Authors: Oedipus Trilogy
Translation by F. Storr, BA
Formerly Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge
From the Loeb Library Edition
Originally published by
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
William Heinemann Ltd, London
First published in 1912
To Laius, King of Thebes, an oracle foretold that the child born to him
by his queen Jocasta would slay his father and wed his mother. So when
in time a son was born the infant's feet were riveted together and he
was left to die on Mount Cithaeron. But a shepherd found the babe and
tended him, and delivered him to another shepherd who took him to his
master, the King of Corinth. Polybus being childless adopted the boy,
who grew up believing that he was indeed the King's son. Afterwards
doubting his parentage he inquired of the Delphic god and heard himself
the word declared before to Laius. Wherefore he fled from what he
deemed his father's house and in his flight he encountered and
unwillingly slew his father Laius. Arriving at Thebes he answered the
riddle of the Sphinx and the grateful Thebans made their deliverer king.
So he reigned in the room of Laius, and espoused the widowed queen.
Children were born to them and Thebes prospered under his rule, but
again a grievous plague fell upon the city. Again the oracle was
consulted and it bade them purge themselves of blood-guiltiness. Oedipus
denounces the crime of which he is unaware, and undertakes to track out
the criminal. Step by step it is brought home to him that he is the man.
The closing scene reveals Jocasta slain by her own hand and Oedipus
blinded by his own act and praying for death or exile.
The Priest of Zeus.
Chorus of Theban Elders.
Herd of Laius.
Scene: 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.
My 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.
Yea, 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.
Ah! 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.
Thy words are well timed; even as thou speakest
That shouting tells me Creon is at hand.
O King Apollo! may his joyous looks
Be presage of the joyous news he brings!
As I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his head
Had scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays.
We soon shall know; he's now in earshot range.
My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus' child,
What message hast thou brought us from the god?
Good news, for e'en intolerable ills,
Finding right issue, tend to naught but good.
How runs the oracle? thus far thy words
Give me no ground for confidence or fear.
If thou wouldst hear my message publicly,
I'll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within.
Speak before all; the burden that I bear
Is more for these my subjects than myself.
Let 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.
What expiation means he? What's amiss?
Banishment, or the shedding blood for blood.
This stain of blood makes shipwreck of our state.
Whom can he mean, the miscreant thus denounced?
Before thou didst assume the helm of State,
The sovereign of this land was Laius.
I heard as much, but never saw the man.
He fell; and now the god's command is plain:
Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be.
Where are they? Where in the wide world to find
The far, faint traces of a bygone crime?
In this land, said the god; "who seeks shall find;
Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind."
Was he within his palace, or afield,
Or traveling, when Laius met his fate?
Abroad; he started, so he told us, bound
For Delphi, but he never thence returned.
Came there no news, no fellow-traveler
To give some clue that might be followed up?
But one escape, who flying for dear life,
Could tell of all he saw but one thing sure.
And what was that? One clue might lead us far,
With but a spark of hope to guide our quest.
Robbers, he told us, not one bandit but
A troop of knaves, attacked and murdered him.
Did any bandit dare so bold a stroke,
Unless indeed he were suborned from Thebes?
So 'twas surmised, but none was found to avenge
His murder mid the trouble that ensued.
What trouble can have hindered a full quest,
When royalty had fallen thus miserably?
The riddling Sphinx compelled us to let slide
The dim past and attend to instant needs.
will start afresh and once again
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.
(Exeunt OEDIPUS and CREON)
Come, children, let us hence; these gracious words
Forestall the very purpose of our suit.
And may the god who sent this oracle
Save us withal and rid us of this pest.
(Exeunt PRIEST and SUPPLIANTS)
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!