or injured him in aught
By word or deed in this our present trouble,
I care not to prolong the span of life,
Thus ill-reputed; for the calumny
Hits not a single blot, but blasts my name,
If by the general voice I am denounced
False to the State and false by you my friends.
CHORUSThis taunt, it well may be, was blurted out
In petulance, not spoken advisedly.
CREONDid any dare pretend that it was I
Prompted the seer to utter a forged charge?
CHORUSSuch things were said; with what intent I know not.
CREONWere not his wits and vision all astray
When upon me he fixed this monstrous charge?
CHORUSI know not; to my sovereign's acts I am blind.Enter OEDIPUS.
But lo, he comes to answer for himself.
OEDIPUSSirrah, what mak'st thou here? Dost thou presume
To approach my doors, thou brazen-faced rogue,
My murderer and the filcher of my crown?
Come, answer this, didst thou detect in me
Some touch of cowardice or witlessness,
That made thee undertake this enterprise?
I seemed forsooth too simple to perceive
The serpent stealing on me in the dark,
Or else too weak to scotch it when I saw.
This thou art witless seeking to possess
Without a following or friends the crown,
A prize that followers and wealth must win.
CREONAttend me. Thou hast spoken, 'tis my turn
To make reply. Then having heard me, judge.
OEDIPUSThou art glib of tongue, but I am slow to learn
Of thee; I know too well thy venomous hate.
CREONFirst I would argue out this very point.
OEDIPUSO argue not that thou art not a rogue.
CREONIf thou dost count a virtue stubbornness,
Unschooled by reason, thou art much astray.
OEDIPUSIf thou dost hold a kinsman may be wronged,
And no pains follow, thou art much to seek.
CREONTherein thou judgest rightly, but this wrong
That thou allegest--tell me what it is.
OEDIPUSDidst thou or didst thou not advise that I
Should call the priest?
CREONYes, and I stand to it.
OEDIPUSTell me how long is it since Laius...
CREONSince Laius...? I follow not thy drift.
OEDIPUSBy violent hands was spirited away.
CREONIn the dim past, a many years agone.
OEDIPUSDid the same prophet then pursue his craft?
CREONYes, skilled as now and in no less repute.
OEDIPUSDid he at that time ever glance at me?
CREONNot to my knowledge, not when I was by.
OEDIPUSBut was no search and inquisition made?
CREONSurely full quest was made, but nothing learnt.
OEDIPUSWhy failed the seer to tell his story then?
CREONI know not, and not knowing hold my tongue.
OEDIPUSThis much thou knowest and canst surely tell.
CREONWhat's mean'st thou? All I know I will declare.
OEDIPUSBut for thy prompting never had the seer
Ascribed to me the death of Laius.
CREONIf so he thou knowest best; but I
Would put thee to the question in my turn.
OEDIPUSQuestion and prove me murderer if thou canst.
CREONThen let me ask thee, didst thou wed my sister?
OEDIPUSA fact so plain I cannot well deny.
CREONAnd as thy consort queen she shares the throne?
OEDIPUSI grant her freely all her heart desires.
CREONAnd with you twain I share the triple rule?
OEDIPUSYea, and it is that proves thee a false friend.
CREONNot so, if thou wouldst reason with thyself,
As I with myself. First, I bid thee think,
Would any mortal choose a troubled reign
Of terrors rather than secure repose,
If the same power were given him? As for me,
I have no natural craving for the name
Of king, preferring to do kingly deeds,
And so thinks every sober-minded man.
Now all my needs are satisfied through thee,
And I have naught to fear; but were I king,
My acts would oft run counter to my will.
How could a title then have charms for me
Above the sweets of boundless influence?
I am not so infatuate as to grasp
The shadow when I hold the substance fast.
Now all men cry me Godspeed! wish me well,
And every suitor seeks to gain my ear,
If he would hope to win a grace from thee.
Why should I leave the better, choose the worse?
That were sheer madness, and I am not mad.
No such ambition ever tempted me,
Nor would I have a share in such intrigue.
And if thou doubt me, first to Delphi go,
There ascertain if my report was true
Of the god's answer; next investigate
If with the seer I plotted or conspired,
And if it prove so, sentence me to death,
Not by thy voice alone, but mine and thine.
But O condemn me not, without appeal,
On bare suspicion. 'Tis not right to adjudge
Bad men at random good, or good men bad.
I would as lief a man should cast away
The thing he counts most precious, his own life,
As spurn a true friend. Thou wilt learn in time
The truth, for time alone reveals the just;
A villain is detected in a day.
CHORUSTo one who walketh warily his words
Commend themselves; swift counsels are not sure.
OEDIPUSWhen with swift strides the stealthy plotter stalks
I must be quick too with my counterplot.
To wait his onset passively, for him
Is sure success, for me assured defeat.
CREONWhat then's thy will? To banish me the land?
OEDIPUSI would not have thee banished, no, but dead,
That men may mark the wages envy reaps.
CREONI see thou wilt not yield, nor credit me.
OEDIPUSNone but a fool would credit such as thou.
CREONThou art not wise.
OEDIPUSWise for myself at least.
CREONWhy not for me too?
OEDIPUSWhy for such a knave?
CREONSuppose thou lackest sense.
OEDIPUSYet kings must rule.
CREONNot if they rule ill.
OEDIPUSOh my Thebans, hear him!
CREONThy Thebans? am not I a Theban too?
CHORUSCease, princes; lo there comes, and none too soon,Enter JOCASTA.
Jocasta from the palace. Who so fit
As peacemaker to reconcile your feud?
JOCASTAMisguided princes, why have ye upraised
This wordy wrangle? Are ye not ashamed,
While the whole land lies striken, thus to voice
Your private injuries? Go in, my lord;
Go home, my brother, and forebear to make
A public scandal of a petty grief.
CREONMy royal sister, Oedipus, thy lord,
Hath bid me choose (O dread alternative!)
An outlaw's exile or a felon's death.
OEDIPUSYes, lady; I have caught him practicing
Against my royal person his vile arts.
CREONMay I ne'er speed but die accursed, if I
In any way am guilty of this charge.
JOCASTABelieve him, I adjure thee, Oedipus,
First for his solemn oath's sake, then for mine,
And for thine elders' sake who wait on thee.
Hearken, King, reflect, we pray thee, but not stubborn but relent.
OEDIPUSSay to what should I consent?
CHORUSRespect a man whose probity and troth
Are known to all and now confirmed by oath.
OEDIPUSDost know what grace thou cravest?
CHORUSYea, I know.
OEDIPUSDeclare it then and make thy meaning plain.
CHORUSBrand not a friend whom babbling tongues assail;
Let not suspicion 'gainst his oath prevail.
OEDIPUSBethink you that in seeking this ye seek
In very sooth my death or banishment?
CHORUSNo, by the leader of the host divine!
Witness, thou Sun, such thought was never mine,
Unblest, unfriended may I perish,
If ever I such wish did cherish!
But O my heart is desolate
Musing on our striken State,
Doubly fall'n should discord grow
Twixt you twain, to crown our woe.
OEDIPUSWell, let him go, no matter what it cost me,
Or certain death or shameful banishment,
For your sake I relent, not his; and him,
Where'er he be, my heart shall still abhor.
CREONThou art as sullen in thy yielding mood
As in thine anger thou wast truculent.
Such tempers justly plague themselves the most.
OEDIPUSLeave me in peace and get thee gone.
CREONI go,Exeunt CREON.
By thee misjudged, but justified by these.
Lady, lead indoors thy consort; wherefore longer here delay?
JOCASTATell me first how rose the fray.
CHORUSRumors bred unjust suspicious and injustice rankles sore.
JOCASTAWere both at fault?
JOCASTAWhat was the tale?
CHORUSAsk me no more. The land is sore distressed; 'Twere better sleeping ills to leave at rest.
OEDIPUSStrange counsel, friend! I know thou mean'st me well,
And yet would'st mitigate and blunt my zeal.
King, I say it once again,
Witless were I proved, insane,
If I lightly put away
Thee my country's prop and stay,
Pilot who, in danger sought,
To a quiet haven brought
Our distracted State; and now
Who can guide us right but thou?
JOCASTALet me too, I adjure thee, know, O king,
What cause has stirred this unrelenting wrath.
OEDIPUSI will, for thou art more to me than these.
Lady, the cause is Creon and his plots.
JOCASTABut what provoked the quarrel? make this clear.
OEDIPUSHe points me out as Laius' murderer.
JOCASTAOf his own knowledge or upon report?
OEDIPUSHe is too cunning to commit himself,
And makes a mouthpiece of a knavish seer.
JOCASTAThen thou mayest ease thy conscience on that score.
Listen and I'll convince thee that no man
Hath scot or lot in the prophetic art.
Here is the proof in brief. An oracle
Once came to Laius (I will not say
'Twas from the Delphic god himself, but from
His ministers) declaring he was doomed
To perish by the hand of his own son,
A child that should be born to him by me.
Now Laius--so at least report affirmed--
Was murdered on a day by highwaymen,
No natives, at a spot where three roads meet.
As for the child, it was but three days old,
When Laius, its ankles pierced and pinned
Together, gave it to be cast away
By others on the trackless mountain side.
So then Apollo brought it not to pass
The child should be his father's murderer,
Or the dread terror find accomplishment,
And Laius be slain by his own son.
Such was the prophet's horoscope. O king,
Regard it not. Whate'er the god deems fit
To search, himself unaided will reveal.
OEDIPUSWhat memories, what wild tumult of the soul
Came o'er me, lady, as I heard thee speak!
JOCASTAWhat mean'st thou? What has shocked and startled thee?
OEDIPUSMethought I heard thee say that Laius
Was murdered at the meeting of three roads.
JOCASTASo ran the story that is current still.
OEDIPUSWhere did this happen? Dost thou know the place?
JOCASTAPhocis the land is called; the spot is where
Branch roads from Delphi and from Daulis meet.
OEDIPUSAnd how long is it since these things befell?
JOCASTA'Twas but a brief while were thou wast proclaimed
Our country's ruler that the news was brought.
OEDIPUSO Zeus, what hast thou willed to do with me!
JOCASTAWhat is it, Oedipus, that moves thee so?
OEDIPUSAsk me not yet; tell me the build and height
Of Laius? Was he still in manhood's prime?
JOCASTATall was he, and his hair was lightly strewn
With silver; and not unlike thee in form.
OEDIPUSO woe is me! Mehtinks unwittingly
I laid but now a dread curse on myself.
JOCASTAWhat say'st thou? When I look upon thee, my king,
OEDIPUS'Tis a dread presentiment
That in the end the seer will prove not blind.
One further question to resolve my doubt.
JOCASTAI quail; but ask, and I will answer all.
OEDIPUSHad he but few attendants or a train
Of armed retainers with him, like a prince?
JOCASTAThey were but five in all, and one of them
A herald; Laius in a mule-car rode.
OEDIPUSAlas! 'tis clear as noonday now. But say,
Lady, who carried this report to Thebes?
JOCASTAA serf, the sole survivor who returned.
OEDIPUSHaply he is at hand or in the house?
JOCASTANo, for as soon as he returned and found
Thee reigning in the stead of Laius slain,
He clasped my hand and supplicated me
To send him to the alps and pastures, where
He might be farthest from the sight of Thebes.
And so I sent him. 'Twas an honest slave
And well deserved some better recompense.
OEDIPUSFetch him at once. I fain would see the man.
JOCASTAHe shall be brought; but wherefore summon him?
OEDIPUSLady, I fear my tongue has overrun
Discretion; therefore I would question him.
JOCASTAWell, he shall come, but may not I too claim
To share the burden of thy heart, my king?
OEDIPUSAnd thou shalt not be frustrate of thy wish.
Now my imaginings have gone so far.
Who has a higher claim that thou to hear
My tale of dire adventures? Listen then.
My sire was Polybus of Corinth, and
My mother Merope, a Dorian;
And I was held the foremost citizen,
Till a strange thing befell me, strange indeed,
Yet scarce deserving all the heat it stirred.
A roisterer at some banquet, flown with wine,
Shouted "Thou art not true son of thy sire."
It irked me, but I stomached for the nonce
The insult; on the morrow I sought out
My mother and my sire and questioned them.
They were indignant at the random slur
Cast on my parentage and did their best
To comfort me, but still the venomed barb
Rankled, for still the scandal spread and grew.
So privily without their leave I went
To Delphi, and Apollo sent me back
Baulked of the knowledge that I came to seek.
But other grievous things he prophesied,
Woes, lamentations, mourning, portents dire;
To wit I should defile my mother's bed
And raise up seed too loathsome to behold,
And slay the father from whose loins I sprang.
Then, lady,--thou shalt hear the very truth--
As I drew near the triple-branching roads,
A herald met me and a man who sat
In a car drawn by colts--as in thy tale--
The man in front and the old man himself
Threatened to thrust me rudely from the path,
Then jostled by the charioteer in wrath
I struck him, and the old man, seeing this,
Watched till I passed and from his car brought down
Full on my head the double-pointed goad.
Yet was I quits with him and more; one stroke
Of my good staff sufficed to fling him clean
Out of the chariot seat and laid him prone.
And so I slew them every one. But if
Betwixt this stranger there was aught in common
With Laius, who more miserable than I,
What mortal could you find more god-abhorred?
Wretch whom no sojourner, no citizen
May harbor or address, whom all are bound
To harry from their homes. And this same curse
Was laid on me, and laid by none but me.
Yea with these hands all gory I pollute
The bed of him I slew. Say, am I vile?
Am I not utterly unclean, a wretch
Doomed to be banished, and in banishment
Forgo the sight of all my dearest ones,
And never tread again my native earth;
Or else to wed my mother and slay my sire,
Polybus, who begat me and upreared?
If one should say, this is the handiwork
Of some inhuman power, who could blame
His judgment? But, ye pure and awful gods,
Forbid, forbid that I should see that day!
May I be blotted out from living men
Ere such a plague spot set on me its brand!
CHORUSWe too, O king, are troubled; but till thou
Hast questioned the survivor, still hope on.
OEDIPUSMy hope is faint, but still enough survives
To bid me bide the coming of this herd.
JOCASTASuppose him here, what wouldst thou learn of him?
OEDIPUSI'll tell thee, lady; if his tale agrees
With thine, I shall have 'scaped calamity.
JOCASTAAnd what of special import did I say?
OEDIPUSIn thy report of what the herdsman said
Laius was slain by robbers; now if he
Still speaks of robbers, not a robber, I
Slew him not; "one" with "many" cannot square.
But if he says one lonely wayfarer,
The last link wanting to my guilt is forged.
JOCASTAWell, rest assured, his tale ran thus at first,
Nor can he now retract what then he said;
Not I alone but all our townsfolk heard it.
E'en should he vary somewhat in his story,
He cannot make the death of Laius
In any wise jump with the oracle.
For Loxias said expressly he was doomed
To die by my child's hand, but he, poor babe,
He shed no blood, but perished first himself.
So much for divination. Henceforth I
Will look for signs neither to right nor left.
OEDIPUSThou reasonest well. Still I would have thee send
And fetch the bondsman hither. See to it.
JOCASTAThat will I straightway. Come, let us within.Exeunt OEDIPUS and JOCASTA.
I would do nothing that my lord mislikes.
CHORUSstrophe 1Enter JOCASTA.
My lot be still to lead
The life of innocence and fly
Irreverence in word or deed,
To follow still those laws ordained on high
Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky
No mortal birth they own,
Olympus their progenitor alone:
Ne'er shall they slumber in oblivion cold,
The god in them is strong and grows not old.
Of insolence is bred
The tyrant; insolence full blown,
With empty riches surfeited,
Scales the precipitous height and grasps the throne.
Then topples o'er and lies in ruin prone;
No foothold on that dizzy steep.
But O may Heaven the true patriot keep
Who burns with emulous zeal to serve the State.
God is my help and hope, on him I wait.
But the proud sinner, or in word or deed,
That will not Justice heed,
Nor reverence the shrine
Of images divine,
Perdition seize his vain imaginings,
If, urged by greed profane,
He grasps at ill-got gain,
And lays an impious hand on holiest things.
Who when such deeds are done
Can hope heaven's bolts to shun?
If sin like this to honor can aspire,
Why dance I still and lead the sacred choir?
No more I'll seek earth's central oracle,
Or Abae's hallowed cell,
Nor to Olympia bring
My votive offering.
If before all God's truth be not bade plain.
O Zeus, reveal thy might,
King, if thou'rt named aright
Omnipotent, all-seeing, as of old;
For Laius is forgot;
His weird, men heed it not;
Apollo is forsook and faith grows cold.
JOCASTAMy lords, ye look amazed to see your queenEnter Corinthian MESSENGER.
With wreaths and gifts of incense in her hands.
I had a mind to visit the high shrines,
For Oedipus is overwrought, alarmed
With terrors manifold. He will not use
His past experience, like a man of sense,
To judge the present need, but lends an ear
To any croaker if he augurs ill.
Since then my counsels naught avail, I turn
To thee, our present help in time of trouble,
Apollo, Lord Lycean, and to thee
My prayers and supplications here I bring.
Lighten us, lord, and cleanse us from this curse!
For now we all are cowed like mariners
Who see their helmsman dumbstruck in the storm.
MESSENGERMy masters, tell me where the palace is
Of Oedipus; or better, where's the king.
CHORUSHere is the palace and he bides within;
This is his queen the mother of his children.
MESSENGERAll happiness attend her and the house,
Blessed is her husband and her marriage-bed.
JOCASTAMy greetings to thee, stranger; thy fair words
Deserve a like response. But tell me why
Thou comest--what thy need or what thy news.
MESSENGERGood for thy consort and the royal house.
JOCASTAWhat may it be? Whose messenger art thou?
MESSENGERThe Isthmian commons have resolved to make
Thy husband king--so 'twas reported there.
JOCASTAWhat! is not aged Polybus still king?
MESSENGERNo, verily; he's dead and in his grave.
JOCASTAWhat! is he dead, the sire of Oedipus?
MESSENGERIf I speak falsely, may I die myself.
JOCASTAQuick, maiden, bear these tidings to my lord.Enter OEDIPUS.
Ye god-sent oracles, where stand ye now!
This is the man whom Oedipus long shunned,
In dread to prove his murderer; and now
He dies in nature's course, not by his hand.
OEDIPUSMy wife, my queen, Jocasta, why hast thou
Summoned me from my palace?
JOCASTAHear this man,
And as thou hearest judge what has become
Of all those awe-inspiring oracles.
OEDIPUSWho is this man, and what his news for me?
JOCASTAHe comes from Corinth and his message this:
Thy father Polybus hath passed away.
OEDIPUSWhat? let me have it, stranger, from thy mouth.
MESSENGERIf I must first make plain beyond a doubt
My message, know that Polybus is dead.
OEDIPUSBy treachery, or by sickness visited?
MESSENGEROne touch will send an old man to his rest.
OEDIPUSSo of some malady he died, poor man.
MESSENGERYes, having measured the full span of years.
OEDIPUSOut on it, lady! why should one regard
The Pythian hearth or birds that scream i' the air?
Did they not point at me as doomed to slay
My father? but he's dead and in his grave
And here am I who ne'er unsheathed a sword;
Unless the longing for his absent son
Killed him and so I slew him in a sense.
But, as they stand, the oracles are dead--
Dust, ashes, nothing, dead as Polybus.
JOCASTASay, did not I foretell this long ago?
OEDIPUSThou didst: but I was misled by my fear.
JOCASTAThen let I no more weigh upon thy soul.
OEDIPUSMust I not fear my mother's marriage bed.
JOCASTAWhy should a mortal man, the sport of chance,
With no assured foreknowledge, be afraid?
Best live a careless life from hand to mouth.
This wedlock with thy mother fear not thou.
How oft it chances that in dreams a man
Has wed his mother! He who least regards
Such brainsick phantasies lives most at ease.
OEDIPUSI should have shared in full thy confidence,
Were not my mother living; since she lives
Though half convinced I still must live in dread.
JOCASTAAnd yet thy sire's death lights out darkness much.
OEDIPUSMuch, but my fear is touching her who lives.
MESSENGERWho may this woman be whom thus you fear?
OEDIPUSMerope, stranger, wife of Polybus.
MESSENGERAnd what of her can cause you any fear?
OEDIPUSA heaven-sent oracle of dread import.
MESSENGERA mystery, or may a stranger hear it?
OEDIPUSAye, 'tis no secret. Loxias once foretold
That I should mate with mine own mother, and shed
With my own hands the blood of my own sire.
Hence Corinth was for many a year to me
A home distant; and I trove abroad,
But missed the sweetest sight, my parents' face.
MESSENGERWas this the fear that exiled thee from home?
OEDIPUSYea, and the dread of slaying my own sire.
MESSENGERWhy, since I came to give thee pleasure, King,
Have I not rid thee of this second fear?
OEDIPUSWell, thou shalt have due guerdon for thy pains.
MESSENGERWell, I confess what chiefly made me come
Was hope to profit by thy coming home.
OEDIPUSNay, I will ne'er go near my parents more.
MESSENGERMy son, 'tis plain, thou know'st not what thou doest.
OEDIPUSHow so, old man? For heaven's sake tell me all.
MESSENGERIf this is why thou dreadest to return.
OEDIPUSYea, lest the god's word be fulfilled in me.
MESSENGERLest through thy parents thou shouldst be accursed?
OEDIPUSThis and none other is my constant dread.
MESSENGERDost thou not know thy fears are baseless all?
OEDIPUSHow baseless, if I am their very son?
MESSENGERSince Polybus was naught to thee in blood.
OEDIPUSWhat say'st thou? was not Polybus my sire?
MESSENGERAs much thy sire as I am, and no more.
OEDIPUSMy sire no more to me than one who is naught?
MESSENGERSince I begat thee not, no more did he.
OEDIPUSWhat reason had he then to call me son?
MESSENGERKnow that he took thee from my hands, a gift.
OEDIPUSYet, if no child of his, he loved me well.
MESSENGERA childless man till then, he warmed to thee.
OEDIPUSA foundling or a purchased slave, this child?
MESSENGERI found thee in Cithaeron's wooded glens.
OEDIPUSWhat led thee to explore those upland glades?
MESSENGERMy business was to tend the mountain flocks.
OEDIPUSA vagrant shepherd journeying for hire?
MESSENGERTrue, but thy savior in that hour, my son.
OEDIPUSMy savior? from what harm? what ailed me then?
MESSENGERThose ankle joints are evidence enow.
OEDIPUSAh, why remind me of that ancient sore?
MESSENGERI loosed the pin that riveted thy feet.
OEDIPUSYes, from my cradle that dread brand I bore.
MESSENGERWhence thou deriv'st the name that still is thine.
OEDIPUSWho did it? I adjure thee, tell me who
Say, was it father, mother?
MESSENGERI know not.
The man from whom I had thee may know more.
OEDIPUSWhat, did another find me, not thyself?
MESSENGERNot I; another shepherd gave thee me.
OEDIPUSWho was he? Would'st thou know again the man?
MESSENGERHe passed indeed for one of Laius' house.
OEDIPUSThe king who ruled the country long ago?
MESSENGERThe same: he was a herdsman of the king.
OEDIPUSAnd is he living still for me to see him?
MESSENGERHis fellow-countrymen should best know that.
OEDIPUSDoth any bystander among you know
The herd he speaks of, or by seeing him
Afield or in the city? answer straight!
The hour hath come to clear this business up.
CHORUSMethinks he means none other than the hind
Whom thou anon wert fain to see; but that
Our queen Jocasta best of all could tell.
OEDIPUSMadam, dost know the man we sent to fetch?
Is the same of whom the stranger speaks?
JOCASTAWho is the man? What matter? Let it be.
'Twere waste of thought to weigh such idle words.
OEDIPUSNo, with such guiding clues I cannot fail
To bring to light the secret of my birth.
JOCASTAOh, as thou carest for thy life, give o'er
This quest. Enough the anguish I endure.
OEDIPUSBe of good cheer; though I be proved the son
Of a bondwoman, aye, through three descents
Triply a slave, thy honor is unsmirched.
JOCASTAYet humor me, I pray thee; do not this.
OEDIPUSI cannot; I must probe this matter home.
JOCASTA'Tis for thy sake I advise thee for the best.
OEDIPUSI grow impatient of this best advice.
JOCASTAAh mayst thou ne'er discover who thou art!
OEDIPUSGo, fetch me here the herd, and leave yon woman
To glory in her pride of ancestry.
JOCASTAO woe is thee, poor wretch! With that last wordExit JOCASTA.
I leave thee, henceforth silent evermore.
CHORUSWhy, Oedipus, why stung with passionate grief
Hath the queen thus departed? Much I fear
From this dead calm will burst a storm of woes.
OEDIPUSLet the storm burst, my fixed resolve still holds,
To learn my lineage, be it ne'er so low.
It may be she with all a woman's pride
Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I
Who rank myself as Fortune's favorite child,
The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed.
She is my mother and the changing moons
My brethren, and with them I wax and wane.
Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth?
Nothing can make me other than I am.
If my soul prophetic err not, if my wisdom aught avail,
Thee, Cithaeron, I shall hail,
As the nurse and foster-mother of our Oedipus shall greet
Ere tomorrow's full moon rises, and exalt thee as is meet.
Dance and song shall hymn thy praises, lover of our royal race.
Phoebus, may my words find grace!
Child, who bare thee, nymph or goddess? sure thy sure was more than man,
Haply the hill-roamer Pan.
Of did Loxias beget thee, for he haunts the upland wold;
Or Cyllene's lord, or Bacchus, dweller on the hilltops cold?
Did some Heliconian Oread give him thee, a new-born joy?
Nymphs with whom he love to toy?
OEDIPUSElders, if I, who never yet before
Have met the man, may make a guess, methinks
I see the herdsman who we long have sought;
His time-worn aspect matches with the years
Of yonder aged messenger; besides
I seem to recognize the men who bring him
As servants of my own. But you, perchance,
Having in past days known or seen the herd,
May better by sure knowledge my surmise.
CHORUSI recognize him; one of Laius' house;Enter HERDSMAN.
A simple hind, but true as any man.
OEDIPUSCorinthian, stranger, I address thee first,
Is this the man thou meanest!
MESSENGERThis is he.
OEDIPUSAnd now old man, look up and answer all
I ask thee. Wast thou once of Laius' house?
HERDSMANI was, a thrall, not purchased but home-bred.
OEDIPUSWhat was thy business? how wast thou employed?
HERDSMANThe best part of my life I tended sheep.
OEDIPUSWhat were the pastures thou didst most frequent?
HERDSMANCithaeron and the neighboring alps.
Thou must have known yon man, at least by fame?
HERDSMANYon man? in what way? what man dost thou mean?
OEDIPUSThe man here, having met him in past times...
HERDSMANOff-hand I cannot call him well to mind.
MESSENGERNo wonder, master. But I will revive
His blunted memories. Sure he can recall
What time together both we drove our flocks,
He two, I one, on the Cithaeron range,
For three long summers; I his mate from spring
Till rose Arcturus; then in winter time
I led mine home, he h ....
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