Plays of Sophocles_ Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone
PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES
OEDIPUS THE KING
Translation by F. Storr, BA
Formerly Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge
From the Loeb Library Edition
Originally published by
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
William Heinemann Ltd, London
First published in 1912
To Laius, King of Thebes, an oracle foretold that the child born to him by his queen Jocasta would slay his father and wed his mother. So when in time a son was born the infant's feet were riveted together and he was left to die on Mount Cithaeron. But a shepherd found the babe and tended him, and delivered him to another shepherd who took him to his master, the King of Corinth. Polybus being childless adopted the boy, who grew up believing that he was indeed the King's son. Afterwards doubting his parentage he inquired of the Delphic god and heard himself the word declared before to Laius. Wherefore he fled from what he deemed his father's house and in his flight he encountered and unwillingly slew his father Laius. Arriving at Thebes he answered the riddle of the Sphinx and the grateful Thebans made their deliverer king. So he reigned in the room of Laius, and espoused the widowed queen. Children were born to them and Thebes prospered under his rule, but again a grievous plague fell upon the city. Again the oracle was consulted and it bade them purge themselves of blood-guiltiness. Oedipus denounces the crime of which he is unaware, and undertakes to track out the criminal. Step by step it is brought home to him that he is the man. The closing scene reveals Jocasta slain by her own hand and Oedipus blinded by his own act and praying for death or exile.
Oedipus. The Priest of Zeus. Creon. Chorus of Theban Elders. Teiresias. Jocasta. Messenger. Herd of Laius. Second Messenger.
Scene: Thebes. Before the Palace of Oedipus.
OEDIPUS THE KING
Suppliants of all ages are seated round the altar at the palace doors,at their head a PRIEST OF ZEUS. To them enter OEDIPUS.OEDIPUSMy children, latest born to Cadmus old,Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your handsBranches of olive filleted with wool?What means this reek of incense everywhere,And everywhere laments and litanies?Children, it were not meet that I should learnFrom others, and am hither come, myself,I Oedipus, your world-renowned king.Ho! aged sire, whose venerable locksProclaim thee spokesman of this company,Explain your mood and purport. Is it dreadOf ill that moves you or a boon ye crave?My zeal in your behalf ye cannot doubt;Ruthless indeed were I and obdurateIf such petitioners as you I spurned.PRIESTYea, Oedipus, my sovereign lord and king,Thou seest how both extremes of age besiegeThy palace altars—fledglings hardly winged,and greybeards bowed with years; priests, as am Iof Zeus, and these the flower of our youth.Meanwhile, the common folk, with wreathed boughsCrowd our two market-places, or beforeBoth shrines of Pallas congregate, or whereIsmenus gives his oracles by fire.For, as thou seest thyself, our ship of State,Sore buffeted, can no more lift her head,Foundered beneath a weltering surge of blood.A blight is on our harvest in the ear,A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds,A blight on wives in travail; and withalArmed with his blazing torch the God of PlagueHath swooped upon our city emptyingThe house of Cadmus, and the murky realmOf Pluto is full fed with groans and tears. Therefore, O King, here at thy hearth we sit,I and these children; not as deeming theeA new divinity, but the first of men;First in the common accidents of life,And first in visitations of the Gods.Art thou not he who coming to the townof Cadmus freed us from the tax we paidTo the fell songstress? Nor hadst thou receivedPrompting from us or been by others schooled;No, by a god inspired (so all men deem,And testify) didst thou renew our life.And now, O Oedipus, our peerless king,All we thy votaries beseech thee, findSome succor, whether by a voice from heavenWhispered, or haply known by human wit.Tried counselors, methinks, are aptest found 1To furnish for the future pregnant rede.Upraise, O chief of men, upraise our State!Look to thy laurels! for thy zeal of yoreOur country's savior thou art justly hailed:O never may we thus record thy reign:—"He raised us up only to cast us down."Uplift us, build our city on a rock.Thy happy star ascendant brought us luck,O let it not decline! If thou wouldst ruleThis land, as now thou reignest, better sureTo rule a peopled than a desert realm.Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail,If men to man and guards to guard them tail.OEDIPUSAh! my poor children, known, ah, known too well,The quest that brings you hither and your need.Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain,How great soever yours, outtops it all.Your sorrow touches each man severally,Him and none other, but I grieve at onceBoth for the general and myself and you.Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams.Many, my children, are the tears I've wept,And threaded many a maze of weary thought.Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught,And tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus' son,Creon, my consort's brother, to inquireOf Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine,How I might save the State by act or word.And now I reckon up the tale of daysSince he set forth, and marvel how he fares.'Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange.But when he comes, then I were base indeed,If I perform not all the god declares.PRIESTThy words are well timed; even as thou speakestThat shouting tells me Creon is at hand.OEDIPUSO King Apollo! may his joyous looksBe presage of the joyous news he brings!PRIESTAs I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his headHad scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays.OEDIPUSWe soon shall know; he's now in earshot range.[Enter CREON]My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus' child,What message hast thou brought us from the god?CREONGood news, for e'en intolerable ills,Finding right issue, tend to naught but good.OEDIPUSHow runs the oracle? thus far thy wordsGive me no ground for confidence or fear.CREONIf thou wouldst hear my message publicly,I'll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within.OEDIPUSSpeak before all; the burden that I bearIs more for these my subjects than myself.CREONLet me report then all the god declared.King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpateA fell pollution that infests the land,And no more harbor an inveterate sore.OEDIPUSWhat expiation means he? What's amiss?CREONBanishment, or the shedding blood for blood.This stain of blood makes shipwreck of our state.OEDIPUSWhom can he mean, the miscreant thus denounced?CREONBefore thou didst assume the helm of State,The sovereign of this land was Laius.OEDIPUSI heard as much, but never saw the man.CREONHe fell; and now the god's command is plain:Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be.OEDIPUSWhere are they? Where in the wide world to findThe far, faint traces of a bygone crime?CREONIn this land, said the god; "who seeks shall find;Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind."OEDIPUSWas he within his palace, or afield,Or traveling, when Laius met his fate?CREONAbroad; he started, so he told us, boundFor Delphi, but he never thence returned.OEDIPUSCame there no news, no fellow-travelerTo give some clue that might be followed up?CREONBut one escape, who flying for dear life,Could tell of all he saw but one thing sure.OEDIPUSAnd what was that? One clue might lead us far,With but a spark of hope to guide our quest.CREONRobbers, he told us, not one bandit butA troop of knaves, attacked and murdered him.OEDIPUSDid any bandit dare so bold a stroke,Unless indeed he were suborned from Thebes?CREONSo 'twas surmised, but none was found to avengeHis murder mid the trouble that ensued.OEDIPUSWhat trouble can have hindered a full quest,When royalty had fallen thus miserably?CREONThe riddling Sphinx compelled us to let slideThe dim past and attend to instant needs.OEDIPUSWell, I will start afresh and once againMake dark things clear. Right worthy the concernOf Phoebus, worthy thine too, for the dead;I also, as is meet, will lend my aidTo avenge this wrong to Thebes and