Authors: Oedipus Trilogy
I am that man; I know you near
Ears to the blind, they say, are eyes.
O dread to see and dread to hear!
Oh sirs, I am no outlaw under ban.
Who can he be—Zeus save us!—this old man?
No favorite of fate,
That ye should envy his estate,
O, Sirs, would any happy mortal, say,
Grope by the light of other eyes his way,
Or face the storm upon so frail a stay?
Wast thou then sightless from thy birth?
Evil, methinks, and long
Thy pilgrimage on earth.
Yet add not curse to curse and wrong to wrong.
I warn thee, trespass not
Within this hallowed spot,
Lest thou shouldst find the silent grassy glade
Where offerings are laid,
Bowls of spring water mingled with sweet mead.
Thou must not stay,
Come, come away,
Tired wanderer, dost thou heed?
(We are far off, but sure our voice can reach.)
If aught thou wouldst beseech,
Speak where 'tis right; till then refrain from speech.
Daughter, what counsel should we now pursue?
We must obey and do as here they do.
Thy hand then!
Here, O father, is my hand,
O Sirs, if I come forth at your command,
Let me not suffer for my confidence.
Against thy will no man shall drive thee hence.
Shall I go further?
What further still?
Lead maiden, thou canst guide him where we will.
Follow with blind steps, father, as I lead.
In a strange land strange thou art;
To her will incline thy heart;
Honor whatso'er the State
Honors, all she frowns on hate.
Guide me child, where we may range
Safe within the paths of right;
Counsel freely may exchange
Nor with fate and fortune fight.
Halt! Go no further than that rocky floor.
Stay where I now am?
Yes, advance no more.
May I sit down?
Move sideways towards the ledge,
And sit thee crouching on the scarped edge.
This is my office, father, O incline—
Ah me! ah me!
Thy steps to my steps, lean thine aged frame on mine.
Woe on my fate unblest!
Wanderer, now thou art at rest,
Tell me of thy birth and home,
From what far country art thou come,
Led on thy weary way, declare!
Strangers, I have no country. O forbear—
What is it, old man, that thou wouldst conceal?
Forbear, nor urge me further to reveal—
Why this reluctance?
Dread my lineage.
What must I answer, child, ah welladay!
Say of what stock thou comest, what man's son—
Ah me, my daughter, now we are undone!
Speak, for thou standest on the slippery verge.
I will; no plea for silence can I urge.
Will neither speak? Come, Sir, why dally thus!
Know'st one of Laius'—
Seed of Labdacus—
The hapless Oedipus.
Whate'er I utter, have no fear of me.
O wretched me!
O daughter, what will hap anon?
Forth from our borders speed ye both!
How keep you then your troth?
Heaven's justice never smites
Him who ill with ill requites.
But if guile with guile contend,
Bane, not blessing, is the end.
Arise, begone and take thee hence straightway,
Lest on our land a heavier curse thou lay.
O sirs! ye suffered not my father blind,
Albeit gracious and to ruth inclined,
Knowing the deeds he wrought, not innocent,
But with no ill intent;
Yet heed a maiden's moan
Who pleads for him alone;
My eyes, not reft of sight,
Plead with you as a daughter's might
You are our providence,
O make us not go hence!
O with a gracious nod
Grant us the nigh despaired-of boon we crave?
Hear us, O hear,
But all that ye hold dear,
Wife, children, homestead, hearth and God!
Where will you find one, search ye ne'er so well.
Who 'scapes perdition if a god impel!
Surely we pity thee and him alike
Daughter of Oedipus, for your distress;
But as we reverence the decrees of Heaven
We cannot say aught other than we said.
O what avails renown or fair repute?
Are they not vanity? For, look you, now
Athens is held of States the most devout,
Athens alone gives hospitality
And shelters the vexed stranger, so men say.
Have I found so? I whom ye dislodged
First from my seat of rock and now would drive
Forth from your land, dreading my name alone;
For me you surely dread not, nor my deeds,
Deeds of a man more sinned against than sinning,
As I might well convince you, were it meet
To tell my mother's story and my sire's,
The cause of this your fear. Yet am I then
A villain born because in self-defense,
Striken, I struck the striker back again?
E'en had I known, no villainy 'twould prove:
But all unwitting whither I went, I went—
To ruin; my destroyers knew it well,
Wherefore, I pray you, sirs, in Heaven's name,
Even as ye bade me quit my seat, defend me.
O pay not a lip service to the gods
And wrong them of their dues. Bethink ye well,
The eye of Heaven beholds the just of men,
And the unjust, nor ever in this world
Has one sole godless sinner found escape.
Stand then on Heaven's side and never blot
Athens' fair scutcheon by abetting wrong.
I came to you a suppliant, and you pledged
Your honor; O preserve me to the end,
O let not this marred visage do me wrong!
A holy and god-fearing man is here
Whose coming purports comfort for your folk.
And when your chief arrives, whoe'er he be,
Then shall ye have my story and know all.
Meanwhile I pray you do me no despite.
The plea thou urgest, needs must give us pause,
Set forth in weighty argument, but we
Must leave the issue with the ruling powers.
Where is he, strangers, he who sways the realm?
In his ancestral seat; a messenger,
The same who sent us here, is gone for him.
And think you he will have such care or thought
For the blind stranger as to come himself?
Aye, that he will, when once he learns thy name.
But who will bear him word!
The way is long,
And many travelers pass to speed the news.
Be sure he'll hear and hasten, never fear;
So wide and far thy name is noised abroad,
That, were he ne'er so spent and loth to move,
He would bestir him when he hears of thee.
Well, may he come with blessing to his State
And me! Who serves his neighbor serves himself.
Zeus! What is this? What can I say or think?
What now, Antigone?
I see a woman
Riding upon a colt of Aetna's breed;
She wears for headgear a Thessalian hat
To shade her from the sun. Who can it be?
She or a stranger? Do I wake or dream?
'This she; 'tis not—I cannot tell, alack;
It is no other! Now her bright'ning glance
Greets me with recognition, yes, 'tis she,
Ha! what say ye, child?
That I behold thy daughter and my sister,
And thou wilt know her straightway by her voice.
Father and sister, names to me most sweet,
How hardly have I found you, hardly now
When found at last can see you through my tears!
Art come, my child?
O father, sad thy plight!
Child, thou art here?
Yes, 'twas a weary way.
Touch me, my child.
I give a hand to both.
O disastrous plight!
Her plight and mine?
Aye, and my own no less.
What brought thee, daughter?
Father, care for thee.
A daughter's yearning?
Yes, and I had news
I would myself deliver, so I came
With the one thrall who yet is true to me.
Thy valiant brothers, where are they at need?
They are—enough, 'tis now their darkest hour.
Out on the twain! The thoughts and actions all
Are framed and modeled on Egyptian ways.
For there the men sit at the loom indoors
While the wives slave abroad for daily bread.
So you, my children—those whom I behooved
To bear the burden, stay at home like girls,
While in their stead my daughters moil and drudge,
Lightening their father's misery. The one
Since first she grew from girlish feebleness
To womanhood has been the old man's guide
And shared my weary wandering, roaming oft
Hungry and footsore through wild forest ways,
In drenching rains and under scorching suns,
Careless herself of home and ease, if so
Her sire might have her tender ministry.
And thou, my child, whilom thou wentest forth,
Eluding the Cadmeians' vigilance,
To bring thy father all the oracles
Concerning Oedipus, and didst make thyself
My faithful lieger, when they banished me.
And now what mission summons thee from home,
What news, Ismene, hast thou for thy father?
This much I know, thou com'st not empty-handed,
Without a warning of some new alarm.
The toil and trouble, father, that I bore
To find thy lodging-place and how thou faredst,
I spare thee; surely 'twere a double pain
To suffer, first in act and then in telling;
'Tis the misfortune of thine ill-starred sons
I come to tell thee. At the first they willed
To leave the throne to Creon, minded well
Thus to remove the inveterate curse of old,
A canker that infected all thy race.
But now some god and an infatuate soul
Have stirred betwixt them a mad rivalry
To grasp at sovereignty and kingly power.
Today the hot-branded youth, the younger born,
Is keeping Polyneices from the throne,
His elder, and has thrust him from the land.
The banished brother (so all Thebes reports)
Fled to the vale of Argos, and by help
Of new alliance there and friends in arms,
Swears he will stablish Argos straight as lord
Of the Cadmeian land, or, if he fail,
Exalt the victor to the stars of heaven.
This is no empty tale, but deadly truth,
My father; and how long thy agony,
Ere the gods pity thee, I cannot tell.
Hast thou indeed then entertained a hope
The gods at last will turn and rescue me?
Yea, so I read these latest oracles.
What oracles? What hath been uttered, child?
Thy country (so it runs) shall yearn in time
To have thee for their weal alive or dead.
And who could gain by such a one as I?
On thee, 'tis said, their sovereignty depends.
So, when I cease to be, my worth begins.
The gods, who once abased, uplift thee now.
Poor help to raise an old man fallen in youth.
Howe'er that be, 'tis for this cause alone
That Creon comes to thee—and comes anon.
With what intent, my daughter? Tell me plainly.
To plant thee near the Theban land, and so
Keep thee within their grasp, yet now allow
Thy foot to pass beyond their boundaries.
What gain they, if I lay outside?
If disappointed, brings on them a curse.
It needs no god to tell what's plain to sense.
Therefore they fain would have thee close at hand,
Not where thou wouldst be master of thyself.
Mean they to shroud my bones in Theban dust?
Nay, father, guilt of kinsman's blood forbids.
Then never shall they be my masters, never!
Thebes, thou shalt rue this bitterly some day!
When what conjunction comes to pass, my child?
Thy angry wraith, when at thy tomb they stand.
And who hath told thee what thou tell'st me, child?
Envoys who visited the Delphic hearth.
Hath Phoebus spoken thus concerning me?
So say the envoys who returned to Thebes.
And can a son of mine have heard of this?
Yea, both alike, and know its import well.
They knew it, yet the ignoble greed of rule
Outweighed all longing for their sire's return.
Grievous thy words, yet I must own them true.
Then may the gods ne'er quench their fatal feud,
And mine be the arbitrament of the fight,
For which they now are arming, spear to spear;
That neither he who holds the scepter now
May keep this throne, nor he who fled the realm
never raised a hand,
When I their sire was thrust from hearth and home,
When I was banned and banished, what recked they?
Say you 'twas done at my desire, a grace
Which the state, yielding to my wish, allowed?
Not so; for, mark you, on that very day
When in the tempest of my soul I craved
Death, even death by stoning, none appeared
To further that wild longing, but anon,
When time had numbed my anguish and I felt
My wrath had all outrun those errors past,
Then, then it was the city went about
By force to oust me, respited for years;
And then my sons, who should as sons have helped,
Did nothing: and, one little word from them
Was all I needed, and they spoke no word,
But let me wander on for evermore,
A banished man, a beggar. These two maids
Their sisters, girls, gave all their sex could give,
Food and safe harborage and filial care;
While their two brethren sacrificed their sire
For lust of power and sceptred sovereignty.
No! me they ne'er shall win for an ally,
Nor will this Theban kingship bring them gain;
That know I from this maiden's oracles,
And those old prophecies concerning me,
Which Phoebus now at length has brought to pass.
Come Creon then, come all the mightiest
In Thebes to seek me; for if ye my friends,
Championed by those dread Powers indigenous,
Espouse my cause; then for the State ye gain
A great deliverer, for my foemen bane.