Authors: Oedipus Trilogy
O front of brass, thy subtle tongue would twist
To thy advantage every plea of right
Why try thy arts on me, why spread again
Toils where 'twould gall me sorest to be snared?
In old days when by self-wrought woes distraught,
I yearned for exile as a glad release,
Thy will refused the favor then I craved.
But when my frenzied grief had spent its force,
And I was fain to taste the sweets of home,
Then thou wouldst thrust me from my country, then
These ties of kindred were by thee ignored;
And now again when thou behold'st this State
And all its kindly people welcome me,
Thou seek'st to part us, wrapping in soft words
Hard thoughts. And yet what pleasure canst thou find
In forcing friendship on unwilling foes?
Suppose a man refused to grant some boon
When you importuned him, and afterwards
When you had got your heart's desire, consented,
Granting a grace from which all grace had fled,
Would not such favor seem an empty boon?
Yet such the boon thou profferest now to me,
Fair in appearance, but when tested false.
Yea, I will proved thee false, that these may hear;
Thou art come to take me, not to take me home,
But plant me on thy borders, that thy State
May so escape annoyance from this land.
thou shalt never gain, but
My ghost to haunt thy country without end;
And for my sons, this heritage—no more—
Just room to die in. Have not I more skill
Than thou to draw the horoscope of Thebes?
Are not my teachers surer guides than thine—
Great Phoebus and the sire of Phoebus, Zeus?
Thou art a messenger suborned, thy tongue
Is sharper than a sword's edge, yet thy speech
Will bring thee more defeats than victories.
Howbeit, I know I waste my words—begone,
And leave me here; whate'er may be my lot,
He lives not ill who lives withal content.
Which loses in this parley, I o'erthrown
By thee, or thou who overthrow'st thyself?
I shall be well contented if thy suit
Fails with these strangers, as it has with me.
Unhappy man, will years ne'er make thee wise?
Must thou live on to cast a slur on age?
Thou hast a glib tongue, but no honest man,
Methinks, can argue well on any side.
'Tis one thing to speak much, another well.
Thy words, forsooth, are few and all well aimed!
Not for a man indeed with wits like thine.
Depart! I bid thee in these burghers' name,
And prowl no longer round me to blockade
My destined harbor.
I protest to these,
Not thee, and for thine answer to thy kin,
If e'er I take thee—
Who against their will
Could take me?
Though untaken thou shalt smart.
What power hast thou to execute this threat?
One of thy daughters is already seized,
The other I will carry off anon.
This is but prelude to thy woes.
Hast thou my child?
And soon shall have the other.
Ho, friends! ye will not surely play me false?
Chase this ungodly villain from your land.
Hence, stranger, hence avaunt! Thou doest wrong
In this, and wrong in all that thou hast done.
CREON (to his guards)
'Tis time by force to carry off the girl,
If she refuse of her free will to go.
Ah, woe is me! where shall I fly, where find
Succor from gods or men?
What would'st thou, stranger?
I meddle not with him, but her who is mine.
O princes of the land!
Sir, thou dost wrong.
I take but what is mine.
What means this, sirrah? quick unhand her, or
We'll fight it out.
Not till thou forbear.
'Tis war with Thebes if I am touched or harmed.
Did I not warn thee?
Quick, unhand the maid!
Command your minions; I am not your slave.
Desist, I bid thee.
CREON (to the guard)
And O bid thee march!
To the rescue, one and all!
Rally, neighbors to my call!
See, the foe is at the gate!
Rally to defend the State.
Ah, woe is me, they drag me hence, O friends.
Where art thou, daughter?
Haled along by force.
Thy hands, my child!
They will not let me, father.
Away with her!
Ah, woe is me, ah woe!
So those two crutches shall no longer serve thee
For further roaming. Since it pleaseth thee
To triumph o'er thy country and thy friends
Who mandate, though a prince, I here discharge,
Enjoy thy triumph; soon or late thou'lt find
Thou art an enemy to thyself, both now
And in time past, when in despite of friends
Thou gav'st the rein to passion, still thy bane.
Hold there, sir stranger!
Hands off, have a care.
Restore the maidens, else thou goest not.
Then Thebes will take a dearer surety soon;
I will lay hands on more than these two maids.
What canst thou further?
Carry off this man.
And deeds forthwith shall make them good.
Unless perchance our sovereign intervene.
O shameless voice! Would'st lay an hand on me?
Silence, I bid thee!
Thy suppliant to utter yet one curse!
Wretch, now my eyes are gone thou hast torn away
The helpless maiden who was eyes to me;
For these to thee and all thy cursed race
May the great Sun, whose eye is everywhere,
Grant length of days and old age like to mine.
Listen, O men of Athens, mark ye this?
They mark us both and understand that I
Wronged by the deeds defend myself with words.
Nothing shall curb my will; though I be old
And single-handed, I will have this man.
O woe is me!
Thou art a bold man, stranger, if thou think'st
To execute thy purpose.
So I do.
Then shall I deem this State no more a State.
With a just quarrel weakness conquers might.
Ye hear his words?
Aye words, but not yet deeds,
Zeus may haply know, not thou.
Insolence that thou must bear.
Haste ye princes, sound the alarm!
Men of Athens, arm ye, arm!
Quickly to the rescue come
Ere the robbers get them home.
Why this outcry? What is forward? wherefore was I called away
From the altar of Poseidon, lord of your Colonus? Say!
On what errand have I hurried hither without stop or stay.
Dear friend—those accents tell me who thou art—
Yon man but now hath done me a foul wrong.
What is this wrong and who hath wrought it? Speak.
Creon who stands before thee. He it is
Hath robbed me of my all, my daughters twain.
What means this?
Thou hast heard my tale of wrongs.
Ho! hasten to the altars, one of you.
Command my liegemen leave the sacrifice
And hurry, foot and horse, with rein unchecked,
To where the paths that packmen use diverge,
Lest the two maidens slip away, and I
Become a mockery to this my guest,
As one despoiled by force. Quick, as I bid.
As for this stranger, had I let my rage,
Justly provoked, have play, he had not 'scaped
Scathless and uncorrected at my hands.
But now the laws to which himself appealed,
These and none others shall adjudicate.
Thou shalt not quit this land, till thou hast fetched
The maidens and produced them in my sight.
Thou hast offended both against myself
And thine own race and country. Having come
Unto a State that champions right and asks
For every action warranty of law,
Thou hast set aside the custom of the land,
And like some freebooter art carrying off
What plunder pleases thee, as if forsooth
Thou thoughtest this a city without men,
Or manned by slaves, and me a thing of naught.
Yet not from Thebes this villainy was learnt;
Thebes is not wont to breed unrighteous sons,
Nor would she praise thee, if she learnt that thou
Wert robbing me—aye and the gods to boot,
Haling by force their suppliants, poor maids.
Were I on Theban soil, to prosecute
The justest claim imaginable, I
Would never wrest by violence my own
Without sanction of your State or King;
I should behave as fits an outlander
Living amongst a foreign folk, but thou
Shamest a city that deserves it not,
Even thine own, and plentitude of years
Have made of thee an old man and a fool.
Therefore again I charge thee as before,
See that the maidens are restored at once,
Unless thou would'st continue here by force
And not by choice a sojourner; so much
I tell thee home and what I say, I mean.
Thy case is perilous; though by birth and race
Thou should'st be just, thou plainly doest wrong.
Not deeming this city void of men
Or counsel, son of Aegeus, as thou say'st
I did what I have done; rather I thought
Your people were not like to set such store
by kin of mine and keep them 'gainst my will.
Nor would they harbor, so I stood assured,
A godless parricide, a reprobate
Convicted of incestuous marriage ties.
For on her native hill of Ares here
(I knew your far-famed Areopagus)
Sits Justice, and permits not vagrant folk
To stay within your borders. In that faith
I hunted down my quarry; and e'en then
I had refrained but for the curses dire
Wherewith he banned my kinsfolk and myself:
Such wrong, methought, had warrant for my act.
Anger has no old age but only death;
The dead alone can feel no touch of spite.
So thou must work thy will; my cause is just
But weak without allies; yet will I try,
Old as I am, to answer deeds with deeds.
O shameless railer, think'st thou this abuse
Defames my grey hairs rather than thine own?
Murder and incest, deeds of horror, all
Thou blurtest forth against me, all I have borne,
No willing sinner; so it pleased the gods
Wrath haply with my sinful race of old,
Since thou could'st find no sin in me myself
For which in retribution I was doomed
To trespass thus against myself and mine.
Answer me now, if by some oracle
My sire was destined to a bloody end
By a son's hand, can this reflect on me,
Me then unborn, begotten by no sire,
Conceived in no mother's womb? And if
When born to misery, as born I was,
I met my sire, not knowing whom I met
or what I did, and slew him, how canst thou
With justice blame the all-unconscious hand?
And for my mother, wretch, art not ashamed,
Seeing she was thy sister, to extort
From me the story of her marriage, such
A marriage as I straightway will proclaim.
For I will speak; thy lewd and impious speech
Has broken all the bonds of reticence.
She was, ah woe is me! she was my mother;
I knew it not, nor she; and she my mother
Bare children to the son whom she had borne,
A birth of shame. But this at least I know
Wittingly thou aspersest her and me;
But I unwitting wed, unwilling speak.
Nay neither in this marriage or this deed
Which thou art ever casting in my teeth—
A murdered sire—shall I be held to blame.
Come, answer me one question, if thou canst:
If one should presently attempt thy life,
Would'st thou, O man of justice, first inquire
If the assassin was perchance thy sire,
Or turn upon him? As thou lov'st thy life,
On thy aggressor thou would'st turn, no stay
Debating, if the law would bear thee out.
Such was my case, and such the pass whereto
The gods reduced me; and methinks my sire,
Could he come back to life, would not dissent.
Yet thou, for just thou art not, but a man
Who sticks at nothing, if it serve his plea,
Reproachest me with this before these men.
It serves thy turn to laud great Theseus' name,
And Athens as a wisely governed State;
Yet in thy flatteries one thing is to seek:
If any land knows how to pay the gods
Their proper rites, 'tis Athens most of all.
This is the land whence thou wast fain to steal
Their aged suppliant and hast carried off
My daughters. Therefore to yon goddesses,
I turn, adjure them and invoke their aid
To champion my cause, that thou mayest learn
What is the breed of men who guard this State.
An honest man, my liege, one sore bestead
By fortune, and so worthy our support.
Enough of words; the captors speed amain,
While we the victims stand debating here.
What would'st thou? What can I, a feeble man?
Show us the trail, and I'll attend thee too,
That, if thou hast the maidens hereabouts,
Thou mayest thyself discover them to me;
But if thy guards outstrip us with their spoil,
We may draw rein; for others speed, from whom
They will not 'scape to thank the gods at home.
Lead on, I say, the captor's caught, and fate
Hath ta'en the fowler in the toils he spread;
So soon are lost gains gotten by deceit.
And look not for allies; I know indeed
Such height of insolence was never reached
Without abettors or accomplices;
Thou hast some backer in thy bold essay,
But I will search this matter home and see
One man doth not prevail against the State.
Dost take my drift, or seem these words as vain
As seemed our warnings when the plot was hatched?
Nothing thou sayest can I here dispute,
But once at home I too shall act my part.