Specimens of Greek Tragedy
Part 3 out of 5
I knew not then what folly thou would'st talk,
Else should I scarce have called thee to my house.
Such it appears in thy conceit, am I,
A fool; yet to thy parents I seemed wise.
My parents, hold there! Tell me who were they.
This day shall bring thee parents and despair.
Riddles again; still utterances dark.
In guessing riddles art thou not supreme?
Welcome the taunt which to my greatness points.
And yet that day of greatness ruined thee.
I reck not if it saved the commonwealth.
I will be gone. Boy, lead me to my home.
Yea, let him lead thee; thy intrusion here
Troubles us; thy departure were relief.
I go, but first will my deliverance make
Maugre thy frown, which can do me no harm.
I tell thee that the man whom thou dost seek
With proclamations and with threat'nings dire,
The man who murdered Laius, is here;
In name a foreigner, a native born
In fact, as will to his small joy appear.
For he who now has sight will go forth blind,
He who is rich will go forth penniless,
Groping his way to dwell in a strange land;
Brother of his own offspring he has been,
As all the world shall know, husband of her
That brought him forth, with incest stained, and stained
With parricide. Get thee into thy house,
There think upon my words, and if I lie
Say I have lost the gift of prophecy.
* * * * *
A messenger from Corinth announces to Oedipus the death of his reputed
father, Polybus, king of Corinth, and incidentally reveals to him in
part the history of his birth. Jocasta, the queen of Oedipus and his
real mother, is on the scene when the messenger arrives; upon her the
fatal secret dawns at once.
Strangers, I pray ye tell me if ye can
Where is the palace of King Oedipus;
Or better, where is Oedipus himself.
This is the palace, in it is the king,
And there the mother of his children stands.
Blessed may she be, be all around her blessed,
If she indeed his honoured consort is.
Blessed be thou too, O stranger; such return
Thy courtesy demands; but let me know
Wherefore thou comest, what thou hast to tell.
Good news to thee, lady, and to thy lord.
What is the news, whence is thy embassage?
From Corinth, and the tidings on my lips
May please, must please, and yet perchance may pain.
What can it be that has this double power?
The denizens of yonder Isthmian land
Will make thy lord their king, as rumour goes.
What? Is old Polybus their king no more?
His lease of power has ended in his grave.
What say'st thou, that King Polybus is dead?
If I speak false let death be my reward.
Fly, fly, my handmaid, bear unto your lord
This news without delay. O oracles,
Where are ye? Oedipus in exile lives
Lest he should slay this prince, and lo, this prince,
Untouched by him, in course of nature dies.
Jocasta, dearest partner of my life,
Why from the palace hast thou summoned me?
Hear this man's tidings, and by them be taught
To what have come those reverend oracles.
Who is the man? What is the news he brings?
He comes from Corinth, and the news he brings
Is that thy father, Polybus, is dead.
What say'st thou, stranger? Tell it me thyself.
If it is this thou first wouldst surely know,
Then surely know that Polybus is gone.
Died he of sickness or through treachery?
A touch will lay the aged form to sleep.
He died, poor king, by sickness it would seem.
By sickness added to his length of years.
Fie on it, wife! why should we ever waste
One thought on that prophetic Pythian shrine,
Or on the notes of birds whose boding cry
Foretold that I should be a parricide?
Beneath the ground my father lies, and I
Am guiltless of his blood, unless his heart
Broke at my loss, and thus through me he died.
These prophecies that trouble us are naught,
Are buried in the grave of Polybus.
Said I not from the first it would be so?
Thou didst, but I was led astray by fear.
Henceforth dismiss these bugbears from thy soul.
The incest--have I not still that to dread?
Why should man fear whose life is but the sport
Of chance, to whom the future is all dark?
'Tis best to live at hazard as one may.
For that predicted incest, dread it not,
For many a man has in a dream ere this
Lain with his mother. He who takes no thought
Of such hobgoblins, lives the easiest life.
All thou hast said would have my full assent
Were not my mother still alive; but now,
Though thou say'st well, I cannot choose but fear.
A light of hope shines from your father's grave.
Yes, but my mother lives, and fear with her.
What, lady, is the cause of your alarm?
'Tis Merope, the Queen of Polybus.
And what is there in her to breed your fears?
A dreadful ordinance of destiny.
Is it a mystery? May it be told?
It may be told. The god before my birth
Foreshowed that with my mother I should lie,
And shed with my own hands my father's blood.
For which cause I have long my dwelling made
Far off from Corinth. Happily, 'tis true,
Yet to behold a parent's face is sweet.
Was this the fear that drove thee from that land?
This, and the dreadful thought of parricide.
Why do I not at once, as here I am
Wishing thy good, relieve thee of that fear?
Thou wouldst not fail to reap my gratitude.
'Twas to that end I came, that to thy home
When thou hadst come I might the gainer be.
Home, while my mother lives, I will not go.
My son, 'tis plain thou know'st not what thou dost.
How? By the gods, old man, explain to me!
If thou on her account dost shun thy home.
I fear the god's prediction may prove true.
Touching the stain of incest, wouldst thou say?
'Tis this, old man, I dread unceasingly.
Knowest thou not that thy alarms are vain?
How vain, if of these parents I was born?
Polybus was no relative of thine.
What say'st thou? Was not Polybus my sire?
As much thy sire as I am, and no more.
Can father and not father be the same?
Neither did I beget thee nor did he.
Then for what reason did he call me son?
Thou wast a gift to him, and from this hand.
And could he take a foundling to his heart?
It was the yearning of a childless man.
Was I thine own, or was I bought by thee?
I found thee in Cithaeron's bosky glade.
What was it brought thee to this neighbourhood?
I kept the flocks that fed upon these hills.
Wast thou a shepherd wandering for hire?
Poor as I was, O King, I saved thy life.
In what so evil plight then was I found?
Thy insteps to that question can reply.
Alack! what evil memory is this?
Thy feet were pierced through when I rescued thee.
A hapless babe, foul swaddling clothes had I.
Thy name is thy misfortune's monument.
Was it my mother's or my father's act?
I know not; he who gave me thee may tell.
Was I received, then, and not found by thee?
Another shepherd put thee in my hands.
Who was he? Canst thou point him out to me?
A serving-man of Laius he was called.
That Laius who was ruler of this land?
The same; the man I mean his herdsman was.
Is he alive? can he be seen by me?
You that this land inhabit best can tell.
Does any one of you who stand around
The herdsman know of whom this stranger speaks?
Either afield or here has he been seen?
Speak out! 'tis time that all should be revealed.
I ween it is no other than the hind
Of whom thou wast in quest some time ago;
But Queen Jocasta could most likely tell.
Wife, dost thou know the man for whom erewhile
We sent? Is it of him that this man speaks?
Why ask? what matters it of whom he spoke?
Let not such follies dwell upon thy mind.
Think not to hinder me, with such a clue,
From searching out the secret of my birth.
For Heaven's sake, for the sake of thy own life,
Desist! That I am stricken is enough.
Fear not; though I be proved through three descents
Three times a slave, thy birth will take no stain.
Hear me, I do implore thee! Search no more.
I will not stop till all has been revealed!
She that entreats thee has thy good at heart.
Good it may be, yet does it please me ill.
Unhappy man! what thou art, never know.
Go, some one; fetch the herdsman with all speed,
And let this lady vaunt her pedigree.
Alack! alack! Wretch, by no other name
Can I now call thee or shall call thee more!
(JOCASTA _rushes off the scene_.)
O King, why has the lady rushed away
In this wild burst of grief? I sorely fear
Her silence prefaces a storm of woe.
Let her storm on! resolved am I to find
The stem that bore me, lowly though it be.
She, very like, puffed with a woman's pride,
May feel ashamed of my ignoble birth.
For me, I do esteem me Fortune's child,
Nor blush to hold me of her favour born.
She is my mother; and my father, Time,
Whose months have on to greatness borne his child.
With such a parentage I fear no change
That should forbid me to search out my birth.
* * * * *
Jocasta, in despair, hangs herself. Oedipus puts out his own eyes. The
scene is described by a second messenger, who has witnessed it.
O reverend priests and elders of this land,
What are ye doomed to hear? what to behold?
What sorrow will be yours if loyally
Ye love the royal house of Labdacus?
Ister or Phasis were too scant a stream,
To wash the bloodstains of this roof away,
Such horrors does it hide, and presently
Will show beneath the sun; horrors self-caused,
And self-caused woes are of all woes the worst.
That which we knew already topped the height
Of misery. What hast thou more to tell?
What fewest words serve to impart is this,
Jocasta the illustrious is no more.
Alas, poor Queen! How was it that she died?
By her own hand. That which is worst of all,
The sight of what was done, your eyes are spared;
But to your ears, so far as memory serves,
I will recount her most disastrous end.
When, in a storm of passion, hence she passed
To yonder house, straight to her marriage-bed,
Tearing her hair with both her hands, she flew.
She slammed the door behind her; then she cries
To Laius, that had long been in his grave,
Calling to mind the seed that they had raised
To murder its begetter, while his mate,
Was left to her own child's incestuous arms.
She cursed the bed which to a husband bore
A husband and gave children to a child.
Thereon she slew herself, I wot not how,
For, with loud outcries Oedipus rushed in,
And on his movements all our eyes were turned,
So that we could not mark Jocasta's end.
He, raving, shouted to us for a sword,
And asked where was his wife that was no wife,
But his own mother and his children's, too.
Then, in his frenzy, some mysterious power,
For it was none of us, showed him the way.
With a wild yell, as though one led him on,
He charged the doorway, from their sockets tore
The bolts, and headlong dashed into the room.
There we beheld Jocasta hanging dead,
Her neck entangled in the fatal noose.
This the King seeing, gave a fearful yell,
And loosed the rope; the corpse fell to the ground.
What then ensued was fearful to behold:
The golden buckles wherewith she was dight
He from her garment plucked, and, lifting them
On high, he smote the pupils of his eyes,
Crying aloud that they should look no more
Upon his suffering or his crimes, but dark
Henceforth betray their duty seeing those
Whom they ought not, not seeing those they ought.
Chanting this strain, once and again he smote,
With hand uplift, his eyeballs, till the blood
Ran from his wounded eyes down to his chin,
Not in slow-oozing drops of clotted gore,
But in a pelting shower of crimson hue.
Such is the wreck, not of a single life,
But of a husband's and a wife's in one.
The grandeur of this house in happier hours
Was grandeur worthy of the name. To-day
Sorrow and desolation, death and shame,
All evils for which man has names are here.
Rests now the victim from this agony?
He calls to us to open wide the door
And let all Thebes behold the parricide.
His mother's--names too horrible he used,
Vowing he'll doom himself to banishment,
Nor live beneath the curse himself called down.
But some support and guidance he will need,
For he is stricken past man's strength to bear.
Thyself will see it, for behold, the gates
Open and will a spectacle disclose
That might the bitterest foe to pity move!
* * * * *
Oedipus bewails his calamities. A scene follows between him and Creon,
his wife's brother, whom he had accused of treasonably plotting
against him in concert with Tiresias.
That what is done is not done for the best,
Forbear to preach; thy counsel is in vain.
Could I have looked upon my father's face,
Meeting him yonder in the underworld,
Or on my hapless mother's, when to both
I had done wrongs worse than the worst of deaths?
Perchance you'll say to see my progeny
Were sweet! when I remembered whence they sprung.
Never, believe me, to their father's eyes;
Nor to see city, tower, or temple more,
From which, of all men most unfortunate,
When I had lived the noblest life in Thebes,
I did myself cut off, adjuring all
To drive the sinner out by heaven declared
Accursed and of the blood of Laius.
When I had thus proclaimed my infamy,
Could I meet, eye to eye, those citizens?
It might not be. Nay, were there any means
Of cutting off the source of hearing, too,
I would have closed all avenues of sense,
And made this wretched frame both blind and deaf.
The mind has peace that dwells apart from ills.
Why, O Cithaeron, didst thou cherish me,
Not end my life at once, that so my kind
Had never learned the secret of my birth?
O Polybus, and Corinth, and that home
By me paternal deemed, how foul beneath
Was that which ye brought up so outward fair!
I stand a villain, and of villains born.
O meeting of three ways, and lonely glen,
And copse, and narrow pass at the cross-roads,
That from my father's veins drank, by my hand,
The blood which filled my own, remember ye,
What ye beheld me do, and what I did
Thereafter in this land? Marriage ill-starred,
Thou gavest me birth, and then of me gave birth
To a fresh offspring, and before the sun
Showed fathers, brothers, children, parricides,
Brides, wives, and mothers in unnatural train,
With all things most abhorred among mankind.
But what is foul to do is foul to hear,
Therefore, at once bury me out of sight;
Put me to death, cast me into the sea,
That never eye of man may see me more.
Come, lay your hands upon my wretched frame,
Do as I pray ye, fearing naught, my load
Of woe no mortal can support but I.
At the right time thy wish to execute
And give thee counsel, Creon comes, now left
In place of thee sole guardian of our State.
Alas! To him what can I find to say,
What plea of justice, since my conscience cries
That he has met foul treatment at my hands?
I came not, Oedipus, to mock thy fall,
Nor to upbraid thee with unkindness past.
But ye, that stand around, if human hearts
Ye do not reverence, reverence yonder sun
Whose fire feeds all things, and expose no more
Unveiled to view this horror, which nor earth
Nor heaven's sweet rains nor sunlight can endure.
Bear him within; let there be no delay.
The sorrows of a household, piety
Reserves for kindred eyes and ears alone.
Since thou my expectation hast belied,
Proving thyself as good as I am bad,
Grant what I ask, for thy behoof I speak.
What is this thing that thou wouldst have me do?
Cast me, and instantly, out of this land,
Beyond the pale of human intercourse.
Already had I done this, but I first
Desired to ask the counsel of the god.
The god had fully made his counsel known,
Which was to slay the impious parricide.
So did we hold, yet in our present case
Better we deemed it to be circumspect.
Wilt thou enquire about a wretch like me?
Thyself by this hast learned to trust the gods.
I do conjure thee, and enjoin on thee,
Her that within there lies, as seems thee fit,
Lay in the ground. To thee that care belongs.
But me, let never this my fatherland
Be so dishonoured as to hold alive.
Upon the mountains let my dwelling be,
Upon my own Cithaeron, which my sire
And mother chose as my appointed tomb,
And so let those who sought it take my life.
And yet past doubt it is that I was proof
'Gainst death in all its forms; if I were saved,
It must have been for some fell destiny.
But be my own lot what it may, my care
Is for my children, Creon. For the boys
I'd have thee take no thought; as they are men,
Where'er they be they'll find a livelihood.
But for my girls now lorn and desolate,
My girls, apart from whom was never set
Their father's table, who still had their share
Of everything on which his hand was laid,
I crave thy care. And first let me embrace
My darlings and unite my tears to theirs.
Pray, good my lord,
Consent, kind heart. To hold them in my arms
Would be to feel them mine as when I saw--
What shall I say?
(ANTIGONE _and_ ISMENE, OEDIPUS' _daughters, are brought
upon the scene_.)
Is it my darlings' weeping that I hear?
Do my ears tell me true? Has Creon sent
My best beloved in mercy to their sire?
Say I aright?
Thou say'st aright. 'Tis I that, knowing well
Thy heart's desire, have granted thee this boon.
Fortune befriend thee for their presence here,
Heaven guard thee better than it guarded me.
Daughters, where are ye? Come unto these arms,
These arms that issued from one womb with you,
Which on the father that begot you brought
This darkness for the light he had before.
Blindly, my children, and unwittingly,
Offspring I got in an incestuous bed.
See you I cannot, but I weep for you,
When I bethink me of the bitter life
That ye must live, marks for the scorn of men.
To what assembly, to what festival,
Will ye e'er go and not be driven home
In tears, excluded from the spectacle?
And when your marriageable hour has come,
Where will be found the man so venturesome
To take upon him the reproach that falls
Upon my parents and from them on you?
What stain is lacking when your father slew
His father, her that bore him took to wife
'Gainst nature's law, and had you born to him
From the same womb from which himself was born?
In face of such reproaches who will wed?
No one will dare. Daughters, to waste away
Lonely and childless is your certain doom.
Son of Menoeceus, thou alone art left
As father to these children, in one day
Bereft of both their parents; let them not
Go forth to roam famished and desolate,
Nor let them be confounded with my crimes.
Have pity on them, seeing them so young,
Deprived of all saving thy charity.
Reach forth thy hand in token of assent.
Children, were ye of age to understand,
I had much counsel giv'n ye; but now pray
That you may dwell where it is best to dwell,
And yours may be a happier lot than mine.
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS.
After the day of horrors the blind Oedipus is cast forth from Thebes,
and becomes a wanderer over the face of the earth, guided and tended
by his faithful daughter, Antigone. He comes at last to Colonus, a
rural district near Athens, and one of the holy places of Attica. Here
he is destined to end his life, to be buried, and by the presence of
his remains to confer a blessing on the country which has given him a
last resting-place and a tomb. The dark cloud of involuntary guilt,
which has hitherto overshadowed him, lifts at the end, and is
succeeded by a calm evening light.
* * * * *
_OEDIPUS AND ANTIGONE ARRIVE AT COLONUS AND ENTER THE CONSECRATED
Child of a blind old man, Antigone,
Unto what land, whose city, have we come?
Who is there for this day to entertain
With scanty fare the wanderer, Oedipus,
Who asks but little and still less receives,
Yet with his dole is fain to be content--
For time and suffering and a noble heart
Have taught me how to bear adversity.
But, daughter, if thou seest a resting-place,
Either in common ground or hallowed grove,
There guide me to a seat, that we may ask
What place is this: strangers, we come to learn
Of citizens and what they bid us do.
Oedipus, my unhappy sire, the towers
That fence the city round far off appear.
This seems a holy place; 'tis full of pine,
Of laurel, and of vine under whose leaves
Trills her sweet notes full many a nightingale.
Here rest thee on this unhewn seat of rock;
The journey for thy aged feet was long.
Guide thy old father safely to the seat.
It is a lesson taught me long ago.
Where is it we have halted? canst thou tell?
Athens I know; this spot is strange to me.
That it was Athens every traveller said.
Wouldst thou that I go ask what place it is?
Yea, daughter, if it is inhabited.
Inhabited it is; but I may spare
My pains, for close at hand I see a man.
Bends he his steps in our direction, child?
Yes, and is now at hand.
Whate'er is meet
For thee to say, speak; he is at thy side.
O stranger, listen to this maid who sees
Both for herself and me, since our good luck
Hath sent thee to inform our ignorance.
Ere thou dost question further, leave that place;
'Tis holy ground whereon thou mayest not tread.
What, then, is the indwelling deity?
I tell thee it is hallowed; it belongs
To the dread Daughters of the Earth and Night.
What is their name? With reverence I would ask.
With us, the Eumenides, of sleepless eye;
But different names seem good in different lands.
May they receive the suppliant to their grace,
For I intend no more to leave this ground.
What means this?
'Tis the token of my doom.
Myself I dare not thrust thee out until
On my report the State my act approves.
To a poor wanderer, friend, be not unkind,
But what I humbly ask thee deign to tell.
Speak on, and no unkind refusal fear.
What is the place, then, upon which we stand?
Thou shalt know all that I can tell. The place
Around is holy, dread Posidon here
Is present, present here the lord of fire,
Titan Prometheus. What thou standest on
Is of this region hight the Brazen Way,
The prop of Athens, while these neighbouring fields
Boast of Colonus, that famed charioteer,
As their first settler; and their denizens
Are proud to bear their founder's sainted name.
Such claims to pious reverence hath this place,
Stranger, which they who dwell here feel the more.
There are then people who inhabit it?
Yes, people named after their patron god.
Has it a king or do the commons rule?
The King of yonder city is its lord.
And who now fills the seat of royalty?
Theseus, the son of Aegeus, is his name.
Would one of you my envoy be to him?
To tell him aught, or bid him come to thee?
To show him how small cost may bring great gain.
And wherein can the blind advantage him?
My eyes are blind, but when I speak I see.
Attend my words if thou'rt an honest man,
And honest though ill-starred thou seemst to me.
Stir not from off this spot where thou dost stand,
Till to this township's rural denizens
I have recounted all. They will decide
Whether thou may'st remain or must depart.
My daughter, has the stranger gone from us?
He has, my father; all is still around.
Thou mayst speak freely for I only hear.
Dread goddesses, of awful countenance,
Since in your holy precincts first I rest,
Be merciful to Phoebus and to me;
For Phoebus, when he all my woes foretold,
Promised me peace at last, then to be mine
When at my wandering's limit I should find
A shrine and hostel of the powers of awe.
Here of my misery was to be the goal,
And I was to bring blessings to my hosts,
And curses upon them that drove me out.
Tokens of this he pledged his word to send,
An earthquake, lightning, or a thunder peal.
Sure then I am that auguries from you,
Who cannot lie, my wandering feet have led
Unto this grove. How should the wayfarer
Else have on you first lighted, like himself,
Untasting of the wine-cup, and have found
This sacred seat unhewn? O goddesses,
Fulfil Apollo's oracles, and grant
Some termination of this weary life,
Unless my sum of pain seems incomplete,
When long unbroken sufferings I have borne.
O daughters dear of immemorial night,
Athens, of cities most illustrious,
That art to the great Pallas dedicate,
Take pity on this ghost of Oedipus;
Once I was not the thing that now I am.
* * * * *
_THE PRAISES OF COLONUS AND ATHENS_.
Of this land of chivalry
Thou the garden here dost see,
White Colonus, in whose glade,
Underneath the greenwood shade,
Her loved haunt, the nightingale
Poureth oft her luscious wail.
Glossy-dark the ivy creeps;
Flourishes along the steeps
With berries store, scorched by no ray,
Rent by no storm, the sacred bay.
Here loves the jolly god to rove
With merry nymphs that round him move.
Here many a flower, heaven-watered, blows,
Worthy to bind immortal brows.
Narcissus waves its clusters gay,
And crocus gleams with golden ray.
Nor do the springs that feed thy flow,
Cephisus, intermission know:
Day after day their crystal stream
Makes the rich loam with plenty teem.
Nor do the muses keep afar,
Nor Aphrodite's golden car.
Here grows, what neither Asia's coast
Nor Pelops' Dorian Isle can boast,
The tree that Nature's bounty rears,
The tree that mocks the foeman's spears,
That nowhere blooms so fair and free
And rich--our own grey olive tree,
Of which no chieftain, old or young,
Shall rob the land from which it sprung.
Blue-eyed Athene is its guard,
And Morian Zeus its sleepless ward.
And loftier still the note of praise
That by the grace of heaven we raise
To this our motherland, for she
Is Queen of steeds, Queen of the sea.
Poseidon, son of Saturn, thou
Didst set this crown upon her brow,
When first upon Athenian course
Thou taughtst to curb the fiery horse.
The dashing oar our seamen ply,
Light o'er the wave our galleys fly,
Keeping the sea-nymphs company.
* * * * *
_LENGTH OF DAYS_.
Little wisdom hath the man
That would over-live his span.
Length of days brings many a moan
When life's prime is past and gone;
But of pleasures, never a one.
Then all alike from dole to save,
Comes the dark and cheerless grave.
Not to be is happiest;
Next with speed to part is best.
Bloodshed, battle, hatred, strife,
Youth with all these ills is rife.
Then comes the last, the dreariest stage,
Sour, companionless old age.
* * * * *
_THE END OF OEDIPUS_.
MESSENGER. (_To the_ CHORUS.)
Brief is the speech, my fellow-citizens,
Needed to tell that Oedipus is dead;
But a brief speech will not suffice to give
A full account of all that there befell.
His life of sorrow then has found its end.
He is where he will never sorrow more.
Died he by act of heaven and painlessly?
Herein consists the wonder of my tale.
When from this place he went, as thou didst see,
No longer guided by a friendly hand,
But himself acting as the guide of all,
Having arrived at the descending stair,
With brazen steps fast rooted in the earth,
He halted upon one of many paths,
Hard by the basin wherein treasured lie
Pledges of Theseus and Pirithous.
Midway from this to the Thorician rock,
The hollow pear-tree and the marble tomb,
He took his seat and disarrayed himself
Of his soiled weeds; then to his daughters called
Water to bring that he might cleanse himself.
They to a knoll that rose above the fane
Of boon Demeter, hastening, did with speed
That which their sire commanded,--bathed his limbs,
And in new garments seemly him arrayed.
When thus his heart's desire had been fulfilled,
And none of his behests remained undone,
Thunder beneath the earth was heard, whereat
The maidens quaked, and on their father's knees
They laid them down and wept, nor ceased to beat
Their breasts and to pour forth the long-drawn wail.
He, hearing all at once their bitter cry,
Folded his hands over their heads, and said,
"Daughters, this day your father is no more,
For now my course is ended and your life
Of travel sore in tending me is done.
Hard was that life, my daughters, well I know,
And yet a single word makes up for all.
Love did ye never meet at any hand
Greater than his, of whom henceforth bereft,
Ye must drag out whate'er remains of life."
Thus folded each in other's last embrace,
They sobbed and wailed. When they at last had done
Their weeping and their cry arose no more,
A silence followed; all at once a voice
Called him, and made the hair of each of us
That heard it stand on end with sudden fear.
Repeatedly it called, that mystic voice,
"Oedipus, linger thou no more," it said,
"Thine hour is come; too long is thy delay."
He, hearing the celestial summons, called
For our King Theseus to draw near to him;
And when the King drew near, he said, "Dear Prince,
Pledge to my daughters troth by your right hand,
As they will pledge their troth to thee, and swear
That thou wilt not desert them, but whate'er
Thou mayst do thou wilt do it for their good."
Theseus, with noble soul, calm and unmoved,
Swore to fulfil his stranger friend's request.
Which being ended, straightway Oedipus,
With his blind hands touching his daughters, said,
"Children, ye now must bear up gallantly
And from this spot depart, nor seek to see
Or hear that which may not be seen or heard.
Tarry no longer; what is now to come
Theseus alone may lawfully behold."
These words of his all that were present heard.
So we departed, and with streaming eyes
Walked by the maidens. Having gone some way
We turned, looked back, and saw that Oedipus
Had vanished, nor did trace of him appear,
While the King stood alone, holding his hand
Before his eyes as though some awful form,
Some overpowering vision had appeared.
And no long time had passed, when he was seen
Falling upon his knees and worshipping
At once the Earth and all the Olympian gods.
But in what way Oedipus left this life
Theseus alone of human kind can tell.
There flashed from heaven no lightning in that hour
To strike him dead; there came not from the sea
A tempest with its blast to sweep him off.
Some envoy from the gods was sent to him,
Or opening earth engulfed him painlessly.
The old man died without disease or pang
To make us grieve for him; by miracle,
If ever man so died. Thinkst thou I dream?
I know not how to show thee that I wake.
Eteocles and Polynices, the unnatural brothers, having fallen by each
other's hands, Creon is King of Thebes. To Eteocles, who had died in
defence of the city, he awards honourable burial; Polynices, who had
fallen in attacking the city, he dooms to lie unburied, a great
dishonour and calamity in Hellenic opinion. Antigone resolves to
disregard the ordinance, and pay the funeral rites to her brother
Polynices. The conflict between the law of the State and the divine
law which Antigone obeys is the moral key-note of the play. Ismene is
Antigone's weaker sister and serves as a foil to her. Antigone is
betrothed to Haemon, a son of Creon.
* * * * *
_THE TWO SISTERS_.
Ismene, sister mine in blood and heart,
All woes that had their source in Oedipus
Zeus will bring on us yet before we die.
Nothing there is disastrous or accursed,
No blot of shame, no brand of infamy,
Which in our list of ills I reckon not.
What is this proclamation that I hear
The general has put forth to all the host?
Say, canst thou tell, or art thou ignorant
That those we hate are threat'ning those we love?
To me, Antigone, no word has come
Either of joyful tidings or of bad
Since we of our two brothers were bereft,
Slain in one day, each by the other's hand.
Last night the Argive army marched away;
This much I know, and I know nothing more
To add to or abate our misery.
Of that I was assured, and called thee forth
Before the gate to speak to thee apart.
What is it? Something ferments in thy soul.
Creon to one of our two brothers grants,
But to the other he denies, a grave.
Eteocles, as they tell me, he has laid
With all due form and reverence in the tomb,
There to be ranked among the honoured dead.
But Polynices' miserable corpse,
It seems, by strict injunction he forbids
All citizens to bury or to mourn;
Ordering that it be left without a grave,
Unwailed, a welcome prey to ravening birds.
This proclamation Creon, worthy man--
Look thou, look both of us alike--puts forth.
'Tis said he hither comes to publish it,
To all who know it not, nor deems the thing
Of small concern; for whoso disobeys
His penalty is to be stoned to death.
So stands the matter; it will now be seen
Whether thy soul is worthy of thy race.
How, daring maid, can I in such a case,
Whether to loose or bind, assistance lend?
Wilt thou take part and aid me? Ponder well.
In what adventure? What is in thy mind?
Will thy arm help me to uplift the corpse?
How! Wouldst thou brave the law and bury him?
Bury thy brother and mine own I would.
Do as thou wilt, my duty shall not fail.
In face of Creon's edict? Art thou mad?
Has he the right to part me from mine own?
Sister, alack! think how our father fell,
O'erwhelmed with hatred and with infamy
Through sins which his own act had brought to light,
His eyes bereft of sight by his own hand;
How she that was his wife and mother too
Perished, self-strangled with a twisted cord,
And lastly our two brothers in one day
With fratricidal hands most ruefully
Upon each other brought a common doom.
Now only we are left, and worst of all
Our fate will be, if, in contempt of law,
Our ruler's will and order we defy.
Think first that we are women, and too weak
Battle to do against the strength of men;
And next, that we are subject unto power,
And must in harder things than this obey.
For my share then, I will entreat the dead
To pardon what I do unwillingly,
And bow to the command of those in power.
High vaulting virtue overleaps itself.
I urge thee not; nay, didst thou wish to aid,
My heart would not accept thy partnership.
Hold to thy own opinion; him I mean
To bury; death were honour in that cause.
I in the tomb shall lie with those I love,
A glorious criminal. Longer will last
The praise of those below than those above.
There I shall ever dwell. Then, if thou wilt,
Treat as of no account the claim of heaven.
I lack not piety, but lack the force
To fly in face of public ordinance.
Cling to thy specious pretext while I go
To heap the earth upon a brother's grave.
Too daring sister, how I quake for thee.
Quake not for me, steer thine own course aright.
At least disclose to none this thy design;
I too will keep it locked within my breast.
Avaunt! reveal it! I shall hate thee more
If thou dost not proclaim it to the world.
Hot is thy blood, but chill thy enterprise.
I shall please those whom I am bound to please.
Hadst thou the power, but desperate is thy aim.
When my power fails I have but to desist.
Where we must fail, not to attempt is wise.
Such talk will make thee hateful unto me,
And by the dead man righteously abhorred.
Then leave me with my folly to endure
This dreadful penalty. Come what come may,
Nothing will rob me of a noble death.
Art thou resolved? Go, then, and be assured
That though misguided thou art well beloved.
* * * * *
_SISTERLY LOVE DEFIES THE LAW_.
Antigone is caught by the guard paying funeral rites to the corpse of
Polynices, and is brought before Creon.
Behold the guilty one, caught in the act
Of burial. Where is Creon to be found?
Hither he comes returning from the house.
What makes my presence here so opportune?
My prince, let mortal man nothing forswear,
For resolution yields to afterthought.
Little I looked hither to come again,
So pelted with the hailstorm of thy threats.
But the good fortune that surpasses hope
Is of all pleasant things the pleasantest;
And so I come in spite of all my oaths,
And bring with me this maiden, who was caught
Decking the grave. This time no lot was cast;
The prize is mine of right, and mine alone.
And now, my prince, take and examine her
Thyself, as seems thee good. I claim my due,
From all these troubles to be let go free.
Where, in what manner, was your prisoner found?
'Twas she that gave him burial; all is told.
Art thou assured of that thou dost report?
I saw this maiden burying the corpse
Which thou forbad'st to bury. Is that plain?
By whom was she espied, and how entrapped?
Thus did it happen: When we reached our post,
Confounded by thy dreadful menaces,
We swept away with care each particle
Of dust, and having laid the carcase bare,
Then sat us down beneath the sheltering slope
Of a hillside, where we escaped the stench,
Each stirring up his fellow to the task,
And cursing him who should be slack in it.
So went we on until the sun's bright orb
Had reached the mid-arch of the firmament,
And its full heat was felt, when suddenly
A whirlwind, raising swirls of dust heaven-high,
Swept o'er the plain, stripping the wood of leaves,
Wherewith it filled the air. We with closed eyes
And lips sat bowing to the wrath of heaven.
When this had passed away, after some time,
Appeared this maiden, uttering piercing wails;
Like to the plaintive notes of a lorn bird,
That finds her nest robbed of its callow brood,
Her wailings were, when she beheld the corpse
Once more uncovered; and right bitterly
Cursed she the man whose hand had done the deed.
Straightway a handful of dry dust she brings,
Then thrice uplifting high a brazen urn,
Pours a three-fold libation on the corpse.
We at the sight, start up and quickly seize
The maiden, who was not a whit dismayed.
We charged her with what she before had done,
And what was doing. Nor denied she aught,
But made me feel sorrow and joy at once.
Oneself to have escaped calamity
Is cause for joy; to bring a friend to harm
Fills one with sorrow. But in my account
Of all things mine own safety is the first.
Thou, that dost stand with eyes bent on the ground,
Dost thou plead guilty or deny the fact?
Deny I do not, but avow my deed.
(_To the_ GUARD.)
Thou standst acquitted of a heinous charge,
And mayest betake thee hence whither thou wilt.
But thou, answer, and briefly, didst thou know
The proclamation made against this act?
I did; how should I not? The words were plain.
Yet didst thou dare to violate the law?
The proclamation went not forth from Zeus,
Or Justice, partner of the gods below,
Who had ordained these canons for mankind;
Nor deemed I proclamations had such power
That thereby mortal man could contravene
Heaven's law unwritten and unchangeable.
That law was not the child of yesterday,
Nor knoweth man the source from which it came.
I was not minded for what men might say
To break that law and brave the wrath divine.
That death would come I know, as come it must
Without thy proclamation, and to die
Before my hour I count it so much gain.
For when a life is full of wretchedness
As mine has been, is it not gain to die?
Little I care if I such doom must meet;
But I care much not uninterred to leave
His corpse that was of the same mother born.
One pains me sore, the other pains me not;
And if to thee I seem to play the fool
To me it seems that to a fool I play it.
She shows the savage spirit of her sire,
And to misfortune is untaught to bend.
Know that the most self-willed most often fall.
Iron that hath been tempered by the fire
To a surpassing hardness, when it breaks,
We often see shattered most thoroughly;
And a small bit suffices to subdue
The fiery steed. High thoughts beseem not those
Who owe subjection to another's will.
This maid before displayed her insolence
In overstepping what the laws ordained;
And now again displays it, glorying
And laughing in our face over her crime.
It is not I that am the man, but she
If she can thus usurp and go unscathed.
Be she my sister's child or child of one
Nearer in blood than all around our hearth,
She shall not the last penalty escape,
Nor shall her sister. For she, too, I hold,
Conspired to bring about this burial.
Summon her hither. Just now in the house
I saw her raving like a maid possessed.
When wickedness is gendered in the dark
The heart is apt its secret to betray.
But not less hateful is the shamelessness
Which, of foul acts convicted, calls them fair.
To lead me to my death, is that enough?
It is enough. This done, I ask no more.
Then why delay, when of thy words to me
Not one gives pleasure or will ever give?
Nor are mine less displeasing unto thee.
And yet what greater glory could be mine,
Than, burying my own brother, I have won?
Well know I, all here present would applaud
But that their tongues by fear of thee are tied.
Sovereigns in many things are fortunate,
And they alone are free in act and speech.
So thinkest thou; of other Thebans, none.
So think they too, but they must cringe to thee.
Art not ashamed to brave the public voice?
It is no shame to pay our kin their due.
Was not he kin that fell upon our side?
His father and his mother both were mine.
How then do service which offends his shade?
The dead man will not second thy complaint.
He will if he is levell'd with the vile.
It was a brother, not a slave, that fell.
Assailing what the other died to save.
The powers below ask these observances.
The good ask not like treatment with the bad.
Who knows but this may be deemed right below?
Hatred expires not when the hated dies.
Not hate but love to share my nature is.
Go, then, below and love, if love thou wilt,
But while I live no woman shall reign here.
Ismene, lo! before the gate appears,
A sister's grief o'erflowing in her tears;
The cloud of sorrow gathered on her face
Bedews her roseate cheek and mars its grace.
And thou, too, in my home a lurking snake?
Didst drain my heart's blood, while I little thought
That I was cherishing two traitress fiends?
Wast thou a party to this burial,
Or wilt thou swear that thou art innocent?
I did take part, if she will say I did,
And am content to bear my share of blame.
That equity forbids; neither wert thou
Willing to act, nor I to act with thee.
Yet would I not refuse mid thy distress,
Sister, to sail in the same barque with thee.
Whose was the deed, the dead and Hades know.
I love not one whose friendship ends in words.
Sister, deny me not the privilege
Of sharing both thy piety and death.
Share not my death, nor claim the work in which
Thou hadst no hand; that I die is enough.
What can life be to me, bereft of thee?
Ask Creon, he is nearest thee in love.
Why dost thou gird at me thus fruitlessly?
My laugh is bitter when I laugh at thee.
What can I do to aid thee even now?
What, save thyself! I grudge not thy escape.
Alack! and must I let thee die alone?
Yes; for thy choice was life, and mine was death.
But not unspoken was my mind to thee.
Thy course was here approved, but mine below.
Yet was the fault of both of us the same.
Be of good cheer, thou livest; but my soul
Is with the dead, to whom my care is due.
Of these two sisters, one, it seems to me,
Has lost her wits, and one was witless born.
O Prince, the reason that is born in us
Abides not in the wretched, but departs.
From thee it fled when thou didst share her crime.
Without this maiden what can life be worth?
Say not "this maiden," for she is no more.
Wilt thou slay her that is thy son's betrothed?
We shall find other fields enough to plough,
Thou wilt not find such unison of hearts.
I do not want a bad wife for my son.
Dear Haemon, how thy father slights thy love.
Thou and thy marriage are a weariness.
Wilt thou bereave thy child of his betrothed?
Hades it is that shall these nuptials bar.
It is resolved, it seems, that she shall die.
There I agree with thee. No more delay.
Slaves, take her in, and henceforth let these maids
Be women, and no more be left at large.
The stoutest hearts are apt to think of flight,
When they perceive that death is drawing near.
* * * * *
_THE CONTEST BETWEEN LOVE AND FILIAL DUTY._
Soon shall we know, my son, past prophecy
Whether, apprised of that our fixed decree,
Thou com'st in wrath upon thy bride's account
Or all we do is pleasing unto thee.
My father, I am thine; thy wisdom guides
My steps aright and I will follow it;
No marriage can be dearer to my heart
Than is the blessing of thy governance.
Be this, my son, implanted in thy breast,
Still to thy father's judgment to defer.
This is the reason for which men desire
To rear obedient offspring in their homes,
Who may confront their father's enemy,
And with him render service to his friends.
The father of unprofitable sons--
What does he else but for himself beget
Trouble and exultation for his foes?
Never, my Haemon, for a woman's love
Let go thy better judgment. Thou must know
That cold and comfortless is the embrace
Of a bad partner in the marriage bed.
What sore is worse than ill-requited love?
Then cast away this maiden from thy heart,
And let her nuptial bower in Hades be,
Since I have openly convicted her
Of breaking law, by all beside obeyed.
My public act I will not falsify,
The maid shall die; howe'er she may descant
On sacred kinship. If at home I give
Disorder license, where will order reign?
Whoever governs his own house aright
Will be a worthy member of the State.
The bold transgressor that defies the law,
Or thinks to override authority,
Need look for no encouragement from me
The lawful ruler's word must be obeyed,
Just or unjust, in great things and in small.
Who does this, I will warrant him a man
Fit to command alike and to obey,
And one who in the battle's storm will stand
Bravely and staunchly at his comrade's side.
There is no greater curse than anarchy;
It works the overthrow of commonwealths,
Lays homes in ruin, in the battle-field
Puts armies to the rout, while victory
And safety are the meed of discipline.
So must we stand by that which is decreed,
And not to an usurping woman yield.
Fall if we must, a man shall deal the blow:
'Twere shame to think a woman vanquished us.
Back to Full Books