Authors: Oedipus Trilogy
We too, O king, are troubled; but till thou
Hast questioned the survivor, still hope on.
My hope is faint, but still enough survives
To bid me bide the coming of this herd.
Suppose him here, what wouldst thou learn of him?
I'll tell thee, lady; if his tale agrees
With thine, I shall have 'scaped calamity.
And what of special import did I say?
In 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.
Well, 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.
Thou reasonest well. Still I would have thee send
And fetch the bondsman hither. See to it.
That will I straightway. Come, let us within.
I would do nothing that my lord mislikes.
(Exeunt OEDIPUS and 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.
My lords, ye look amazed to see your queen
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.
(Enter Corinthian MESSENGER.)
My masters, tell me where the palace is
Of Oedipus; or better, where's the king.
Here is the palace and he bides within;
This is his queen the mother of his children.
All happiness attend her and the house,
Blessed is her husband and her marriage-bed.
My greetings to thee, stranger; thy fair words
Deserve a like response. But tell me why
Thou comest—what thy need or what thy news.
Good for thy consort and the royal house.
What may it be? Whose messenger art thou?
The Isthmian commons have resolved to make
Thy husband king—so 'twas reported there.
What! is not aged Polybus still king?
No, verily; he's dead and in his grave.
What! is he dead, the sire of Oedipus?
If I speak falsely, may I die myself.
Quick, maiden, bear these tidings to my lord.
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.
My wife, my queen, Jocasta, why hast thou
Summoned me from my palace?
Hear this man,
And as thou hearest judge what has become
Of all those awe-inspiring oracles.
Who is this man, and what his news for me?
He comes from Corinth and his message this:
Thy father Polybus hath passed away.
What? let me have it, stranger, from thy mouth.
If I must first make plain beyond a doubt
My message, know that Polybus is dead.
By treachery, or by sickness visited?
One touch will send an old man to his rest.
So of some malady he died, poor man.
Yes, having measured the full span of years.
Out 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
slew him in a sense.
But, as they stand, the oracles are dead—
Dust, ashes, nothing, dead as Polybus.
Say, did not I foretell this long ago?
Thou didst: but I was misled by my fear.
Then let I no more weigh upon thy soul.
Must I not fear my mother's marriage bed.
Why 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.
I should have shared in full thy confidence,
Were not my mother living; since she lives
Though half convinced I still must live in dread.
And yet thy sire's death lights out darkness much.
Much, but my fear is touching her who lives.
Who may this woman be whom thus you fear?
Merope, stranger, wife of Polybus.
And what of her can cause you any fear?
A heaven-sent oracle of dread import.
A mystery, or may a stranger hear it?
Aye, '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.
Was this the fear that exiled thee from home?
Yea, and the dread of slaying my own sire.
Why, since I came to give thee pleasure, King,
Have I not rid thee of this second fear?
Well, thou shalt have due guerdon for thy pains.
Well, I confess what chiefly made me come
Was hope to profit by thy coming home.
Nay, I will ne'er go near my parents more.
My son, 'tis plain, thou know'st not what thou doest.
How so, old man? For heaven's sake tell me all.
If this is why thou dreadest to return.
Yea, lest the god's word be fulfilled in me.
Lest through thy parents thou shouldst be accursed?
This and none other is my constant dread.
Dost thou not know thy fears are baseless all?
How baseless, if I am their very son?
Since Polybus was naught to thee in blood.
What say'st thou? was not Polybus my sire?
As much thy sire as I am, and no more.
My sire no more to me than one who is naught?
Since I begat thee not, no more did he.
What reason had he then to call me son?
Know that he took thee from my hands, a gift.
Yet, if no child of his, he loved me well.
A childless man till then, he warmed to thee.
A foundling or a purchased slave, this child?
I found thee in Cithaeron's wooded glens.
What led thee to explore those upland glades?
My business was to tend the mountain flocks.
A vagrant shepherd journeying for hire?
True, but thy savior in that hour, my son.
My savior? from what harm? what ailed me then?
Those ankle joints are evidence enow.
Ah, why remind me of that ancient sore?
I loosed the pin that riveted thy feet.
Yes, from my cradle that dread brand I bore.
Whence thou deriv'st the name that still is thine.
Who did it? I adjure thee, tell me who
Say, was it father, mother?
I know not.
The man from whom I had thee may know more.
What, did another find me, not thyself?
Not I; another shepherd gave thee me.
Who was he? Would'st thou know again the man?
He passed indeed for one of Laius' house.
The king who ruled the country long ago?
The same: he was a herdsman of the king.
And is he living still for me to see him?
His fellow-countrymen should best know that.
Doth 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.
Methinks he means none other than the hind
Whom thou anon wert fain to see; but that
Our queen Jocasta best of all could tell.
Madam, dost know the man we sent to fetch?
Is the same of whom the stranger speaks?
Who is the man? What matter? Let it be.
'Twere waste of thought to weigh such idle words.
No, with such guiding clues I cannot fail
To bring to light the secret of my birth.
Oh, as thou carest for thy life, give o'er
This quest. Enough the anguish
Be of good cheer; though I be proved the son
Of a bondwoman, aye, through three descents
Triply a slave, thy honor is unsmirched.
Yet humor me, I pray thee; do not this.
I cannot; I must probe this matter home.
'Tis for thy sake I advise thee for the best.
I grow impatient of this best advice.
Ah mayst thou ne'er discover who thou art!
Go, fetch me here the herd, and leave yon woman
To glory in her pride of ancestry.
O woe is thee, poor wretch! With that last word
I leave thee, henceforth silent evermore.
Why, Oedipus, why stung with passionate grief
Hath the queen thus departed? Much I fear
From this dead calm will burst a storm of woes.
Let 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
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?
Elders, 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.
I recognize him; one of Laius' house;
A simple hind, but true as any man.
Corinthian, stranger, I address thee first,
Is this the man thou meanest!
This is he.
And now old man, look up and answer all
I ask thee. Wast thou once of Laius' house?