Sophocles' Oedipus the King


Oedipus the King

Scene:
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.
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
16 Yea, Oedipus, my sovereign lord and king, 17 Thou seest how both extremes of age besiege 18 Thy palace altars--fledglings hardly winged, 19 and greybeards bowed with years; priests, as am I 20 of Zeus, and these the flower of our youth. 21 Meanwhile, the common folk, with wreathed boughs 22 Crowd our two market-places, or before 23 Both shrines of Pallas congregate, or where 24 Ismenus gives his oracles by fire. Page 9 25 For, as thou seest thyself, our ship of State, 26 Sore buffeted, can no more lift her head, 27 Foundered beneath a weltering surge of blood. 28 A blight is on our harvest in the ear, 29 A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds, 30 A blight on wives in travail; and withal 31 Armed with his blazing torch the God of Plague 32 Hath swooped upon our city emptying 33 The house of Cadmus, and the murky realm 34 Of Pluto is full fed with groans and tears. 35 Therefore, O King, here at thy hearth we sit, 36 I and these children; not as deeming thee 37 A new divinity, but the first of men; 38 First in the common accidents of life, 39 And first in visitations of the Gods. 40 Art thou not he who coming to the town 41 of Cadmus freed us from the tax we paid 42 To the fell songstress? Nor hadst thou received 43 Prompting from us or been by others schooled; 44 No, by a god inspired (so all men deem, 45 And testify) didst thou renew our life. 46 And now, O Oedipus, our peerless king, 47 All we thy votaries beseech thee, find 48 Some succor, whether by a voice from heaven 49 Whispered, or haply known by human wit. 50 Tried counselors, methinks, are aptest found 51 To furnish for the future pregnant rede. 52 Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State! 53 Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yore 54 Our country's savior thou art justly hailed: 55 O never may we thus record thy reign:-- Page 11 56 "He raised us up only to cast us down." 57 Uplift us, build our city on a rock. 58 Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck, 59 O let it not decline! If thou wouldst rule 60 This land, as now thou reignest, better sure 61 To rule a peopled than a desert realm. 62 Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail, 63 If men to man and guards to guard them tail. OEDIPUS 64 Ah! my poor children, known, ah, known too well, 65 The quest that brings you hither and your need. 66 Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain, 67 How great soever yours, outtops it all. 68 Your sorrow touches each man severally, 69 Him and none other, but I grieve at once 70 Both for the general and myself and you. 71 Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams. 72 Many, my children, are the tears I've wept, 73 And threaded many a maze of weary thought. 74 Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught, 75 And tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus' son, 76 Creon, my consort's brother, to inquire 77 Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine, 78 How I might save the State by act or word. 79 And now I reckon up the tale of days 80 Since he set forth, and marvel how he fares. 81 'Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange. 82 But when he comes, then I were base indeed, 83 If I perform not all the god declares. PRIEST 84 Thy words are well timed; even as thou speakest 85 That shouting tells me Creon is at hand. Page 13 OEDIPUS 86 O King Apollo! may his joyous looks 87 Be presage of the joyous news he brings!

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.

CREON
102 Let me report then all the god declared.
103 King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate
104 A fell pollution that infests the land,
105 And no more harbor an inveterate sore.

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!

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