Authors: Oedipus Trilogy
O listen, since thy presence comes to me
A shock of glad surprise—so noble thou,
And I so vile—O grant me one small boon.
I ask it not on my behalf, but thine.
And what the favor thou wouldst crave of me?
Forth from thy borders thrust me with all speed;
Set me within some vasty desert where
No mortal voice shall greet me any more.
This had I done already, but I deemed
It first behooved me to consult the god.
His will was set forth fully—to destroy
The parricide, the scoundrel; and I am he.
Yea, so he spake, but in our present plight
'Twere better to consult the god anew.
Dare ye inquire concerning such a wretch?
Yea, for thyself wouldst credit now his word.
Aye, and on thee in all humility
I lay this charge: let her who lies within
Receive such burial as thou shalt ordain;
Such rites 'tis thine, as brother, to perform.
But for myself, O never let my Thebes,
The city of my sires, be doomed to bear
The burden of my presence while I live.
No, let me be a dweller on the hills,
On yonder mount Cithaeron, famed as mine,
My tomb predestined for me by my sire
And mother, while they lived, that I may die
Slain as they sought to slay me, when alive.
This much I know full surely, nor disease
Shall end my days, nor any common chance;
For I had ne'er been snatched from death, unless
I was predestined to some awful doom.
So be it. I reck not how Fate deals with me
But my unhappy children—for my sons
Be not concerned, O Creon, they are men,
And for themselves, where'er they be, can fend.
But for my daughters twain, poor innocent maids,
Who ever sat beside me at the board
Sharing my viands, drinking of my cup,
For them, I pray thee, care, and, if thou willst,
O might I feel their touch and make my moan.
Hear me, O prince, my noble-hearted prince!
Could I but blindly touch them with my hands
I'd think they still were mine, as when I saw.
(ANTIGONE and ISMENE are led in.)
What say I? can it be my pretty ones
Whose sobs I hear? Has Creon pitied me
And sent me my two darlings? Can this be?
'Tis true; 'twas I procured thee this delight,
Knowing the joy they were to thee of old.
God speed thee! and as meed for bringing them
May Providence deal with thee kindlier
Than it has dealt with me! O children mine,
Where are ye? Let me clasp you with these hands,
A brother's hands, a father's; hands that made
Lack-luster sockets of his once bright eyes;
Hands of a man who blindly, recklessly,
Became your sire by her from whom he sprang.
Though I cannot behold you, I must weep
In thinking of the evil days to come,
The slights and wrongs that men will put upon you.
Where'er ye go to feast or festival,
No merrymaking will it prove for you,
But oft abashed in tears ye will return.
And when ye come to marriageable years,
Where's the bold wooers who will jeopardize
To take unto himself such disrepute
As to my children's children still must cling,
For what of infamy is lacking here?
"Their father slew his father, sowed the seed
Where he himself was gendered, and begat
These maidens at the source wherefrom he sprang."
Such are the gibes that men will cast at you.
Who then will wed you? None, I ween, but ye
Must pine, poor maids, in single barrenness.
O Prince, Menoeceus' son, to thee, I turn,
With the it rests to father them, for we
Their natural parents, both of us, are lost.
O leave them not to wander poor, unwed,
Thy kin, nor let them share my low estate.
O pity them so young, and but for thee
All destitute. Thy hand upon it, Prince.
To you, my children I had much to say,
Were ye but ripe to hear. Let this suffice:
Pray ye may find some home and live content,
And may your lot prove happier than your sire's.
Thou hast had enough of weeping; pass within.
I must obey,
Though 'tis grievous.
Weep not, everything must have its day.
Well I go, but on conditions.
What thy terms for going, say.
Send me from the land an exile.
Ask this of the gods, not me.
But I am the gods' abhorrence.
Then they soon will grant thy plea.
Lead me hence, then, I am willing.
Come, but let thy children go.
Rob me not of these my children!
Crave not mastery in all,
For the mastery that raised thee was thy bane and wrought thy fall.
Look ye, countrymen and Thebans, this is Oedipus the great,
He who knew the Sphinx's riddle and was mightiest in our state.
Who of all our townsmen gazed not on his fame with envious eyes?
Now, in what a sea of troubles sunk and overwhelmed he lies!
Therefore wait to see life's ending ere thou count one mortal blest;
Wait till free from pain and sorrow he has gained his final rest.
Oedipus, the blind and banished King of Thebes, has come in his
wanderings to Colonus, a deme of Athens, led by his daughter Antigone.
He sits to rest on a rock just within a sacred grove of the Furies and
is bidden depart by a passing native. But Oedipus, instructed by an
oracle that he had reached his final resting-place, refuses to stir, and
the stranger consents to go and consult the Elders of Colonus (the
Chorus of the Play). Conducted to the spot they pity at first the blind
beggar and his daughter, but on learning his name they are horror-
striken and order him to quit the land. He appeals to the world-famed
hospitality of Athens and hints at the blessings that his coming will
confer on the State. They agree to await the decision of King Theseus.
From Theseus Oedipus craves protection in life and burial in Attic soil;
the benefits that will accrue shall be told later. Theseus departs
having promised to aid and befriend him. No sooner has he gone than
Creon enters with an armed guard who seize Antigone and carry her off
(Ismene, the other sister, they have already captured) and he is about
to lay hands on Oedipus, when Theseus, who has heard the tumult, hurries
up and, upbraiding Creon for his lawless act, threatens to detain him
till he has shown where the captives are and restored them. In the next
scene Theseus returns bringing with him the rescued maidens. He informs
Oedipus that a stranger who has taken sanctuary at the altar of Poseidon
wishes to see him. It is Polyneices who has come to crave his father's
forgiveness and blessing, knowing by an oracle that victory will fall to
the side that Oedipus espouses. But Oedipus spurns the hypocrite, and
invokes a dire curse on both his unnatural sons. A sudden clap of
thunder is heard, and as peal follows peal, Oedipus is aware that his
hour is come and bids Antigone summon Theseus. Self-guided he leads the
way to the spot where death should overtake him, attended by Theseus and
his daughters. Halfway he bids his daughters farewell, and what followed
none but Theseus knew. He was not (so the Messenger reports) for the
gods took him.
OEDIPUS, banished King of Thebes.
ANTIGONE, his daughter.
ISMENE, his daughter.
THESEUS, King of Athens.
CREON, brother of Jocasta, now reigning at Thebes.
POLYNEICES, elder son of Oedipus.
STRANGER, a native of Colonus.
MESSENGER, an attendant of Theseus.
CHORUS, citizens of Colonus.
Scene: In front of the grove of the Eumenides.
Enter the blind OEDIPUS led by his daughter, ANTIGONE.
Child of an old blind sire, Antigone,
What region, say, whose city have we reached?
Who will provide today with scanted dole
This wanderer? 'Tis little that he craves,
And less obtains—that less enough for me;
For I am taught by suffering to endure,
And the long years that have grown old with me,
And last not least, by true nobility.
My daughter, if thou seest a resting place
On common ground or by some sacred grove,
Stay me and set me down. Let us discover
Where we have come, for strangers must inquire
Of denizens, and do as they are bid.
Long-suffering father, Oedipus, the towers
That fence the city still are faint and far;
But where we stand is surely holy ground;
A wilderness of laurel, olive, vine;
Within a choir or songster nightingales
Are warbling. On this native seat of rock
Rest; for an old man thou hast traveled far.
Guide these dark steps and seat me there secure.
If time can teach, I need not to be told.
Say, prithee, if thou knowest, where we are.
Athens I recognize, but not the spot.
That much we heard from every wayfarer.
Shall I go on and ask about the place?
Yes, daughter, if it be inhabited.
Sure there are habitations; but no need
To leave thee; yonder is a man hard by.
What, moving hitherward and on his way?
Say rather, here already. Ask him straight
The needful questions, for the man is here.
O stranger, as I learn from her whose eyes
Must serve both her and me, that thou art here
Sent by some happy chance to serve our doubts—
First quit that seat, then question me at large:
The spot thou treadest on is holy ground.
What is the site, to what god dedicate?
Inviolable, untrod; goddesses,
Dread brood of Earth and Darkness, here abide.
Tell me the awful name I should invoke?
The Gracious Ones, All-seeing, so our folk
Call them, but elsewhere other names are rife.
Then may they show their suppliant grace, for I
From this your sanctuary will ne'er depart.
What word is this?
The watchword of my fate.
Nay, 'tis not mine to bid thee hence without
Due warrant and instruction from the State.
Now in God's name, O stranger, scorn me not
As a wayfarer; tell me what I crave.
Ask; your request shall not be scorned by me.
How call you then the place wherein we bide?
Whate'er I know thou too shalt know; the place
Is all to great Poseidon consecrate.
Hard by, the Titan, he who bears the torch,
Prometheus, has his worship; but the spot
Thou treadest, the Brass-footed Threshold named,
Is Athens' bastion, and the neighboring lands
Claim as their chief and patron yonder knight
Colonus, and in common bear his name.
Such, stranger, is the spot, to fame unknown,
But dear to us its native worshipers.
Thou sayest there are dwellers in these parts?
Surely; they bear the name of yonder god.
Ruled by a king or by the general voice?
The lord of Athens is our over-lord.
Who is this monarch, great in word and might?
Theseus, the son of Aegeus our late king.
Might one be sent from you to summon him?
Wherefore? To tell him aught or urge his coming?
Say a slight service may avail him much.
How can he profit from a sightless man?
The blind man's words will be instinct with sight.
Heed then; I fain would see thee out of harm;
For by the looks, marred though they be by fate,
I judge thee noble; tarry where thou art,
While I go seek the burghers—those at hand,
Not in the city. They will soon decide
Whether thou art to rest or go thy way.
Tell me, my daughter, has the stranger gone?
Yes, he has gone; now we are all alone,
And thou may'st speak, dear father, without fear.
Stern-visaged queens, since coming to this land
First in your sanctuary I bent the knee,
Frown not on me or Phoebus, who, when erst
He told me all my miseries to come,
Spake of this respite after many years,
Some haven in a far-off land, a rest
Vouchsafed at last by dread divinities.
"There," said he, "shalt thou round thy weary life,
A blessing to the land wherein thou dwell'st,
But to the land that cast thee forth, a curse."
And of my weird he promised signs should come,
Earthquake, or thunderclap, or lightning flash.
And now I recognize as yours the sign
That led my wanderings to this your grove;
Else had I never lighted on you first,
A wineless man on your seat of native rock.
O goddesses, fulfill Apollo's word,
Grant me some consummation of my life,
If haply I appear not all too vile,
A thrall to sorrow worse than any slave.
Hear, gentle daughters of primeval Night,
Hear, namesake of great Pallas; Athens, first
Of cities, pity this dishonored shade,
The ghost of him who once was Oedipus.
Hush! for I see some grey-beards on their way,
Their errand to spy out our resting-place.
I will be mute, and thou shalt guide my steps
Into the covert from the public road,
Till I have learned their drift. A prudent man
Will ever shape his course by what he learns.
Ha! Where is he? Look around!
Every nook and corner scan!
He the all-presumptuous man,
Whither vanished? search the ground!
A wayfarer, I ween,
A wayfarer, no countryman of ours,
That old man must have been;
Never had native dared to tempt the Powers,
Or enter their demesne,
The Maids in awe of whom each mortal cowers,
Whose name no voice betrays nor cry,
And as we pass them with averted eye,
We move hushed lips in reverent piety.
But now some godless man,
'Tis rumored, here abides;
The precincts through I scan,
Yet wot not where he hides,
The wretch profane!
I search and search in vain.