Sophocles' Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King
Thebes. Before the Palace of Oedipus. Suppliants of all ages are seated round the altar at the palace doors, at their head a PRIEST OF ZEUS. To them enter OEDIPUS.
1 My children, latest born to Cadmus old,
2 Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands
3 Branches of olive filleted with wool?
4 What means this reek of incense everywhere,
5 And everywhere laments and litanies?
6 Children, it were not meet that I should learn
7 From others, and am hither come, myself,
8 I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.
9 Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locks
10 Proclaim thee spokesman of this company,
11 Explain your mood and purport. Is it dread
12 Of ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?
13 My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt;
14 Ruthless indeed were I and obdurate
15 If such petitioners as you I spurned.
PRIEST 88 As I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his head 89 Had scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays.
OEDIPUS 90 We soon shall know; he's now in earshot range. 91 Enter CREON 92 My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus' child, 93 What message hast thou brought us from the god? CREON 94 Good news, for e'en intolerable ills, 95 Finding right issue, tend to naught but good.
OEDIPUS 96 How runs the oracle? thus far thy words 97 Give me no ground for confidence or fear.
CREON 98 If thou wouldst hear my message publicly, 99 I'll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within.
OEDIPUS 100 Speak before all; the burden that I bear 101 Is more for these my subjects than myself.
OEDIPUS 106 What expiation means he? What's amiss? Page 15 CREON 107 Banishment, or the shedding blood for blood. 108 This stain of blood makes shipwreck of our state.
OEDIPUS 109 Whom can he mean, the miscreant thus denounced? CREON 110 Before thou didst assume the helm of State, 111 The sovereign of this land was Laius.
OEDIPUS 112 I heard as much, but never saw the man. CREON 113 He fell; and now the god's command is plain: 114 Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be.
OEDIPUS 115 Where are they? Where in the wide world to find 116 The far, faint traces of a bygone crime?
CREON 117 In this land, said the god; "who seeks shall find; 118 Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind."
OEDIPUS 119 Was he within his palace, or afield, 120 Or traveling, when Laius met his fate? CREON 121 Abroad; he started, so he told us, bound 122 For Delphi, but he never thence returned. OEDIPUS 123 Came there no news, no fellow-traveler 124 To give some clue that might be followed up? CREON 125 But one escape, who flying for dear life, 126 Could tell of all he saw but one thing sure. Page 17 OEDIPUS 127 And what was that? One clue might lead us far, 128 With but a spark of hope to guide our quest. CREON 129 Robbers, he told us, not one bandit but 130 A troop of knaves, attacked and murdered him. OEDIPUS 131 Did any bandit dare so bold a stroke, 132 Unless indeed he were suborned from Thebes? CREON 133 So 'twas surmised, but none was found to avenge 134 His murder mid the trouble that ensued.
OEDIPUS 135 What trouble can have hindered a full quest, 136 When royalty had fallen thus miserably?
CREON 137 The riddling Sphinx compelled us to let slide 138 The dim past and attend to instant needs.
OEDIPUS 139 Well, I will start afresh and once again 140 Make dark things clear. Right worthy the concern 141 Of Phoebus, worthy thine too, for the dead; 142 I also, as is meet, will lend my aid 143 To avenge this wrong to Thebes and to the god. 144 Not for some far-off kinsman, but myself, 145 Shall I expel this poison in the blood; 146 For whoso slew that king might have a mind 147 To strike me too with his assassin hand. 148 Therefore in righting him I serve myself. 149 Up, children, haste ye, quit these altar stairs, 150 Take hence your suppliant wands, go summon hither Page 19 151 The Theban commons. With the god's good help 152 Success is sure; 'tis ruin if we fail. 153 Exeunt OEDIPUS and CREON PRIEST 154 Come, children, let us hence; these gracious words 155 Forestall the very purpose of our suit. 156 And may the god who sent this oracle 157 Save us withal and rid us of this pest. 158 Exeunt PRIEST and SUPPLIANTS
CHORUS 159 Sweet-voiced daughter of Zeus from thy gold-paved Pythian shrine 160 Wafted to Thebes divine, 161 What dost thou bring me? My soul is racked and shivers with fear. 162 (Healer of Delos, hear!) 163 Hast thou some pain unknown before, 164 Or with the circling years renewest a penance of yore? 165 Offspring of golden Hope, thou voice immortal, O tell me. 166 First on Athene I call; O Zeus-born goddess, defend! 167 Goddess and sister, befriend, 168 Artemis, Lady of Thebes, high-throned in the midst of our mart! 169 Lord of the death-winged dart! 170 Your threefold aid I crave 171 From death and ruin our city to save. 172 If in the days of old when we nigh had perished, ye drave 173 From our land the fiery plague, be near us now and defend us! Page 21 174 Ah me, what countless woes are mine! 175 All our host is in decline; 176 Weaponless my spirit lies. 177 Earth her gracious fruits denies; 178 Women wail in barren throes; 179 Life on life downstriken goes, 180 Swifter than the wind bird's flight, 181 Swifter than the Fire-God's might, 182 To the westering shores of Night. 183 Wasted thus by death on death 184 All our city perisheth. 185 Corpses spread infection round; 186 None to tend or mourn is found. 187 Wailing on the altar stair 188 Wives and grandams rend the air-- 189 Long-drawn moans and piercing cries 190 Blent with prayers and litanies. 191 Golden child of Zeus, O hear 192 Let thine angel face appear! 193 And grant that Ares whose hot breath I feel, 194 Though without targe or steel 195 He stalks, whose voice is as the battle shout, 196 May turn in sudden rout, 197 To the unharbored Thracian waters sped, 198 Or Amphitrite's bed. 199 For what night leaves undone, 200 Smit by the morrow's sun 201 Perisheth. Father Zeus, whose hand 202 Doth wield the lightning brand, 203 Slay him beneath thy levin bold, we pray, 204 Slay him, O slay!