Authors: Oedipus Trilogy
Our pity, Oedipus, thou needs must move,
Thou and these maidens; and the stronger plea
Thou urgest, as the savior of our land,
Disposes me to counsel for thy weal.
Aid me, kind sirs; I will do all you bid.
First make atonement to the deities,
Whose grove by trespass thou didst first profane.
After what manner, stranger? Teach me, pray.
Make a libation first of water fetched
With undefiled hands from living spring.
And after I have gotten this pure draught?
Bowls thou wilt find, the carver's handiwork;
Crown thou the rims and both the handles crown—
With olive shoots or blocks of wool, or how?
With wool from fleece of yearling freshly shorn.
What next? how must I end the ritual?
Pour thy libation, turning to the dawn.
Pouring it from the urns whereof ye spake?
Yea, in three streams; and be the last bowl drained
To the last drop.
And wherewith shall I fill it,
Ere in its place I set it? This too tell.
With water and with honey; add no wine.
And when the embowered earth hath drunk thereof?
Then lay upon it thrice nine olive sprays
With both thy hands, and offer up this prayer.
I fain would hear it; that imports the most.
That, as we call them Gracious, they would deign
To grant the suppliant their saving grace.
So pray thyself or whoso pray for thee,
In whispered accents, not with lifted voice;
Then go and look back. Do as I bid,
And I shall then be bold to stand thy friend;
Else, stranger, I should have my fears for thee.
Hear ye, my daughters, what these strangers say?
We listened, and attend thy bidding, father.
I cannot go, disabled as I am
Doubly, by lack of strength and lack of sight;
But one of you may do it in my stead;
For one, I trow, may pay the sacrifice
Of thousands, if his heart be leal and true.
So to your work with speed, but leave me not
Untended; for this frame is all too week
To move without the help of guiding hand.
Then I will go perform these rites, but where
To find the spot, this have I yet to learn.
Beyond this grove; if thou hast need of aught,
The guardian of the close will lend his aid.
I go, and thou, Antigone, meanwhile
Must guard our father. In a parent's cause
Toil, if there be toil, is of no account.
Ill it is, stranger, to awake
Pain that long since has ceased to ache,
And yet I fain would hear—
Thy tale of cruel suffering
For which no cure was found,
The fate that held thee bound.
O bid me not (as guest I claim
This grace) expose my shame.
The tale is bruited far and near,
And echoes still from ear to ear.
The truth, I fain would hear.
I prithee yield.
Grant my request, I granted all to thee.
Know then I suffered ills most vile, but none
(So help me Heaven!) from acts in malice done.
The State around
An all unwitting bridegroom bound
An impious marriage chain;
That was my bane.
Didst thou in sooth then share
A bed incestuous with her that bare—
It stabs me like a sword,
That two-edged word,
O stranger, but these maids—my own—
Two daughters, curses twain.
Sprang from the wife and mother's travail-pain.
What, then thy offspring are at once—
Their father's very sister's too.
Horrors from the boundless deep
Back on my soul in refluent surges sweep.
Thou hast endured—
I sinned not.
I served the State; would I had never won
That graceless grace by which I was undone.
And next, unhappy man, thou hast shed blood?
Must ye hear more?
Flood on flood
Whelms me; that word's a second mortal blow.
Yes, a murderer, but know—
What canst thou plead?
A plea of justice.
I slew who else would me have slain;
I slew without intent,
A wretch, but innocent
In the law's eye, I stand, without a stain.
Behold our sovereign, Theseus, Aegeus' son,
Comes at thy summons to perform his part.
Oft had I heard of thee in times gone by—
The bloody mutilation of thine eyes—
And therefore know thee, son of Laius.
All that I lately gathered on the way
Made my conjecture doubly sure; and now
Thy garb and that marred visage prove to me
That thou art he. So pitying thine estate,
Most ill-starred Oedipus, I fain would know
What is the suit ye urge on me and Athens,
Thou and the helpless maiden at thy side.
Declare it; dire indeed must be the tale
should recoil. I too was reared,
Like thee, in exile, and in foreign lands
Wrestled with many perils, no man more.
Wherefore no alien in adversity
Shall seek in vain my succor, nor shalt thou;
I know myself a mortal, and my share
In what the morrow brings no more than thine.
Theseus, thy words so apt, so generous
So comfortable, need no long reply
Both who I am and of what lineage sprung,
And from what land I came, thou hast declared.
So without prologue I may utter now
My brief petition, and the tale is told.
Say on, and tell me what I fain would learn.
I come to offer thee this woe-worn frame,
A gift not fair to look on; yet its worth
More precious far than any outward show.
What profit dost thou proffer to have brought?
Hereafter thou shalt learn, not yet, methinks.
When may we hope to reap the benefit?
When I am dead and thou hast buried me.
Thou cravest life's last service; all before—
Is it forgotten or of no account?
Yea, the last boon is warrant for the rest.
The grace thou cravest then is small indeed.
Nay, weigh it well; the issue is not slight.
Thou meanest that betwixt thy sons and me?
Prince, they would fain convey me back to Thebes.
If there be no compulsion, then methinks
To rest in banishment befits not thee.
would not consent.
For shame! such temper misbecomes the faller.
Chide if thou wilt, but first attend my plea.
Say on, I wait full knowledge ere I judge.
O Theseus, I have suffered wrongs on wrongs.
Wouldst tell the old misfortune of thy race?
No, that has grown a byword throughout Greece.
What then can be this more than mortal grief?
My case stands thus; by my own flesh and blood
I was expelled my country, and can ne'er
Thither return again, a parricide.
Why fetch thee home if thou must needs obey.
What are they threatened by the oracle?
Destruction that awaits them in this land.
What can beget ill blood 'twixt them and me?
Dear son of Aegeus, to the gods alone
Is given immunity from eld and death;
But nothing else escapes all-ruinous time.
Earth's might decays, the might of men decays,
Honor grows cold, dishonor flourishes,
There is no constancy 'twixt friend and friend,
Or city and city; be it soon or late,
Sweet turns to bitter, hate once more to love.
If now 'tis sunshine betwixt Thebes and thee
And not a cloud, Time in his endless course
Gives birth to endless days and nights, wherein
The merest nothing shall suffice to cut
With serried spears your bonds of amity.
Then shall my slumbering and buried corpse
In its cold grave drink their warm life-blood up,
If Zeus be Zeus and Phoebus still speak true.
No more: 'tis ill to tear aside the veil
Of mysteries; let me cease as I began:
Enough if thou wilt keep thy plighted troth,
Then shall thou ne'er complain that Oedipus
Proved an unprofitable and thankless guest,
Except the gods themselves shall play me false.
The man, my lord, has from the very first
Declared his power to offer to our land
These and like benefits.
Who could reject
The proffered amity of such a friend?
First, he can claim the hospitality
To which by mutual contract we stand pledged:
Next, coming here, a suppliant to the gods,
He pays full tribute to the State and me;
His favors therefore never will I spurn,
But grant him the full rights of citizen;
And, if it suits the stranger here to bide,
I place him in your charge, or if he please
Rather to come with me—choose, Oedipus,
Which of the two thou wilt. Thy choice is mine.
Zeus, may the blessing fall on men like these!
What dost thou then decide—to come with me?
Yea, were it lawful—but 'tis rather here—
What wouldst thou here? I shall not thwart thy wish.
Here shall I vanquish those who cast me forth.
Then were thy presence here a boon indeed.
Such shall it prove, if thou fulfill'st thy pledge.
Fear not for me; I shall not play thee false.
No need to back thy promise with an oath.
An oath would be no surer than my word.
How wilt thou act then?
What is it thou fear'st?
My foes will come—
Our friends will look to that.
But if thou leave me?
Teach me not my duty.
'Tis fear constrains me.
soul knows no fear!
Thou knowest not what threats—
I know that none
Shall hale thee hence in my despite. Such threats
Vented in anger oft, are blusterers,
An idle breath, forgot when sense returns.
And for thy foemen, though their words were brave,
Boasting to bring thee back, they are like to find
The seas between us wide and hard to sail.
Such my firm purpose, but in any case
Take heart, since Phoebus sent thee here. My name,
Though I be distant, warrants thee from harm.
Thou hast come to a steed-famed land for rest,
O stranger worn with toil,
To a land of all lands the goodliest
Colonus' glistening soil.
'Tis the haunt of the clear-voiced nightingale,
Who hid in her bower, among
The wine-dark ivy that wreathes the vale,
Trilleth her ceaseless song;
And she loves, where the clustering berries nod
O'er a sunless, windless glade,
The spot by no mortal footstep trod,
The pleasance kept for the Bacchic god,
Where he holds each night his revels wild
With the nymphs who fostered the lusty child.
And fed each morn by the pearly dew
The starred narcissi shine,
And a wreath with the crocus' golden hue
For the Mother and Daughter twine.
And never the sleepless fountains cease
That feed Cephisus' stream,
But they swell earth's bosom with quick increase,
And their wave hath a crystal gleam.
And the Muses' quire will never disdain
To visit this heaven-favored plain,
Nor the Cyprian queen of the golden rein.
And here there grows, unpruned, untamed,
Terror to foemen's spear,
A tree in Asian soil unnamed,
By Pelops' Dorian isle unclaimed,
Self-nurtured year by year;
'Tis the grey-leaved olive that feeds our boys;
Nor youth nor withering age destroys
The plant that the Olive Planter tends
And the Grey-eyed Goddess herself defends.
Yet another gift, of all gifts the most
Prized by our fatherland, we boast—
The might of the horse, the might of the sea;
Our fame, Poseidon, we owe to thee,
Son of Kronos, our king divine,
Who in these highways first didst fit
For the mouth of horses the iron bit;
Thou too hast taught us to fashion meet
For the arm of the rower the oar-blade fleet,
Swift as the Nereids' hundred feet
As they dance along the brine.
Oh land extolled above all lands, 'tis now
For thee to make these glorious titles good.
Why this appeal, my daughter?
Creon approaches with his company.
Fear not, it shall be so; if we are old,
This country's vigor has no touch of age.
(Enter CREON with attendants)
Burghers, my noble friends, ye take alarm
At my approach (I read it in your eyes),
Fear nothing and refrain from angry words.
I come with no ill purpose; I am old,
And know the city whither I am come,
Without a peer amongst the powers of Greece.
It was by reason of my years that I
Was chosen to persuade your guest and bring
Him back to Thebes; not the delegate
Of one man, but commissioned by the State,
Since of all Thebans I have most bewailed,
Being his kinsman, his most grievous woes.
O listen to me, luckless Oedipus,
Come home! The whole Cadmeian people claim
With right to have thee back, I most of all,
For most of all (else were I vile indeed)
I mourn for thy misfortunes, seeing thee
An aged outcast, wandering on and on,
A beggar with one handmaid for thy stay.
Ah! who had e'er imagined she could fall
To such a depth of misery as this,
To tend in penury thy stricken frame,
A virgin ripe for wedlock, but unwed,
A prey for any wanton ravisher?
Seems it not cruel this reproach I cast
On thee and on myself and all the race?
Aye, but an open shame cannot be hid.
Hide it, O hide it, Oedipus, thou canst.
O, by our fathers' gods, consent I pray;
Come back to Thebes, come to thy father's home,
Bid Athens, as is meet, a fond farewell;
Thebes thy old foster-mother claims thee first.