The Phoenician Women
Translated by E. P. Coleridge
JOCASTA, wife of OEDIPUS
OLD SERVANT, an attendant of ANTIGONE
ANTIGONE, daughter Of OEDIPUS
CHORUS OF PHOENICIAN MAIDENS
POLYNEICES, exiled son of OEDIPUS
ETEOCLES, now King of Thebes; son of OEDIPUS
CREON, brother of JOCASTA
TEIRESIAS, a blind prophet
MENOECEUS, son of CREON
OEDIPUS, formerly King of Thebes
Before the royal palace of Thebes. JOCASTA enters from the palace
JOCASTA O sun-god, who cleavest thy way along the starry sky, mounted
on golden-studded car, rolling on thy path of flame behind fleet coursers,
how curst the beam thou didst shed on Thebes, the day that Cadmus
left Phoenicia's realm beside the sea and reached this land! He it
was that in days long gone wedded Harmonia, the daughter of Cypris,
and begat Polydorus from whom they say sprung Labdacus, and Laius
from him. I am known as the daughter of Menoeceus, and Creon is my
brother by the same mother. Men called me Jocasta, for so my father
named me, and I am married to Laius. Now when he was still childless
after being wedded to me a long time, he went and questioned Phoebus,
craving moreover that our love might be crowned with sons born to
his house. But the god said, "King of Thebes for horses famed! seek
not to beget children against the will of heaven; for if thou beget
a son, that child shall slay thee, and all thy house shall wade through
blood." But he, yielding to his lust in a drunken fit, begat a son
of me, and when his babe was born, conscious of his sin and of the
god's warning, he gave the child to shepherds to expose in Hera's
meadow on mount Cithaeron, after piercing his ankles with iron spikes;
whence it was that Hellas named him Oedipus. But the keepers of the
horses of Polybus finding him took him home and laid him in the arms
of their mistress. So she suckled the child that I had borne and persuaded
her husband she was its mother. Soon as my son was grown to man's
estate, the tawny beard upon his cheek, either because he had guessed
the fraud or learnt it from another, he set out for the shrine of
Phoebus, eager to know for certain who his parents were; and likewise
Laius, my husband, was on his way thither, anxious to find out if
the child he had exposed was dead. And they twain met where the branching
roads to Phocis unite; and the charioteer of Laius called to him,
"Out of the way, stranger, room for my lord!" But he, with never a
word, strode on in his pride; and the horses with their hoofs drew
blood from the tendons of his feet. Then-but why need I tell aught
beyond the sad issue?-son slew father, and taking his chariot gave
it to Polybus his foster-father. Now when the Sphinx was grievously
harrying our city after my husband's death, my brother Creon proclaimed
that he would wed me to any who should guess the riddle of that crafty
maiden. By some strange chance, my own son, Oedipus, guessed the Sphinx's
riddle, and so he became king of this land and received its sceptre
as his prize, and married his mother, all unwitting, luckless wretch!
nor did I his mother know that I was wedded to my son; and I bore
him two sons, Eteocles and the hero Polyneices, and two daughters
as well; the one her father called Ismene, the other, which was the
elder, I named Antigone. Now when Oedipus, that awful sufferer, learnt
that I his wedded wife was his mother too, he inflicted a ghastly
outrage upon his eyes, tearing the bleeding orbs with a golden brooch.
But since my sons have grown to bearded men, they have confined their
father closely, that his misfortune, needing as it did full many a
shift to hide it, might be forgotten. He is still living in the palace,
but his misfortunes have so unhinged him that he imprecates the most
unholy curses on his sons, praying that they may have to draw the
sword before they share this house between them. So they, fearful
that heaven may accomplish his prayer if they dwell together, have
made an agreement, arranging that Polyneices, the younger, should
first leave the land in voluntary exile, while Eteocles should stay
and hold the sceptre for a year and then change places. But as soon
as Eteocles was seated high in power, he refused to give up the throne,
and drove Polyneices into exile from the kingdom; so Polyneices went
to Argos and married into the family of Adrastus, and having collected
a numerous force of Argives is leading them hither; and he is come
up against our seven-gated walls, demanding the sceptre of his father
and his share in the kingdom. Wherefore I, to end their strife, have
prevailed on one son to meet the other under truce, before appealing
to arms; and the messenger I sent tells me that he will come. O Zeus,
whose home is heaven's radiant vault, save us, and grant that my sons
may be reconciled! For thou, if thou art really wise, must not suffer
the same poor mortal to be for ever wretched.
(JOCASTA re-enters the palace, as the OLD SERVANT
appears on the roof.)
OLD SERVANT Antigone, choice blossom in a father's house, although
thy mother allowed thee at thy earnest treaty to leave thy maiden
chamber for the topmost story of the house, thence to behold the Argive
host, yet a stay moment that I may first reconnoitre the path, whether
there be any of the citizens visible on the road, lest reproach, little
as it matters to a slave like me, fasten on thee, my royal mistress;
and when I am quite sure will tell thee everything that I saw and
heard from the Argives, when carried the terms of the truce to and
fro between this city and Polyneices. (After a slight pause) No,
there is no citizen approaching the palace; so mount the ancient cedar
steps, and view the plains that skirt Ismenus and the fount of Dirce
to see the mighty host of foemen.
(ANTIGONE appears beside him. She chants her replies to him.)
ANTIGONE Stretch out thy hand to me from the stairs, the hand of
age to youth, helping me to mount.
OLD SERVANT There! clasp it, my young mistress; thou art come at
a lucky moment; for Pelasgia's host is just upon the move, and their
several contingents are separating.
ANTIGONE O Hecate, dread child of Latona! the plain is one blaze
OLD SERVANT Ah! this is no ordinary home-coming of Polyneices; with
many a knight and clash of countless arms he comes.
ANTIGONE Are the gates fast barred, and the brazen bolts shot home
into Amphion's walls of stone?
OLD SERVANT Never fear! all is safe within the town. But mark him
who cometh first, if thou wouldst learn his name.
ANTIGONE Who is that with the white crest, who marches in the van,
lightly bearing on his arm a buckler all of bronze?
OLD SERVANT A chieftain, lady-
ANTIGONE Who is he? whose son? his name? tell me, old man.
OLD SERVANT Mycenae claims him for her son; in Lerna's glens he dwells,
the prince Hippomedon.
ANTIGONE Ah! how proud and terrible his mien! like to an earth-born
giant he moves, with stars engraved upon his targe, resembling not
a child of earth.
OLD SERVANT Dost see yon chieftain crossing Dirce's stream?
ANTIGONE His harness is quite different. Who is that?
OLD SERVANT Tydeus, the son of Oeneus; true Aetolian spirit fires
ANTIGONE Is this he, old man, who wedded a sister of the wife of
Polyneices? What a foreign look his armour has! a half-barbarian he!
OLD SERVANT Yes, my child; all Aetolians carry shields, and are most
unerring marksmen with their darts.
ANTIGONE How art thou so sure of these descriptions, old man?
OLD SERVANT I carefully noted the blazons on their shields before
when I went with the terms of the truce to thy brother; so when I
see them now I know who carry them.
ANTIGONE Who is that youth passing close to the tomb of Zethus, with
long flowing hair, but a look of fury in his eye? is he a captain?
for crowds of warriors follow at his heels.
OLD SERVANT That is Parthenopaeus, Atalanta's son.
ANTIGONE May Artemis, who hies o'er the hills with his mother, lay
him low with an arrow, for coming against my city to sack it!
OLD SERVANT May it be so, my daughter; but with justice are they
come hither, and my fear is that the gods will take the rightful view,
ANTIGONE Where is he who was born of the same mother as I was by
a cruel destiny? Oh! tell me, old friend, where Polyneices is.
OLD SERVANT He is yonder, ranged next to Adrastus near the tomb of
Niobe's seven unwed daughters. Dost see him?
ANTIGONE I see him, yes! but not distinctly; 'tis but the outline
of his form the semblance of his stalwart limbs I see. Would I could
speed through the sky, swift as a cloud before the wind, towards my
own dear brother, and throw my arms about my darling's neck, so long,
poor boy! an exile. How bright his golden weapons flash like the sun-god's
OLD SERVANT He will soon be here, to fill thy heart with joy, according
to the truce.
ANTIGONE Who is that, old man, on yonder car driving snow-white steeds?
OLD SERVANT That, lady, is the prophet Amphiaraus; with him are the
victims, whose streaming blood the thirsty earth will drink.
ANTIGONE Daughter of Latona with the dazzling zone, O moon, thou
orb of golden light! how quietly, with what restraint he drives, goading
first one horse, then the other! But where is Capaneus who utters
those dreadful threats against this city?
OLD SERVANT Yonder he is, calculating how he may scale the towers,
taking the measure of our walls from base to summit.
ANTIGONE O Nemesis, with booming thunder-peals of Zeus and blazing
levin-light, thine it is to silence such presumptuous boasting. Is
this the man, who says he will give the maids of Thebes as captives
of his spear to Mycenae's dames, to Lerna's Trident, and the waters
of Amymone, dear to Poseidon, when he has thrown the toils of slavery
round them? Never, never, Artemis, my queen revered, child of Zeus
with locks of gold, may I endure the yoke of slavery!
OLD SERVANT My daughter, go within, and abide beneath the shelter
of thy maiden chamber, now that thou hast had thy wish and seen all
that thy heart desired; for I see a crowd of women moving toward the
royal palace, confusion reigning in the city. Now the race of women
by nature loves to find fault; and if they get some slight handle
for their talk they exaggerate it, for they seem to take a pleasure
in saying everything bad of one another.
(ANTIGONE and the OLD SERVANT descend into the palace,
as the CHORUS of PHOENICIAN MAIDENS enters.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
From the Tyrian main I come, an offering choice for Loxias from Phoenician
isle, to minister to Phoebus in his halls, where his fane lies nestling
'neath the snow-swept peaks of Parnassus; over the Ionian sea I rowed
my course, for above the plains unharvested, that fringe the coast
of Sicily, the boisterous west-wind coursed, piping sweetest music
in the sky.
Chosen from my city as beauty's gift for Loxias, to the land of Cadmus
I came, sent thither to the towers of Laius, the home of my kin, the
famous sons of Agenor; and there I became the handmaid of Phoebus,
dedicated like his offerings of wrought gold. But as yet the water
of Castaly is waiting for me to bedew the maiden glory of my tresses
for the service of Phoebus.
Hail! thou rock that kindlest bright fire above the twin-peaked heights
of Dionysus. Hail! thou vine, that, day by day, makest the lush bunches
of thy grapes to drip. Hail! awful cavern of the serpent, and the
god's outlook on the hills, and sacred mount by snow-storms lashed!
would I were now circling in the dance of the deathless god, free
from wild alarms, having left Dirce ere this for the vales of Phoebus
at the centre of the world!
But now I find the impetuous god of war is come to battle before
these walls, and hath kindled murder's torch in this city. God grant
he fail! for a friend's sorrows are also mine; and if this land with
its seven towers suffer any mischance, Phoenicia's realm must share
it. Ah me! our stock is one; all children we of Io, that horned maid,
whose sorrows I partake.
Around the city a dense array of serried shields is rousing the spectre
of bloody strife, whose issue Ares shall soon learn to his cost, if
he brings upon the sons of Oedipus the horrors of the curse. O Argos,
city of Pelasgia! I dread thy prowess and the vengeance Heaven sends;
for he who cometh against our home in full panoply is entering the
lists with justice on his side.
(POLYNEICES enters alone.)
POLYNEICES Those who kept watch and ward at the gate admitted me
so readily within the walls that my only fear is, that now they have
caught me in their toils, they will not let me out unscathed; so I
must turn my eye in every direction, hither and thither, to guard
against all treachery. Armed with this sword, I shall inspire myself
with the trust that is born of boldness. (Starting) What ho! who
goes there? or is it an idle sound I fear? Everything seems a danger
to venturous spirits, when their feet begin to tread an enemy's country.
Still I trust my mother, and at the same time mistrust her for persuading
me to come hither under truce. Well, there is help at hand, for the
altar's hearth is close and there are people in the palace. Come,
let me sheath my sword in its dark scabbard and ask these maidens
standing near the house, who they are.
Ladies of another land, tell me from what country ye come to the halls
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Phoenicia is my native land where I was born
and bred; and Agenor's children's children sent me hither as a first-fruits
of the spoils of war foy Phoebus; but when the noble son of Oedipus
was about to escort me to the hallowed oracle and the altars of Loxias,
came Argives meantime against his city. Now tell me in return who
thou art that comes to this fortress of the Theban realm with its
POLYNEICES My father was Oedipus, the son of Laius; my mother Jocasta,
daughter of Menoeceus; and I am called Polyneices by the folk of Thebes.
CHORUS (chanting) O kinsman of Agenor's race, my royal masters who
sent me hither at thy feet, prince, I throw myself, according to the
custom of my home. At last art thou come to thy native land; at last!
Hail to thee! all hail! Come forth, my honoured mistress, open wide
the doors. Dost hear, O mother of this chief? Why art thou delaying
to leave the sheltering roof to fold thy son in thy embrace?
(JOCASTA enters from the palace.)
JOCASTA (chanting) Maidens, I hear you call in your Phoenician tongue,
and my old feet drag their tottering steps to meet my son. O my son,
my son, at last after many a long day I see thee face to face; throw
thy arms about thy mother's bosom; reach hither thy cheek to me and
thy dark locks of clustering hair, o'ershadowing my neck therewith.
Hail to thee! all hail! scarce now restored to thy mother's arms,
when hope and expectation both were dead. What can I say to thee?
how recall in every way, by word, by deed, the bliss of days long
past, expressing my joy in the mazy measures of the dance? Ah! my
son, thou didst leave thy father's halls desolate, when thy brother's
despite drove thee thence in exile. Truly thou wert missed alike by
thy friends and Thebes. This was why I cut off my silvered locks and
let them fall for grief with many a tear, not clad in robes of white,
my son, but instead thereof taking for my wear these sorry sable tatters;
while within the palace that aged one with sightless orbs, ever nursing
the sorrow of a double regret for the pair of brethren estranged from
their home, rushed to lay hands upon himself with the sword or by
the noose suspended o'er his chamber-roof, moaning his curses on his
sons; and now he buries himself in darkness, weeping ever and lamenting.
And thou, my child,-I hear thou hast taken an alien to wife and art
begetting children to thy joy in thy home; they tell me thou art courting
a foreign alliance, a ceaseless woe to me thy mother and to Laius
thy ancestor, to have this woeful marriage foisted on us. 'Twas no
hand of mine that lit for thee the marriage-torch, as custom ordains
and as a happy mother ought; no part had Ismenus at thy wedding in
supplying the luxurious bath; and there was silence through the streets
of Thebes, what time thy young bride entered her home. Curses on them!
whether it be the sword or strife or thy sire that is to blame, or
heaven's visitation that hath burst so riotously upon the house of
Oedipus; for on me is come all the anguish of these troubles.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Wondrous dear to woman is the child of her travail,
and all her race hath some affection for its babes.
POLYNEICES Mother, I have come amongst enemies wisely or foolishly;
but all men needs must love their native land; whoso saith otherwise
is pleased to say so but his thoughts are turned elsewhere. So fearful
was I and in such terror, lest my brother might slay me by treachery
that I made my way through the city sword in hand, casting my eyes
all round me. My only hope is the truce and thy plighted word which
induced me to enter my paternal walls; and many a tear I shed by the
way, seeing after a weary while my home and the altars of the gods,
the training ground, scene of my childhood, and Dirce's founts from
which I was unjustly driven to sojourn in a strange city, with tears
ever gushing from mine eyes. Yea, and to add to my grief I see thee
with hair cut short and clad in sable robe; woe is me for my sorrows!
How terrible, dear mother, is hatred 'twixt those once near and dear;
how hard it makes all reconciliation! What doth my aged sire within
the house, his light all darkness now? what of my sisters twain? Ah!
they, I know, bewail my bitter exile.
JOCASTA Some god with fell intent is plaguing the race of Oedipus.
Thus it all began; I broke God's law and bore a son, and in an evil
hour married thy father and thou wert born. But why repeat these horrors?
what Heaven sends we have to bear. I am afraid to ask thee what I
fain would, for fear of wounding thy feelings; yet I long to.
POLYNEICES Nay, question me, leave naught unsaid; for thy will, mother,
is my pleasure too.
JOCASTA Well then, first I ask thee what I long to have answered.
What means exile from one's country? is it a great evil?
POLYNEICES The greatest; harder to bear than tell.
JOCASTA What is it like? what is it galls the exile?
POLYNEICES One thing most of all; he cannot speak his mind.
JOCASTA This is a slave's lot thou describest, to refrain from uttering
what one thinks.
POLYNEICES The follies of his rulers must be bear.
JOCASTA That too is bitter, to join in the folly of fools.
POLYNEICES Yet to gain our ends we must submit against our nature.
JOCASTA Hope, they say, is the exile's food.
POLYNEICES Aye, hope that looks so fair; but she is ever in the future.
JOCASTA But doth not time expose her futility?
POLYNEICES She hath a certain winsome charm in misfortune.
JOCASTA Whence hadst thou means to live, ere thy marriage found it
POLYNEICES One while I had enough for the day, and then maybe I had
JOCASTA Did not thy father's friends and whilom guests assist thee?
POLYNEICES Seek to be prosperous; once let fortune lour, and the
aid supplied by friends is naught.
JOCASTA Did not thy noble breeding exalt thy horn for thee?
POLYNEICES Poverty is a curse; breeding would not find me food.
JOCASTA Man's dearest treasure then, it seems, is his country.
POLYNEICES No words of thine could tell how dear.
JOCASTA How was it thou didst go to Argos? what was thy scheme?
POLYNEICES I know not; the deity summoned me thither in accordance
with my destiny.
JOCASTA He doubtless had some wise design; but how didst thou win
POLYNEICES Loxias had given Adrastus an oracle.
JOCASTA What was it? what meanest thou? I cannot guess.
POLYNEICES That he should wed his daughters to a boar and a lion.
JOCASTA What hadst thou, my son, to do with the name of beasts?
POLYNEICES It was night when I reached the porch of Adrastus.
JOCASTA In search of a resting-place, or wandering thither in thy
POLYNEICES Yes, I wandered thither; and so did another like me.
JOCASTA Who was he? he too it seems was in evil plight.
POLYNEICES Tydeus, son of Oeneus, was his name.
JOCASTA But why did Adrastus liken you to wild beasts?
POLYNEICES Because we came to blows about our bed.
JOCASTA Was it then that the son of Talaus understood the oracle?
POLYNEICES Yes, and he gave to us his daughters twain.
JOCASTA Art thou blest or curst in thy marriage?
POLYNEICES As yet I have no fault to find with it.
JOCASTA How didst thou persuade an army to follow thee hither?
POLYNEICES To me and to Tydeus who is my kinsman by marriage, Adrastus
sware an oath, even to the husbands of his daughters twain, that he
would restore us both to our country, but me the first. So many a
chief from Argos and Mycenae has joined me, doing me a bitter though
needful service, for 'tis against my own city I am marching. Now I
call heaven to witness, that it is not willingly I have raised my
arm against parents whom I love full well. But to thee, mother, it
belongs to dissolve this unhappy feud, and, by reconciling brothers
in love, to end my troubles and thine and this whole city's. 'Tis
an old-world maxim, but I will cite it for all that: "Men set most
store by wealth, and of all things in this world it hath the greatest
power." This am I come to secure at the head of my countless host;
for good birth is naught if poverty go with it.
LEADER Lo! Eteocles comes hither to discuss the truce. Thine the
task, mother Jocasta, to speak such words as may reconcile thy sons.
(ETEOCLES and his retinue enter.)
ETEOCLES Mother, I am here; but it was only to pleasure thee I came.
What am to do? Let some one begin the conference; for I stopped marshalling
the citizens in double lines around the walls, that I might hear thy
arbitration. between us; for it is under this truce that thou hast
persuaded me to admit this fellow within the walls.
JOCASTA Stay a moment; haste never carries justice with it; but slow
deliberation oft attains a wise result. Restrain the fierceness of
thy look, that panting rage; for this is not the Gorgon's severed
head but thy own brother whom thou seest here. Thou too, Polyneices,
turn and face thy brother; for if thou and he stand face to face,
thou wilt adopt a kindlier tone and lend a readier ear to him. I fain
would give you both one piece of wholesome counsel; when a man that
is angered with his friend confronts him face to face, he ought only
to keep in view the object of his coming, forgetting all previous
quarrels. Polyneices my son, speak first, for thou art come at the
head of a Danaid host, alleging wrongful treatment; and may some god
judge betwixt us and reconcile the trouble.
POLYNEICES The words of truth are simple, and justice needs no subtle
interpretations, for it hath a fitness in itself; but the words of
injustice, being rotten in themselves, require clever treatment. I
provided for his interests and mine in our father's palace, being
anxious to avoid the curse which Oedipus once uttered against us;
of my own free-will I left the land, allowing him to rule our country
for one full year, on condition that I should then take the sceptre
in turn, instead of plunging into deadly enmity and thereby doing
others hurt or suffering it myself, as is now the case. But he, after
consenting to this and calling the gods to witness his oath, has performed
none of his promises, but is still keeping the sovereignty in his
own hands together with my share of our heritage. Even now am I ready
to take my own and dismiss my army from this land, receiving my house
in turn to dwell therein, and once more restore it to him for a like
period instead of ravaging our country and planting scaling-ladders
against the towers, as I shall attempt to do if I do not get my rights.
Wherefore I call the gods to witness that spite of my just dealing
in everything I am being unjustly robbed of my country by most godless
fraud. Here, mother, have I stated the several points on their own
merits, without collecting words to fence them in, but urging a fair
case, I think, alike in the judgment of skilled or simple folk.
LEADER To me at least, albeit I was not born and bred in Hellas,
thy words seem full of sense.
ETEOCLES If all were at one in their ideas of honour and wisdom,
there would have been no strife to make men disagree; but, as it is,
fairness and equality have no existence in this world beyond the name;
there is really no such thing. For instance, mother, I will tell thee
this without any concealment; I would ascend to the rising of the
stars and the sun or dive beneath the earth, were I able so to do,
to win a monarch's power, the chief of things divine. Therefore, mother,
I will never yield this blessing to another, but keep it for myself;
for it were a coward's act to lose the greater and to win the less.
Besides, I blush to think that he should gain his object by coming
with arms in his hand and ravaging the land; for this were foul disgrace
to glorious Thebes, if I should yield my sceptre up to him for fear
of Argive might. He ought not, mother, to have attempted reconcilement
by armed force, for words compass everything that even the sword of
an enemy might effect. Still, if on any other terms he cares to dwell
here, he may; but the sceptre will I never willingly let go. Shall
I become his slave, when I can be his master? Never! Wherefore come
fire, come sword! harness your steeds, fill the plains with chariots,
for I will not forego my throne for him. For if we must do wrong,
to do so for a kingdom were the fairest cause, but in all else virtue
should be our aim.
LEADER Fair words are only called for when the deeds they crown are
fair; otherwise they lose their charm and offend justice.
JOCASTA Eteocles, my child, it is not all evil that attends old age;
sometimes its experience can offer sager counsel than can youth. Oh
why, my son, art thou so set upon Ambition, that worst of deities?
Forbear; that goddess knows not justice; many are the homes and cities
once prosperous that she hath entered and left after the ruin of her
votaries; she it is thou madly followest. Better far, my son, prize
Equality that ever linketh friend to friend, city to city, and allies
to each other; for Equality is man's natural law; but the less is
always in opposition to the greater, ushering in the dayspring of
dislike. For it is Equality that hath set up for man measures and
divisions of weights and hath distinguished numbers; night's sightless
orb, and radiant sun proceed upon their yearly course on equal terms,
and neither of them is envious when it has to yield. Though sun and
gloom then both are servants in man's interests, wilt not thou be
content with thy fair share of thy heritage and give the same to him?
if not, why where is justice? Why prize beyond its worth the monarch's
power, injustice in prosperity? why think so much of the admiring
glances turned on rank? Nay, 'tis vanity. Or wouldst thou by heaping
riches in thy halls, heap up toil therewith? what advantage is it?
'tis but a name; for the wise find that enough which suffices for
their wants. Man indeed hath no possessions of his own; we do but
hold a stewardship of the gods' property; and when they will, they
take it back again. Riches make no settled home, but are as transient
as the day. Come, suppose I put before thee two alternatives, whether
thou wilt rule or save thy city? Wilt thou say "Rule"?
Again, if Polyneices win the day and his Argive warriors rout the
ranks of Thebes, thou wilt see this city conquered and many a captive
maid brutally dishonoured by the foe; so will that wealth thou art
so bent on getting become a grievous bane to Thebes; but still ambition
fills thee. This I say to thee; and this to thee, Polyneices; Adrastus
hath conferred a foolish favour on thee; and thou too hast shown little
sense in coming to lay thy city waste. Suppose thou conquer this land
(which Heaven forefend!) tell me, I conjure thee, how wilt thou rear
a trophy to Zeus? how wilt thou begin the sacrifice after thy country's
conquest or inscribe the spoils at the streams of Inachus with "Polyneices
gave Thebes to the flames and dedicated these shields to the gods"?
Oh! never, my son, be it thine to win such fame from Hellas! If, on
the other hand, thou art worsted and thy brother's cause prevail,
how shalt thou return to Argos, leaving countless dead behind? Some
one will be sure to say, "Out on thee! Adrastus, for the evil bridegroom
thou hast brought unto thy house; thanks to one maid's marriage, ruin
is come on us."
Towards two evils, my son, art thou hasting,-loss of influence there
and ruin in the midst of thy efforts here. Oh! my children, lay aside
your violence; two men's follies, once they meet, result in very deadly
LEADER O heaven, avert these troubles and reconcile the sons of Oedipus
in some way!
ETEOCLES Mother, the season for parley is past; the time we still
delay is idle waste; thy good wishes are of no avail, for we shall
never be reconciled except upon the terms already named, namely, that
I should keep the sceptre and be king of this land: wherefore cease
these tedious warnings and let me be. (Turning to POLYNEICES) And
as for thee, outside the walls, or die!
POLYNEICES Who will slay me? who is so invulnerable as to plunge
his sword in my body without reaping the self-same fate?
ETEOCLES Thou art near him, aye, very near; dost see my arm?
POLYNEICES I see it; but wealth is cowardly, a craven too fond of
ETEOCLES Was it then to meet a dastard thou camest with all that
host to war?
POLYNEICES In a general caution is better than foolhardiness.
ETEOCLES Relying on the truce, which saves thy life, thou turnest
POLYNEICES Once more I ask thee to restore my sceptre and share in
ETEOCLES I have naught to restore; 'tis my own house, and I will
POLYNEICES What! and keep more than thy share?
ETEOCLES Yes, I will. Begone!
POLYNEICES O altars of my fathers' gods!-
ETEOCLES Which thou art here to raze.
POLYNEICES Hear me.
ETEOCLES Who would hear thee after thou hast marched against thy
POLYNEICES O temples of those gods that ride on snow-white steeds!
ETEOCLES They hate thee.
POLYNEICES I am being driven from my country.
ETEOCLES Because thou camest to drive others thence.
POLYNEICES Unjustly, O ye gods!
ETEOCLES Call on the gods at Mycenae, not here.
POLYNEICES Thou hast outraged right-
ETEOCLES But I have not like thee become my country's foe.
POLYNEICES By driving me forth without my portion.
ETEOCLES And further I will slay thee.
POLYNEICES O father, dost thou hear what I am suffering?
ETEOCLES Yea, and he hears what thou art doing.
POLYNEICES Thou too, mother mine?
ETEOCLES Thou hast no right to mention thy mother.
POLYNEICES O my city!
ETEOCLES Get thee to Argos, and invoke the waters of Lerna.
POLYNEICES I will; trouble not thyself; all thanks to thee though,
ETEOCLES Forth from the land!
POLYNEICES I go, yet grant me to behold my father.
ETEOCLES Thou shalt not have thy wish.
POLYNEICES At least then my tender sisters.
ETEOCLES No! them too thou shalt never see.
POLYNEICES Ah, sisters mine!
ETEOCLES Why dost thou, their bitterest foe, call on them?
POLYNEICES Mother dear, to thee at least farewell!
JOCASTA A joyous faring mine in sooth, my son!
POLYNEICES Thy son no more!
JOCASTA Born to sorrow, endless sorrow, I!
POLYNEICES 'Tis because my brother treats me despitefully.
ETEOCLES I am treated just the same.
POLYNEICES Where wilt thou be stationed before the towers?
ETEOCLES Why ask me this?
POLYNEICES I will array myself against thee for thy death.
ETEOCLES I too have the same desire.
JOCASTA Woe is me! what will ye do, my sons?
POLYNEICES The event will show.
JOCASTA Oh, fly your father's curse!
(JOCASTA enters the palace.)
ETEOCLES Destruction seize our whole house!
POLYNEICES Soon shall my sword be busy, plunged in gore. But I call
my native land and heaven too to witness, with what contumely and
bitter treatment I am being driven forth, as though I were a slave,
not a son of Oedipus as much as he. If aught happen to thee, my city,
blame him, not me; for I came not willingly, and all unwillingly am
I driven hence. Farewell, king Phoebus, lord of highways; farewell
palace and comrades; farewell ye statues of the gods, at which men
offer sheep; for I know not if shall ever again address you, though
hope is still awake, which makes me confident that with heaven's help
I shall slay this fellow and rule my native Thebes.
ETEOCLES Forth from the land! 'twas a true name our father gave thee,
when, prompted by some god, he called thee Polyneices, a name denoting
CHORUS (singing, strophe)
To this land came Cadmus of Tyre, at whose feet an unyoked heifer
threw itself down, giving effect to an oracle on the spot where the
god's response bade him take up his abode in Aonia's rich cornlands,
where gushing Dirce's fair rivers of water pour o'er verdant fruitful
fields; here was born the Bromian god by her whom Zeus made a mother,
round whom the ivy twined its wreaths while he was yet a babe, swathing
him amid the covert of its green foliage as child of happy destiny,
to be a theme for Bacchic revelry among the maids and wives inspired
There lay Ares' murderous dragon, a savage warder, watching with
roving eye the watered glens and quickening streams; him did Cadmus
slay with a jagged stone, when he came thither to draw him lustral
water, smiting that fell head with a blow of his death-dealing arm;
but by the counsel of Pallas, motherless goddess, he cast the teeth
upon the earth into deep furrows, whence sprang to sight mail-clad
host above the surface of the soil; but grim slaughter once again
united them to the earth they loved, bedewing with blood the ground
that had disclosed them to the sunlit breath of heaven.
Thee too, Epaphus, child of Zeus, sprung from Io our ancestress,
call on in my foreign tongue; all hail to thee! hear my prayer uttered
in accents strange, and visit this land; 'twas in thy honour thy descendants
settled here, and those goddesses of twofold name, Persephone and
kindly Demeter or Earth the queen of all, that feedeth every mouth,
won it for themselves; send to the help of this land those torch-bearing
queens; for to gods all things are easy.
ETEOCLES (to an attendant) Go, fetch Creon son of Menoeceus, the
brother of jocasta my mother; tell him I fain would confer with him
on matters affecting our public and private weal, before we set out
to battle and the arraying of our host. But lo! he comes and saves
thee the trouble of going; I see him on his way to my palace.
CREON To and fro have I been, king Eteocles, in my desire to see
thee, and have gone all round the gates and sentinels of Thebes in
quest of thee.
ETEOCLES Why, and I was anxious to see thee, Creon; for I found the
terms of peace far from satisfactory, when I came to confer with Polyneices.
CREON I hear that he has wider aims than Thebes, relying on his alliance
with the daughter of Adrastus and his army. Well, we must leave this
dependent on the gods; meantime I am come to tell thee our chief obstacle.
ETEOCLES What is that? I do not understand what thou sayest.
CREON There is come one that was captured by the Argives.
ETEOCLES What news does he bring from their camp?
CREON He says the Argive army intend at once to draw a ring of troops
round the city of Thebes, about its towers.
ETEOCLES In that case the city of Cadmus must lead out its troops.
CREON Whither? art thou so young that thine eyes see not what they
ETEOCLES Across yon trenches for immediate action.
CREON Our Theban forces are small, while theirs are numberless.
ETEOCLES I well know they are reputed brave.
CREON No mean repute have those Argives among Hellenes.
ETEOCLES Never fear! I will soon fill the plain with their dead.
CREON I could wish it so; but I see great difficulties in this.
ETEOCLES Trust me, I will not keep my host within the walls.
CREON Still victory is entirely a matter of good counsel.
ETEOCLES Art anxious then that I should have recourse to any other
CREON Aye to every scheme, before running the risk once for all.
ETEOCLES Suppose we fall on them by night from ambuscade?
CREON Good! provided in the event of defeat thou canst secure thy
ETEOCLES Night equalizes risks, though it rather favours daring.
CREON The darkness of night is a terrible time to suffer disaster.
ETEOCLES Well, shall I fall upon them as they sit at meat?
CREON That might cause them fright, but victory is what we want.
ETEOCLES Dirce's ford is deep enough to prevent their retreat.
CREON No plan so good as to keep well guarded.
ETEOCLES What if our cavalry make a sortie against the host of Argos?
CREON Their troops too are fenced all round with chariots.
ETEOCLES What then can I do? am I to surrender the city to the foe?
CREON Nay, nay! but of thy wisdom form some plan.
ETEOCLES Pray, what scheme is wiser than mine?
CREON They have seven chiefs, I hear.
ETEOCLES What is their appointed task? their might can be but feeble.
CREON To lead the several companies and storm our seven gates.
ETEOCLES What are we to do? I will not wait till every chance is
CREON Choose seven chiefs thyself to set against them at the gates.
ETEOCLES To lead our companies, or to fight single-handed?
CREON Choose our very bravest men to lead the troops.
ETEOCLES I understand; to repel attempts at scaling our walls.
CREON With others to share the command, for one man sees not everything.
ETEOCLES Selecting them for courage or thoughtful prudence?
CREON For both; for one is naught without the other.
ETEOCLES It shall be done; I will away to our seven towers and post
captains at the gates, as thou advisest, pitting them man for man
against the foe. To tell thee each one's name were grievous waste
of time, when the foe is camped beneath our very walls. But I will
go, that my hands may no longer hang idle. May I meet my brother face
to face, and encounter him hand to hand, e'en to the death, for coming
to waste my country! But if I suffer any mischance, thou must see
to the marriage 'twixt Antigone my sister and Haemon, thy son; and
now, as I go forth to battle, I ratify their previous espousal. Thou
art my mother's brother, so why need I say more? take care of her,
as she deserves, both for thy own sake and mine. As for my sire he
hath been guilty of folly against himself in putting out his eyes;
small praise have I for him; by his curses maybe he will slay us too.
One thing only have we still to do, to ask Teiresias, the seer, if
he has aught to tell of heaven's will. Thy son Menoeceus, who bears
thy father's name, will I send to fetch Teiresias hither, Creon; for
with the he will readily converse, though I have ere now so scorned
his art prophetic to his face, that he has reasons to reproach me.
This commandment, Creon, I lay upon the city and thee; should my cause
prevail, never give Polyneices' corpse a grave in Theban soil, and
if so be some friend should bury him, let death reward the man. Thus
far to thee; and to my servants thus, bring forth my arms and coat
of mail, that I may start at once for the appointed combat, with right
to lead to victory. To save our city we will pray to Caution, the
best goddess to serve our end.
(ETEOCLES and his retinue go out.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe)
O Ares, god of toil and trouble! why, why art thou possessed by love
of blood and death, out of harmony with the festivals of Bromius?
'Tis for no crowns of dancers fair that thou dost toss thy youthful
curls to the breeze, singing the while to the lute's soft breath a
strain to charm the dancers' feet; but with warriors clad in mail
thou dost lead thy sombre revelry, breathing into Argive breasts lust
for Theban blood; with no wild waving of the thyrsus, clad in fawnskin
thou dancest, but with chariots and bitted steeds wheelest thy charger
strong of hoof. O'er the waters of Ismenus in wild career thou art
urging thy horses, inspiring Argive breasts with hate of the earth-born
race, arraying in brazen harness against these stone-built walls a
host of warriors armed with shields. Truly Strife is a goddess to
fear, who devised these troubles for the princes of this land, for
the much-enduring sons of Labdacus.
O Cithaeron, apple of the eye of Artemis, holy vale of leaves, amid
whose snows full many a beast lies couched, would thou hadst never
reared the child exposed to die, Oedipus the fruit of Jocasta's womb,
when as a babe he was cast forth from his home, marked with golden
brooch; and would the Sphinx, that winged maid, fell monster from
the hills, had never come to curse our land with inharmonious strains;
she that erst drew nigh our walls and snatched the sons of Cadmus
away in her taloned feet to the pathless fields of light, a fiend
sent by Hades from hell to plague the men of Thebes; once more unhappy
strife is bursting out between the sons of Oedipus in city and home.
For never can wrong be right, nor children of unnatural parentage
come as a glory to the mother that bears them, but as a stain on the
marriage of him who is father and brother at once.
O earth, thou once didst bear,-so long ago I heard the story told
by foreigners in my own home,-a race which sprang of the teeth of
a snake with blood-red crest, that fed on beasts, to be the glory
and reproach of Thebes. In days gone by the sons of heaven came to
the wedding of Harmonia, and the walls of Thebes arose to the sound
of the lyre and her towers stood up as Amphion played, in the midst
between the double streams of Dirce, that watereth the green meadows
fronting the Ismenus; and Io, our horned ancestress was mother of
the kings of Thebes; thus our city through an endless succession of
divers blessings has set herself upon the highest pinnacle of martial
(TEIRESIAS enters, led by his daughter. They are accompanied
TEIRESIAS Lead on, my daughter; for thou art as an eye to my blind
feet, as certain as a star to mariners; lead my steps on to level
ground; then go before, that we stumble not, for thy father has no
strength; keep safe for me in thy maiden hand the auguries I took
in the days I observed the flight and cries of birds seated in my
holy prophet's chair. Tell me, young Menoeceus, son of Creon, how
much further toward the city is it ere reach thy father? for my knees
grow weary, and I can scarce keep up this hurried pace.
CREON Take heart, Teiresias, for thou hast reached thy moorings and
art near thy friends; take him by the hand, my child; for just as
every carriage has to wait for outside help to steady it, so too hath
the step of age.
TEIRESIAS Enough; I have arrived; why, Creon, dost thou summon me
CREON I have not forgotten that; but first collect thyself and regain
breath, shaking off the fatigue of thy journey.
TEIRESIAS I am indeed worn out, having arrived here only yesterday
from the court of the Erechtheidae; for they too were at war, fighting
with Eumolpus, in which contest I insured the victory of Cecrops'
sons; and I received the golden crown, which thou seest me wearing,
as first-fruits of the enemy's spoil.
CREON I take thy crown of victory as an omen. We, as thou knowest,
are exposed to the billows of an Argive war, and great is the struggle
for Thebes. Eteocles, our king, is already gone in full harness to
meet Mycenae's champions, and hath bidden me inquire of thee our best
course to save the city.
TEIRESIAS For Eteocles I would have closed my lips and refrained
from all response, but to thee I will speak, since 'tis thy wish to
learn. This country, Creon, has been long afflicted, ever since Laius
became a father in heaven's despite, begetting hapless Oedipus to
be his own mother's husband. That bloody outrage on his eyes was planned
by heaven as an ensample to Hellas; and the sons of Oedipus made a
gross mistake in wishing to throw over it the veil of time, as if
forsooth they could outrun the gods' decree; for by robbing their
father of his due honour and allowing him no freedom, they enraged
their luckless sire; so he, stung by suffering and disgrace as well,
vented awful curses against them; and I, because I left nothing undone
or unsaid to prevent this, incurred the hatred of the sons of Oedipus.
But death inflicted by each other's hands awaits them, Creon; and
the many heaps of slain, some from Argive, some from Theban missiles,
shall cause bitter lamentation in the land of Thebes. Alas! for thee,
poor city, thou art being involved in their ruin, unless I can persuade
one man. The best course was to prevent any child of Oedipus becoming
either citizen or king in this land, since they were under a ban and
would overthrow the city. But as evil has the mastery of good, there
is still one other way of safety; but this it were unsafe for me to
tell, and painful too for those whose high fortune it is to supply
their city witb the saving cure. Farewell! I will away; amongst the
rest must I endure my doom, if need be; for what will become of me?
CREON Stay here, old man.
TEIRESIAS Hold me not.
CREON Abide, why dost thou seek to fly?
TEIRESIAS 'Tis thy fortune that flies thee, not I.
CREON Tell me what can save Thebes and her citizens.
TEIRESIAS Though this be now thy wish, it will soon cease to be.
CREON Not wish to save my country? how can that be?
TEIRESIAS Art thou still eager to be told?
CREON Yea; for wherein should I show greater zeal?
TEIRESIAS Then straightway shalt thou hear my words prophetic. But
first would fain know for certain where Menoeceus is, who led me hither.
CREON Here, not far away, but at thy side.
TEIRESIAS Let him retire far from my prophetic voice.
CREON He is my own son and will preserve due silence.
TEIRESIAS Wilt thou then that I tell thee in his presence?
CREON Yea, for he will rejoice to hear the means of safety.
TEIRESIAS Then hear the purport of my oracle, the which if ye observe
ye shall save the city of Cadmus. Thou must sacrifice Menoeceus thy
son here for thy country, since thine own lips demand the voice of
CREON What mean'st thou? what is this thou hast said, old man?
TEIRESIAS To that which is to be thou also must conform.
CREON O the eternity of woe thy minute's tale proclaims!
TEIRESIAS Yes to thee, but to thy country great salvation.
CREON I shut my ears; I never listened; to city now farewell!
TEIRESIAS Ha! the man is changed; he is drawing back.
CREON Go in peace; it is not thy prophecy I need.
TEIRESIAS Is truth dead, because thou art curst with woe?
CREON By thy knees and honoured locks I implore thee!
TEIRESIAS Why implore me? thou art craving a calamity hard to guard
CREON Keep silence; tell not the city thy news.
TEIRESIAS Thou biddest me act unjustly; I will not hold my peace.
CREON What wilt thou then do to me? slay my child?
TEIRESIAS That is for others to decide; I have but to speak.
CREON Whence came this curse on me and my son?
TEIRESIAS Thou dost right to ask me and to test what I have said.
In yonder lair, where the earth-born dragon kept watch and ward o'er
Dirce's springs, must this youth be offered and shed his life-blood
on the ground by reason of Ares' ancient grudge against Cadmus, who
thus avenges the slaughter of his earth-born snake. If ye do this,
ye shall win Ares as an ally; and if the earth receive crop for crop
and human blood for blood, ye shall find her kind again, that erst
to your sorrow reared from that dragon's seed a crop of warriors with
golden casques; for needs must one sprung from the dragon's teeth
be slain. Now thou art our only survivor of the seed of that sown
race, whose lineage is pure alike on mother's and on father's side,
thou and these thy sons. Haemon's marriage debars him from being the
victim, for he is no longer single; for even if he have not consummated
his marriage, yet is he betrothed; but this tender youth, consecrated
to the city's service, might by dying rescue his country; and bitter
will he make the return of Adrastus and his Argives, flinging o'er
their eyes death's dark pall, and will glorify Thebes. Choose thee
one of these alternatives; either save the city or thy son.
Now hast thou all I have to say. Daughter, lead me home. A fool, the
man who practises the diviner's art; for if he should announce an
adverse answer, he makes himself disliked by those who seek to him;
while, if from pity he deceives those who are consulting him, he sins
against Heaven. Phoebus should have been man's only prophet, for he
fears no man.
(His daughter leads TEIRESIAS out.)
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Why so silent, Creon, why are thy lips hushed
and dumb? I too am no less stricken with dismay.
CREON Why, what could one say? 'Tis clear what my words must be.
For will never plunge myself so deeply into misfortune as to devote
my son to death for the city; for love of children binds all men to
life, and none would resign his own son to die. Let no man praise
me into slaying my children. I am ready to die myself-for I am ripe
in years-to set my country free. But thou, my son, ere the whole city
learn this, up and fly with all haste away from this land, regardless
of these prophets' unbridled utterances; for he will go to the seven
gates and the captains there and tell all this to our governors and
leaders; now if we can forestall him, thou mayst be saved, but if
thou art too late, we are undone and thou wilt die.
MENOECEUS Whither can I fly? to what city? to which of our guest-friends?
CREON Fly where thou wilt be furthest removed from this land.
MENOECEUS 'Tis for thee to name a place, for me to carry out thy
CREON After passing Delphi-
MENOECEUS Whither must I go, father?
CREON To Aetolia.
MENOECEUS Whither thence?
CREON To the land of Thesprotia.
MENOECEUS To Dodona's hallowed threshold?
CREON Thou followest me.
MENOECEUS What protection shall I find me there?
CREON The god will send thee on thy way.
MENOECEUS How shall I find the means?
CREON I will supply thee with money.
MENOECEUS A good plan of thine, father. So go; for I will to thy
sister, Jocasta, at whose breast I was suckled as a babe when reft
of my mother and left a lonely orphan, to give her kindly greeting
and then will I seek my safety. Come, come! be going, that there be
no hindrance on thy part. (CREON departs.) How cleverly, ladies,
I banished my father's fears by crafty words to gain my end; for he
is trying to convey me hence, depriving the city of its chance and
surrendering me to cowardice. Though an old man may be pardoned, yet
in my case there is no excuse for betraying the country that gave
me birth. So I will go and save the city, be assured thereof, and
give my life up for this land. For this were shame, that they whom
no oracles bind and who have not come under Fate's iron law, should
stand there, shoulder to shoulder, with never a fear of death, and
fight for their country before her towers, while I escape the kingdom
like a coward, a traitor to my father and brother and city; and wheresoe'er
I live, I shall appear a dastard. Nay, by Zeus and all his stars,
by Ares, god of blood, who 'stablished the warrior-crop that sprung
one day from earth as princes of this land, that shall not be! but
go I will, and standing on the topmost battlements, will deal my own
death-blow over the dragon's deep dark den, the spot the seer described,
and will set my country free. I have spoken. Now I go to make the
city a present of my life, no mean offering, to rid this kingdom of
its affliction. For if each were to take and expend all the good within
his power, contributing it to his country's weal, our states would
experience fewer troubles and would for the future prosper.
(MENOECEUS goes out.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe)
Thou cam'st, O winged fiend, spawn of earth and hellish viper-brood,
to prey upon the sons of Cadmus, rife with death and fraught with
sorrow, half a monster, half a maid, a murderous prodigy, with roving
wings and ravening claws, that in days gone by didst catch up youthful
victims from the haunts of Dirce, with discordant note, bringing a
deadly curse, a woe of bloodshed to our native land. A murderous god
he was who brought all this to pass. In every house was heard a cry
of mothers wailing and of wailing maids, lamentation and the voice
of weeping, as each took up the chant of death from street to street
in turn. Loud rang the mourners' wail, and one great cry went up,
whene'er that winged maiden bore some victim out of sight from the
At last came Oedipus, the man of sorrow, on his mission from Delphi
to this land of Thebes, a joy to them then but afterwards cause of
grief; for, when he had read the riddle triumphantly, he formed with
his mother an unhallowed union, woe to him! polluting the city; and
by his curses, luckless wight, he plunged his sons into a guilty strife,
causing them to wade through seas of blood. All reverence do we feel
for him, who is gone to his death in his country's cause, bequeathing
to Creon a legacy of tears, but destined to crown with victory our
seven fenced towers. May our motherhood be blessed with such noble
sons, O Pallas, kindly queen, who with well-aimed stone didst spill
the serpent's blood, rousing Cadmus as thou didst to brood upon the
task, whereof the issue was a demon's curse that swooped upon this
land and harried it.
(The FIRST MESSENGER enters.)
MESSENGER Ho there! who is at the palace-gates? Open the door, summon
Jocasta forth. Ho there! once again I call; spite of this long delay
come forth; hearken, noble wife of Oedipus; cease thy lamentation
and thy tears of woe.
(JOCASTA enters from the palace in answer to his call.)
JOCASTA Surely thou art not come, my friend, with the sad news of
Eteocles' death, beside whose shield thou hast ever marched, warding
from him the foeman's darts? What tidings art thou here to bring me?
Is my son alive or dead? Declare that to me.
MESSENGER To rid thee of thy fear at once, he lives; that terror
JOCASTA Next, how is it with the seven towers that wall us in?
MESSENGER They stand unshattered still; the city is not yet a prey.
JOCASTA Have they been in jeopardy of the Argive spear?
MESSENGER Aye, on the very brink; but our Theban warriors proved
too strong for Mycenae's might.
JOCASTA One thing tell me, I implore; knowest thou aught of Polyneices,
is he yet alive? for this too I long to learn.
MESSENGER As yet thy sons are living, the pair of them.
JOCASTA God bless thee! How did you succeed in beating off from our
gates the Argive hosts, when thus beleaguered? Tell me, that I may
go within and cheer the old blind man, since our city is still safe.
MESSENGER After Creon's son, who gave up life for country, had taken
his stand on the turret's top and plunged a sword dark-hilted through
his throat to save this land, thy son told off seven companies with
their captains to the seven gates to keep watch on the Argive warriors,
and stationed cavalry to cover cavalry, and infantry to support infantry,
that assistance might be close at hand for any weak point in the walls.
Then from our lofty towers we saw the Argive host with their white
shields leaving Teumessus, and, when near the trench, they charged
up to our Theban city at the double. In one loud burst from their
ranks and from our battlements rang out the battle-cry and trumpet-call.
First to the Neistian gate, Parthenopaeus, son of the huntress maid,
led a company bristling with serried shields, himself with his own
peculiar badge in the centre of his targe, Atalanta slaying the Aetolian
boar with an arrow shot from far. To the gates of Proetus came the
prophet Amphiaraus, bringing the victims on a chariot; no vaunting
blazon he carried, but weapons chastely plain. Next, prince Hippomedon
came marching to the Ogygian port with this device upon his boss,
Argus the all-seeing with his spangled eyes upon the watch whereof
some open with the rising stars, while others he closes when they
set, as one could see after he was slain. At the Homoloian gates Tydeus
was posting himself, a lion's skin with shaggy mane upon his buckler,
while in his right hand he bore a torch, like Titan Prometheus, to
fire the town. Thy own son Polyneices led the battle 'gainst the Fountain
gate; upon his shield for blazon were the steeds of Potniae galloping
at frantic speed, revolving by some clever contrivance on pivots inside
the buckler close to the handle, so as to appear distraught. At Electra's
gate famed Capaneus brought up his company, bold as Ares for the fray;
this device his buckler bore upon its iron back, an earth-born giant
carrying on his shoulders a whole city which he had wrenched from
its base, hint to us of the fate in store for Thebes. Adrastus was
stationed at the seventh gate; a hundred vipers filled his shield
with graven work, as he bore on his left arm that proud Argive badge,
the hydra, and serpents were carrying off in their jaws the sons of
Thebes from within their very walls. Now I was enabled to see each
of them, as I carried the watch-word along the line to the leaders
of our companies. To begin with, we fought with bows and thonged javelins,
with slings that shoot from far and showers of crashing stones; and
as we were conquering, Tydeus and thy son on sudden cried aloud, "Ye
sons of Argos, before being riddled by their fire, why delay to fall
upon the gates with might and main, the whole of you, light-armed
and horse and charioteers?" No loitering then, soon as they heard
that call; and many a warrior fell with bloody crown, and not a few
of us thou couldst have seen thrown to the earth like tumblers before
the walls, after they had given up the ghost, bedewing the thirsty
ground with streams of gore. Then Atalanta's son, who was not an Argive
but an Arcadian, hurling himself like a hurricane at the gates, called
for fire and picks to raze the town; but Periclymenus, son of the
ocean-god, stayed his wild career, heaving on his head a waggon-load
of stone, even the coping torn from the battlements; and it shattered
his head with the hair and crashed through the sutures of the skull,
dabbling with blood his cheek just showing manhood's flush; and never
shall he go back alive to his fair archer-mother, the maid of Maenalus.
Thy son then, seeing these gates secure, went on to the next, and
I with him. There I saw Tydeus and his serried ranks of targeteers
hurling their Aetolian spears into the opening at the top of the turrets,
with such good aim that our men fled and left the beetling battlements:
but thy son rallied them once more, as a huntsman cheers his hounds,
and made them man the towers again. And then away we hastened to other
gates, after stopping the panic there. As for the madness of Capaneus,
how am I to describe it? There was he, carrying with him a long scaling-ladder
and loudly boasting that even the awful lightning of Zeus would not
stay him from giving the city to utter destruction; and even as he
spoke, he crept up beneath the hail of stones, gathered under the
shelter of his shield, mounting from rung to rung on the smooth ladder;
but, just as he was scaling the parapet of the wall, Zeus smote him
with a thunderbolt; loud the earth re-echoed, and fear seized every
heart; for his limbs were hurled from the ladder far apart as from
a sling, his head toward the sky, his blood toward earth, while his
legs and arms went spinning round like Ixion's wheel, till his charred
corpse fell to the ground. But when Adrastus saw that Zeus was leagued
against his army, he drew the Argive troops outside the trench and
halted them. Meantime our horse, marking the lucky omen of Zeus, began
driving forth their chariots, and our men-at-arms charged into the
thick of the Argives, and everything combined to their discomfiture;
men were falling and hurled headlong from chariots, wheels flew off,
axles crashed together, while ever higher grew the heaps of slain;
so for to-day at least have we prevented the destruction of our country's
bulwarks; but whether fortune will hereafter smile upon this land,
that rests with Heaven; for, even as it is, it owes its safety to
Victory is fair; and if the gods are growing kinder, it would be well
JOCASTA Heaven and fortune smile; for my sons are yet alive and my
country hath escaped ruin. But Creon seems to have reaped the bitter
fruit of my marriage with Oedipus, by losing his son to his sorrow,
a piece of luck-for Thebes, but bitter grief to him. Prithee to thy
tale again and say what my two sons next intend.
MESSENGER Forbear to question further; all is well with thee so far.
JOCASTA Thy words but rouse my suspicions; I cannot leave it thus.
MESSENGER Hast thou any further wish than thy sons' safety?
JOCASTA Yea, I would learn whether in the sequel I am also blest.
MESSENGER Let me go; thy son is left without his squire.
JOCASTA There is some evil thou art hiding, veiling it in darkness.
MESSENGER Maybe; I would not add ill news to the good thou hast heard.
JOCASTA Thou must, unless thou take wings and fly away.
MESSENGER Ah! why didst thou not let me go after announcing my good
news, instead of forcing me to disclose evil? Those two sons of thine
are resolved on deeds of shameful recklessness, a single combat apart
from the host, addressing to Argives and Thebans alike words I would
they had never uttered. Eteocles, taking his stand on a lofty tower,
after ordering silence to be proclaimed to the army, began on this
wise, "Ye captains of Hellas, chieftains of Argos here assembled,
and ye folk of Cadmus, barter not your lives for Polyneices or for
me! For I myself excuse you from this risk, and will engage my brother
in single combat; and if I slay him, will possess my palace without
rival, but if I am worsted I will bequeath the city to him. Ye men
of Argos, give up the struggle and return to your land, nor lose your
lives here; of the earth-sown folk as well there are dead enough in
those already slain."
So he; then thy son Polyneices rushed from the array and assented
to his proposal; and all the Argives and the people of Cadmus shouted
their approval, as though they deemed it just. On these terms the
armies made a truce, and in the space betwixt them took an oath of
each other for their leaders to abide by. Forthwith in brazen mail
those two sons of aged Oedipus were casing themselves; and lords of
Thebes with friendly care equipped the captain of this land, while
Argive chieftains armed the other. There they stood in dazzling sheen,
neither blenching, all eagerness to hurl their lances each at the
other. Then came their friends to their side, first one, then another,
with words of encouragement, to wit:
"Polyneices, it rests with thee to set up an image of Zeus as a trophy,
and crown Argos with fair renown."
Others hailed Eteocles: "Now art thou fighting for thy city; now,
if victorious, thou hast the sceptre in thy power."
So spake they, cheering them to the fray.
Meantime the seers were sacrificing sheep and noting the tongues and
forks of fire, the damp reek which is a bad omen, and the tapering
flame, which gives decisions on two points, being both a sign of victory
and defeat. But, if thou hast any power or subtle speech or charmed
spell, go, stay thy children from this fell affray, for great is the
risk they run. The issue thereof will be grievous sorrow for thee,
if to-day thou art reft of both thy sons.
(The MESSENGER departs in haste as ANTIGONE comes out of the palace.)
JOCASTA Antigone, my daughter, come forth before the palace; this
heaven-sent crisis is no time for thee to be dancing or amusing thyself
with girlish pursuits. But thou and thy mother must prevent two gallant
youths, thy own brothers, from plunging into death and falling by
each other's hand.
ANTIGONE Mother mine, what new terror art thou proclaiming to thy
dear ones before the palace?
JOCASTA Daughter, thy brothers are in danger of their life.
ANTIGONE What mean'st thou?
JOCASTA They have resolved on single combat.
ANTIGONE O horror! what hast thou to tell, mother?
JOCASTA No welcome news; follow me.
ANTIGONE Whither away from my maiden-bower?
JOCASTA To the army.
ANTIGONE I cannot face the crowd.
JOCASTA Modesty is not for thee now.
ANTIGONE But what can I do?
JOCASTA Thou shalt end thy brothers' strife.
ANTIGONE By what means, mother mine?
JOCASTA By falling at their knees with me.
ANTIGONE Lead on till we are 'twixt the armies; no time for lingering
JOCASTA Haste, my daughter, haste! For, if I can forestall the onset
of my sons, may yet live; but if they be dead, I will lay me down
and die with them.
(JOCASTA and ANTIGONE hurriedly depart.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe)
Ah me! my bosom thrills with terror; and through my flesh there passes
a throb of pity for the hapless mother. Which of her two sons will
send the other to a bloody grave? ah, woe is me! O Zeus, O earth,
alas! brother severing brother's throat and robbing him of life, cleaving
through his shield to spill his blood? Ah me! ah me! which of them
will claim my dirge of death?
Woe unto thee, thou land of Thebes! two savage beasts, two murderous
souls, with brandished spears will soon be draining each his fallen
foeman's gore. Woe is them, that they ever thought of single combat!
in foreign accent will I chant a dirge of tears and wailing in mourning
for the dead. Close to murder stands their fortune; the coming day
will decide it. Fatal, ah! fatal will this slaughter be, because of
the avenging fiends.
But I see Creon on his way hither to the palace with brow o'ercast;
I will check my present lamentations.
(CREON enters. He is followed by attendants carrying the body of MENOECEUS.)
CREON Ah me! what shall I do? Am I to mourn with bitter tears myself
or my city, round which is settling a swarm thick enough to send us
to Acheron? My own son hath died for his country, bringing glory to
his name but grievous woe to me. His body I rescued but now from the
dragon's rocky lair and sadly carried the self-slain victim hither
in my arms; and my house is fallen with weeping: but now I come to
fetch my sister Jocasta, the living must reverence the nether god
by paying honour to the dead.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Thy sister, Creon, hath gone forth and her daughter
Antigone went with her.
CREON Whither went she? and wherefore? tell me.
LEADER She heard that her sons were about to engage in single combat
for the royal house.
CREON What is this? I was paying the last honours to my dead son,
and so am late in learning this fresh sorrow.
LEADER 'Tis some time, Creon, since thy sister's departure, and I
expect the struggle for life and death is already decided by the sons
CREON Alas! I see an omen there, the gloomy look and clouded brow
of yonder messenger coming to tell us the whole matter. (The SECOND
MESSENGER Ah, woe is me! what language can I find to tell my tale?
CREON Our fate is sealed; thy opening words do naught to reassure
MESSENGER Ah, woe is me! I do repeat; for beside the scenes of woe
already enacted I bring tidings of new horror.
CREON What is thy tale?
MESSENGER Thy sister's sons are now no more, Creon.
CREON Alas! thou hast a heavy tale of woe for me and Thebes
LEADER O house of Oedipus, hast thou heard these tidings?
CREON Of sons slain by the self-same fate.
LEADER A tale to make it weep, were it endowed with sense.
CREON Oh! most grievous stroke of fate! woe is me for my sorrows!
MESSENGER Woe indeed! didst thou but know the sorrows still to tell.
CREON How can they be more hard to bear than these?
MESSENGER With her two sons thy sister has sought her death.
CHORUS (chanting) Loudly, loudly raise the wail, and with white
hands smite upon your heads!
CREON Ah! woe is thee, Jocasta! what an end to life and marriage
hast thou found the riddling of the Sphinx! But tell me how her two
sons wrought the bloody deed, the struggle caused by the curse of
MESSENGER Of our successes before the towers thou knowest, for the
walls are not so far away as to prevent thy learning each event as
it occurred. Now when they, the sons of aged Oedipus, had donned their
brazen mail, they went and took their stand betwixt the hosts, chieftains
both and generals too, to decide the day by single combat. Then Polyneices,
turning his eyes towards Argos, lifted up a prayer; "O Hera, awful
queens-for thy servant I am, since I have wedded the daughter of Adrastus
and dwell in his land,-grant that I may slay my brother, and stain
my lifted hand with the blood of my conquered foe. A shameful prize
it is I ask, my own brother's blood." And to many an eye the tear
would rise at their sad fate, and men looked at one another, casting
their glances round.
But Eteocles, looking towards the temple of Pallas with the golden
shield, prayed thus, "Daughter of Zeus, grant that this right arm
may launch the spear of victory against my brother's breast and slay
him who hath come to sack my country." Soon as the Tuscan trumpet
blew, the signal for the bloody fray, like the torch that falls,'
they darted wildly at one another and, like boars whetting their savage
tusks, began the fray, their beards wet with foam; and they kept shooting
out their spears, but each crouched beneath his shield to let the
steel glance idly off; but if either saw the other's face above the
rim, he would aim his lance thereat, eager to outwit him.
But both kept such careful outlook through the spy-holes in their
shields, that their weapons found naught to do; while from the on-lookers
far more than the combatants trickled the sweat caused by terror for
their friends. Suddenly Eteocles, in kicking aside a stone that rolled
beneath his tread, exposed a limb outside his shield, and Polyneices
seeing a chance of dealing him a blow, aimed a dart at it, and the
Argive shaft went through his leg; whereat the Danai, one and all,
cried out for joy. But the wounded man, seeing a shoulder unguarded
in this effort, plunged his spear with all his might into the breast
of Polyneices, restoring gladness to the citizens of Thebes, though
he brake off the spear-head; and so, at a loss for a weapon, he retreated
foot by foot, till catching up splintered rock he let it fly and shivered
the other's spear; and now was the combat equal, for each had lost
his lance. Then clutching their sword-hilts they closed, and round
and round, with shields close-locked, they waged their wild warfare.
Anon Eteocles introduced that crafty Thessalian trick, having some
knowledge thereof from his intercourse with that country; disengaging
himself from the immediate contest, he drew back his left foot but
kept his eye closely on the pit of the other's stomach from a distance;
then advancing his right foot he plunged his weapon through his navel
and fixed it in his spine. Down falls Polyneices, blood-bespattered,
ribs and belly contracting in his agony. But that other, thinking
his victory now complete, threw down his sword and set to spoiling
him, wholly intent thereon, without a thought for himself. And this
indeed was his ruin; for Polyneices, who had fallen first, was still
faintly breathing, and having in his grievous fall retained his sword,
he made last effort and drove it through the heart of Eteocles. There
they lie, fallen side by side, biting the dust with their teeth, without
having decided the mastery.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Ah, woe is thee! Oedipus, for thy sorrows! how
I pity thee! Heaven, it seems, has fulfilled those curses of thine.
MESSENGER Now hear what further woes succeeded. Just as her two sons
had fallen and lay dying, comes their wretched mother on the scene,
her daughter with her, in hot haste; and when she saw their mortal
wounds, "Too late," she moaned, "my sons, the help I bring"; and throwing
herself on each in turn she wept and wailed, sorrowing o'er all her
toil in suckling them; and so too their sister, who was with her,
"Supporters of your mother's age I dear brothers, leaving me forlorn,
unwed!" Then prince Eteocles with one deep dying gasp, hearing his
mother's cry, laid on her his moist hand, and though he could not
say a word, his tear-filled eyes were eloquent to prove his love.
But Polyneices was still alive, and seeing his sister and his aged
mother he said, "Mother mine, our end is come; I pity thee and my
sister Antigone and my dead brother. For I loved him though he turned
my foe, I loved him, yes! in spite of all. Bury me, mother mine, and
thou, my sister dear, in my native soil; pacify the city's wrath that
may get at least that much of my own fatherland, although I lost my
home. With thy hand, mother, close mine eyes (therewith he himself
places her fingers on the lids) ; and fare ye well; for already the
darkness wraps me round."
So both at once breathed out their life of sorrow. But when their
mother saw this sad mischance, in her o'ermastering grief she snatched
from a corpse its sword and wrought an awful deed, driving the steel
right through her throat; and there she lies, dead with the dead she
loved so well, her arms thrown round them both.
Thereon the host sprang to their feet and fell to wrangling, we maintaining
that victory rested with my master, they with theirs; and amid our
leaders the contention raged, some holding that Polyneices gave the
first wound with his spear, others that, as both were dead, victory
rested with neither. Meantime Antigone crept away from the host; and
those others rushed to their weapons, but by some lucky forethought
the folk of Cadmus had sat down under arms; and by a sudden attack
we surprised the Argive host before it was fully equipped. Not one
withstood our onset, and they filled the plain with fugitives, while
blood was streaming from the countless dead our spears had slain.
Soon as victory crowned our warfare, some began to rear an image to
Zeus for the foe's defeat, others were stripping the Argive dead of
their shields and sending their spoils inside the battlements; and
others with Antigone are bringing her dead brothers hither for their
friends to mourn. So the result of this struggle to our city hovers
between the two extremes of good and evil fortune.
(The MESSENGER goes out.)
CHORUS (chanting) No longer do the misfortunes of this house extend
to hearsay only; three corpses of the slain lie here at the palace
for all to see, who by one common death have passed to their life
of gloom. (During the lament, ANTIGONE enters, followed by servants
who hear the bodies Of JOCASTA, ETEOCLES, and POLYNEICES.)
ANTIGONE (chanting) No veil I draw o'er my tender cheek shaded with
its clustering curls; no shame I feel from maiden modesty at the hot
blood mantling 'neath my eyes, the blush upon my face, as I hurry
wildly on in death's train, casting from my hair its tire and letting
my delicate robe of saffron hue fly loose, a tearful escort to the
dead. Ah me!
Woe to thee, Polyneices! rightly named, I trow; woe to thee, Thebes!
no mere strife to end in strife was thine; but murder completed by
murder hath brought the house of Oedipus to ruin with bloodshed dire
and grim. O my home, my home! what minstrel can I summon from the
dead to chant a fitting dirge o'er my tearful fate, as I bear these
three corpses of my kin, my mother and her sons, welcome sight to
the avenging fiend that destroyed the house of Oedipus, root and branch,
in the hour that his shrewdness solved the Sphinx's riddling rhyme
and slew that savage songstress. Woe is me! my father! what other
Hellene or barbarian, what noble soul among the bygone tribes of man's
poor mortal race ever endured the anguish of such visible afflictions?
Ah! poor maid, how piteous is thy plaint! What bird from its covert
'mid the leafy oak or soaring pine-tree's branch will come to mourn
with me, the maid left motherless, with cries of woe, lamenting, ere
it comes, the piteous lonely life, that henceforth must be always
mine with tears that ever stream? On which of these corpses shall
I throw my offerings first, plucking the hair from my head? on the
breast of the mother that suckled me, or beside the ghastly death-wounds
of my brothers' corpses? Woe to thee, Oedipus, my aged sire with sightless
orbs, leave thy roof, disclose the misery of thy life, thou that draggest
out a weary existence within the house, having cast a mist of darkness
o'er thine eyes. Dost hear, thou whose aged step now gropes its way
across the court, now seeks repose on wretched pallet couch?
(OEDIPUS enters from the palace. He chants the following lines
responsively with ANTIGONE.)
OEDIPUS Why, daughter, hast thou dragged me to the light, supporting
my blind footsteps from the gloom of my chamber, where I lie upon
my bed and make piteous moan, a hoary sufferer, invisible as a phantom
of the air, or as a spirit from the pit, or as a dream that flies?
ANTIGONE Father, there are tidings of sorrow for thee to bear; no
more thy sons behold the light, or thy wife who ever would toil to
tend thy blind footsteps as with a staff. Alas for thee, my sire!
OEDIPUS Ah me, the sorrows I endure! I may well say that. Tell me,
child, what fate o'ertook those three, and how they left the light.
ANTIGONE Not to reproach or mock thee say I this, but in all sadness;
'tis thy own avenging curse, with all its load of slaughter, fire,
and ruthless war, that is fallen on thy sons. Alas for thee, my sire!
OEDIPUS Ah me!
ANTIGONE Why dost thou groan?
OEDIPUS 'Tis for my sons.
ANTIGONE Couldst thou have looked towards yon sun-god's four-horsed
car and turned the light of thine eyes on these corpses, it would
have been agony to thee.
OEDIPUS 'Tis clear enough how their evil fate o'ertook my sons; but
she, my poor wife tell me, daughter, how she came to die.
ANTIGONE All saw her weep and heard her moan, as she rushed forth
to carry to her sons her last appeal, a mother's breast. But the mother
found her sons at the Electran gate, in a meadow where the lotus blooms,
fighting out their duel like lions in their lair, eager to wound each
other with spears, their blood already congealed, a murderous libation
to the Death-god poured out by Ares. Then, snatching from corpse a
sword of hammered bronze, she plunged it in her flesh, and in sorrow
for her sons fell with her arms around them. So to-day, father, the
god, whose'er this issue is, has gathered to a head the sum of suffering
for our house.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS To-day is the beginning of many troubles to
the house of Oedipus; may he live to be more fortunate!
CREON Cease now your lamentations; 'tis time we bethought us of their
burial. Hear what I have to say, Oedipus. Eteocles, thy son, left
me to rule this land, by assigning it as a marriage portion to Haemon
with the hand of thy daughter Antigone. Wherefore I will no longer
permit thee to dwell therein, for Teiresias plainly declared that
the city would never prosper so long as thou wert in the land. So
begone! And this I say not to flout thee, nor because I bear thee
any grudge, but from fear that some calamity will come upon the realm
by reason of those fiends that dog thy steps.
OEDIPUS O destiny! to what a life of pain and sorrow didst thou bear
me beyond all men that ever were, e'en from the very first; yea for
when I was yet unborn, or ever I had left my mother's womb and seen
the light, Apollo foretold to Laius that I should become my father's
murderer; woe is me! So, as soon as I was born, my father tried to
end again the hapless life he had given, deeming me his foe, for it
was fated he should die at my hand; so he sent me still unweaned to
make a pitiful meal for beasts, but I escaped from that. Ah! would
that Cithaeron had sunk into hell's yawning abyss, in that it slew
me not! Instead thereof Fate made me a slave in the service of Polybus;
and I, poor wretch, after slaying my own father came to wed my mother
to her sorrow, and begat sons that were my brothers, whom also I have
destroyed, by bequeathing unto them the legacy of curses I received
from Laius. For nature did not make me so void of understanding, that
I should have devised these horrors against my own eyes and my children's
life without the intervention of some god. Let that pass. What am
I, poor wretch, to do? Who now will be my guide and tend the blind
man's step? Shall she, that is dead? Were she alive, I know right
well she would. My pair of gallant sons, then? But they are gone from
me. Am I still so young myself that I can find a livelihood? Whence
could I? O Creon, why seek thus to slay me utterly? For so thou wilt,
if thou banish me from the land. Yet will I never twine my arms about
thy knees and betray cowardice, for I will not belie my former gallant
soul, no! not for all my evil case.
CREON Thy words are brave in refusing to touch my knees, and I am
equally resolved not to let thee abide in the land. For these dead,
bear one forth-with to the palace; but the other, who came with stranger
folk to sack his native town, the dead Polyneices, cast forth unburied
beyond our frontiers. To all the race of Cadmus shall this be proclaimed,
that whosoe'er is caught decking his corpse with wreaths or giving
it burial, shall be requited with death; unwept, unburied let him
lie, a prey to birds. As for thee, Antigone, leave thy mourning for
these lifeless three and betake thyself indoors to abide there in
maiden state until to-morrow, when Haemon waits to wed thee.
ANTIGONE O father, in what cruel misery are we plunged! For thee
I mourn more than for the dead; for in thy woes there is no opposite
to trouble, but universal sorrow is thy lot. As for thee, thou new-made
king, why, I ask, dost thou mock my father thus with banishment? Why
start making laws over a helpless corpse?
CREON This was what Eteocles, not I, resolved.
ANTIGONE A foolish thought, and foolish art thou for entertaining
CREON What! ought I not to carry out his behests?
ANTIGONE No; not if they are wrong and ill-advised.
CREON Why, is it not just for that other to be given to the dogs?
ANTIGONE Nay, the vengeance ye are exacting is no lawful one.
CREON It is; for he was his country's foe, though not a foeman born.
ANTIGONE Well, to fate he rendered up his destinies.
CREON Let him now pay forfeit in his burial too.
ANTIGONE What crime did he commit in coming to claim his heritage?
CREON Be very sure of this, yon man shall have no burial.
ANTIGONE I will bury him, although the state forbids.
CREON Do so, and thou wilt be making thy own grave by his.
ANTIGONE A noble end, for two so near and dear to be laid side by
CREON (to his servants) Ho! seize and bear her within the palace.
ANTIGONE Never! for I will not loose my hold upon this corpse.
CREON Heaven's decrees, girl, fit not thy fancies.
ANTIGONE Decrees! here is another, "No insult to the dead."
CREON Be sure that none shall sprinkle over the corpse the moistened
ANTIGONE O Creon, by my mother's corpse, by Jocasta, I implore thee!
CREON 'Tis but lost labour; thou wilt not gain thy prayer.
ANTIGONE Let me but bathe the dead body-
CREON Nay, that would be part of what the city is forbidden.
ANTIGONE At least let me bandage the gaping wounds.
CREON No; thou shalt never pay honour to this corpse.
ANTIGONE O my darling! one kiss at least will I print upon thy lips.
CREON Do not let this mourning bring disaster on thy marriage.
ANTIGONE Marriage! dost think I will live to wed thy son?
CREON Most certainly thou must; how wilt thou escape his bed?
ANTIGONE Then if I must, our wedding-night will find another Danaid
bride in me.
CREON (turning to OEDIPUS) Dost witness how boldly she reproached
ANTIGONE Witness this steel, the sword by which I swear!
CREON Why art so bent on being released from this marriage?
ANTIGONE I mean to share my hapless father's exile.
CREON A noble spirit thine but somewhat touched with folly.
ANTIGONE Likewise will I share his death, I tell thee further.
CREON Go, leave the land; thou shalt not murder son of mine.
(CREON goes out, followed by his attendants who carry
with them the body Of MENOECEUS.)
OEDIPUS Daughter, for this loyal spirit I thank thee.
ANTIGONE Were I to wed, then thou, my father, wouldst be alone in
OEDIPUS Abide here and be happy; I will bear my own load of sorrow.
ANTIGONE And who shall tend thee in thy blindness, father?
OEDIPUS Where fate appoints, there will I lay me down upon the ground.
ANTIGONE Where is now the famous Oedipus, where that famous riddle?
OEDIPUS Lost for ever! one day made, and one day marred my fortune.
ANTIGONE May not I too share thy sorrows?
OEDIPUS To wander with her blinded sire were shame unto his child.
ANTIGONE Not so, father, but glory rather, if she be a maid discreet.
OEDIPUS Lead me nigh that I may touch thy mother's corpse.
ANTIGONE So! embrace the aged form so dear to thee.
OEDIPUS Woe is thee, thy motherhood, thy marriage most unblest!
ANTIGONE A piteous corpse, a prey to every ill at once!
OEDIPUS Where lies the corpse of Eteocles, and of Polyneices, where?
ANTIGONE Both lie stretched before thee, side by side.
OEDIPUS Lay the blind man's hand upon his poor sons' brows.
ANTIGONE There then! touch the dead, thy children.
OEDIPUS Woe for you! dear fallen sons, sad offspring of a sire as
ANTIGONE O my brother Polyneices, name most dear to me!
OEDIPUS Now is the oracle of Loxias being fulfilled, my child.
ANTIGONE What oracle was that? canst thou have further woes to tell?
OEDIPUS That I should die in glorious Athens after a life of wandering.
ANTIGONE Where? what fenced town in Attica will take thee in?
OEDIPUS Hallowed Colonus, home of the god of steeds. Come then, attend
on thy blind father, since thou art minded to share his exile.
(OEDIPUS and ANTIGONE chant their remaining lines as they slowly depart.)
ANTIGONE To wretched exile go thy way; stretch forth thy hand, my
aged sire, taking me to guide thee, like a breeze that speedeth barques.
OEDIPUS See, daughter, I am advancing; be thou my guide, poor child.
ANTIGONE Ah, poor indeed! the saddest maid of all in Thebes.
OEDIPUS Where am I planting my aged step? Bring my staff, child.
ANTIGONE This way, this way, father mine! plant thy footsteps here,
like dream for all the strength thou hast.
OEDIPUS Woe unto thee that art driving my aged limbs in grievous
exile from their land! Ah me! the sorrows I endure!
ANTIGONE "Endure"! why speak of enduring? Justice regardeth not the
sinner and requiteth not men's follies.
OEDIPUS I am he whose name passed into high songs of victory because
I guessed the maiden's baffling riddle.
ANTIGONE Thou art bringing up again the reproach of the Sphinx. Talk
no more of past success. This misery was in store for thee all the
while, to become an exile from thy country and die thou knowest not
where; while I, bequeathing to my girlish friends tears of sad regret,
must go forth from my native land, roaming as no maiden ought.
Ah! this dutiful resolve will crown me with glory in respect of my
father's sufferings. Woe is me for the insults heaped on thee and
on my brother whose dead body is cast forth from the palace unburied;
poor boy! I will yet bury him secretly, though I have to die for it,
OEDIPUS To thy companions show thyself.
ANTIGONE My own laments suffice.
OEDIPUS Go pray then at the altars.
ANTIGONE They are weary of my piteous tale.
OEDIPUS At least go seek the Bromian god in his hallowed haunt amongst
the Maenads' hills.
ANTIGONE Offering homage that is no homage in Heaven's eyes to him
in whose honour I once fringed my dress with the Theban fawn-skin
and led the dance upon the hills for the holy choir of Semele?
OEDIPUS My noble fellow-countrymen, behold me; I am Oedipus, who
solved the famous riddle, and once was first of men, I who alone cut
short the murderous Sphinx's tyranny am now myself expelled the land
in shame and misery. Go to; why make this moan and bootless lamentation?
Weak mortal as I am, I must endure the fate that God decrees.
CHORUS (chanting) Hail majestic Victory! keep thou my life nor ever
cease to crown my song!