OEDIPUS O King Apollo! may his joyous looks. Be presage of the joyous news he brings! PRIEST As I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his head. Had scarce been. Oedipus the King. Sophocles. Translated by Robert Fagles. FOCUS A terrible plague has struck the city of Thebes. Plants, animals, and people are dying in. Oedipus the King Sophocles Translated by David Grene CHARACTERS OEDIPUS, King of Thebes JOCASTA, His Wife CREON, His Brother-in-Law TEIRESIAS.
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Oedipus the King. Sophocles (c. BCE). This translation, which has been prepared by Ian Johnston of. Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, is in the. Oedipus Rex. SOPHOCLES. TRANSLATED BY DUDLEY FITTS AND ROBERT FITZGERALD. CHARACTERS. OEDIPUS,. King of Thebes, supposed son of. Sphinx and the grateful Thebans made their deliverer king. . OEDIPUS. O King Apollo! may his joyous looks. Be presage of the joyous news he brings!.
The form, originating from earlier ritualistic Do you know? Greek traditions was considered to be the most superior of dramatic tragedy is also called Attic forms. Apart from tragedy, the other forms of dramatic tragedy because it comes productions were comedy and satyr-plays but these were from the state of Attica, of which Athens was the considered to be of lesser import. The city celebrated a five principal city. In this festival, three acclaimed writers each of whom presented a trilogy of tragic plays and a satyr drama competed for the prize. Earlier, all four plays were thematically tied and constituted a tetralogy but later Sophocles and Euripedes espoused a single play format. As for the subject, the playwrights used to modify and creatively present different versions of myths that were widely accepted.
That reduces to the Hegelian view of tragedy as an agon between right and right, but Knox gives the preference to Oedipus, since the gods, being ever victorious, therefore cannot be heroic. Freud charmingly attributed to Sophocles, as a precursor of psychoanalysis, the ability to have made possible a self—analysis for the playgoer. Oedipus therefore participates in our universal unconscious sense of guilt, but on this reading so do the gods.
I sometimes wish that Freud had turned to Aeschylus instead, and given us the Prometheus complex rather than the Oedipus complex. Plato is Oedipal in regard to Homer, but Sophocles is not. I hardly think that Sophocles would have chastised Homer for impiety, but then, as I read it, the tragedy of Oedipus takes up no more skeptical stance than that of Plato, unless one interprets Plato as Montaigne wished to interpret him.
What does any discerning reader remember most vividly about Oedipus the King? The worst of what was done you cannot know.
You did not see the sight. When she came raging into the house she went straight to her marriage bed, tearing her hair with both her hands, and crying upon Laius long dead—Do you remember, Laius, that night long past which bred a child for us to send you to your death and leave a mother making children with her son?
And then she groaned and cursed the bed in which she brought forth husband by her husband, children by her own child, an infamous double bond. How after that she died I do not know,— for Oedipus distracted us from seeing. As he raved some god showed him the way—none of us there. Bellowing terribly and led by some invisible guide he rushed on the two doors, — wrenching the hollow bolts out of their sockets, he charges inside. There, there, we saw his wife hanging, the twisted rope around her neck.
When he saw her, he cried out fearfully and cut loose the dangling noose. Then, as she lay, poor woman, on the ground, what happened after, was terrible to see. He tore the brooches— the gold chased brooches fastening her robe— away from her and lifting them high dashed them on his own eyeballs, shrieking out such things as: they will never see the crime I have committed or had done upon me!
Dark eyes, now on the days to come, look on forbidden faces, do not recognize those whom you long for—with such imprecations he struck his eyes again and yet again with the brooches. And the bleeding eyeballs gushed and stained his beard—no sluggish oozing drops but a black rain and bloody hail poured down.
So it has broken—and not on one head but troubles mixed for husband and wife. The fortune of the days gone by was true good fortune—but today groans and destruction and death and shame—of all ills can be named not one is missing.
I interpret this as his protest against Apollo, which brings both the light and the plague. The Freudian trope of blinding for castration seems to me less relevant here than the outcry against the god. To protest Apollo is necessarily dialectical, since the pride and agility of the intellect of Oedipus, remorselessly searching out the truth, in some sense is also against the nature of truth.
In this vision of reality, you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you mad. What would make Oedipus free? Nothing that happens in this play, must be the answer, nor does it seem that becoming an oracular god later on makes you free either.
If you cannot be free of the gods, then you cannot be made free, and even acting as though your daemon is your destiny will not help you either. The startling ignorance of Oedipus when the drama begins is the given of the play, and cannot be questioned or disallowed. Voltaire was scathing upon this, but the ignorance of the wise and the learned remains an ancient truth of psychology, and torments us every day.
Nietzsche said it not in praise of art, but so as to indicate the essential limitation of art. Sophoclean irony is more eloquent yet: creon: Do not seek to be master in everything, for the things you mastered did not follow you throughout your life. As Creon and Oedipus go out. Look upon that last day always. Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain.
The great ideas that he dramatized with such energy and poetry embrace or transcend many of the important issues that successive generations of artists have struggled to comprehend and express. His work continues to be compelling and fully relevant. We do know that his life in Athens—spanning almost all of the fifth century b. One source of biographical information is an anonymous Life, found in Paris in a thirteenth-century manuscript of the plays.
He was accomplished in music, poetry, and wrestling. From his two marriages came five sons, one of whom—Iophon—was also a tragic poet. He was chosen to lead the victory dance because of his charm and handsome bearing. The form of drama known as Greek tragedy is closely associated with the culture of Athens.
With its high regard for the competitive spirit, the city organized public festivals where artists competed for prizes for the best tragic plays. The festivals were held to honor Dionysus, a Thracian deity associated with revelry, who eventually became the god of wine, theater, and merrymaking in Greek mythology. In b. He also competed and won in competition with Euripides.
In his lifetime, Sophocles won twenty victories, never, it is claimed, placing lower than second. Three plays were required for a single presentation so his twenty victories represented an outstanding achievement. He went on to write more than plays most have been lost , two satyr plays, and miscellaneous fragments. He was an acclaimed artist for the duration of his life. His heroine Antigone has become associated with principled resistance to state power and reverence for the dignity of personal loyalties.
Creon uses Sophist reasoning to dissuade Oedipus from believing that he wants to retake the crown of Thebes. Many scholars believe that Sophocles was challenging the intellectual minds of his time in these scenes. Although known to be a religious man Sophocles uses no supernatural tricks or the literary device deus ex machina to solve a conundrum in the plot 13 or produce a contrived conclusion.
In addition to being a celebrated poet, Sophocles served the public interest, occupying a number of high public offices. Under Pericles he was twice a general, a position less engaged in military affairs than in policy decisions and management of resources. Sophocles lived to age ninety or ninety-one.
One speculation about the cause of death is his exultation at a public reading of Antigone, but no details are certain. He lived to a good old age.
All accounts of his life describe Sophocles as a kind and gentle man, full of charm and well loved by many. At the time of his death, Athens was under siege from Sparta, but a break in hostilities was arranged to make possible the proper burial of an esteemed citizen.
The comic dramatist Phrynichus wrote in Muses b. From the earliest times in all cultures some kind of play-acting— complete with fantastic masks and other disguises—has been part of the common life. According to noted British scholar Alan H. Sommerstein in Greek Drama and Dramatists , no one quite knows when or why these ritual play-acting events became unified performances with role-playing actors speaking from established scripts.
These choruses sang lamentations for the misfortunes of public figures and later became an integral part of Greek tragedy. Greek drama evolved into three genres: tragedy, satyrdrama, and comedy. The satyr-plays dramatized the clever and lustful antics of creatures with human, animal, and godlike features.
Without human characters the plays stirred no deep emotions or asked no serious questions. Mainly, they provided bawdy entertainment that preceded the serious productions. Comedy is etymologically related to the rowdy songs of drunken revelers carousing up and down the streets. Comedy brought pleasure to its audiences by making fun of common human weaknesses and by exposing the schemes and impulses most people strive to keep hidden.
According to Sommerstein, comedy served the political interests of both liberal and conservative factions. The standard fare of comedies included mistaken identities, happy resolutions of romantic relationships, and whimsy of all kinds. Catastrophes and deplorable fates for likeable characters were not permitted. From the mid-third century onward, drama was a formal and distinct art form associated with the cultural greatness of the Greeks.
Of the genres, tragedy was regarded as the most noble. Three plays by a single artist—performed as a set for official competitions—were viewed by as many as twenty thousand spectators all or mostly male seated in a grand, open-air, three-sided theater in the shadow of the Acropolis. The performance area was at the center and bottom of the theater with benches for spectators rising up and away.
Platforms at different levels accommodated changes of scene and indicated the status of each character. A low wooden building behind the performance area had a central door for exits and entrances. Performances honored Dionysus—god of wine, revelry, and play-acting—and were linked to multi-day public celebrations that encompassed political and other cultural interests.
In contrast to comedy, tragedy took up the elevated issues of free will and fate, knowledge and illusion, and presented onstage the spectacle of noble human suffering. The technical features of these plays are so numerous that entire books are devoted to delineating them.
Performers were male and wore masks to indicate age and gender, social standing, and sometimes, ethnicity. The main actors spoke in one of several variations of verse with all the features of poetic speech except rhyme: figurative language; alliteration; meter; and wordplay.
Stage settings were not elaborate. Of the three major tragedians Sophocles was the most austere although he was known for using splendid costumes and music. Sophocles was responsible for some notable innovations: the introduction of a third speaking actor onstage making for more complex interchanges ; an increase in the number of chorus members; special focus on the central character; and development of the characteristics of the tragic 16 hero.
Greek scholar Bernard M. Sophocles also broke from tradition by producing plays that stood alone; he wrote no trilogies. The Theban plays—Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Oedipus at Colonus—are frequently read as a unit because they overlap thematically and chronologically, but each has its distinct mood and integrity. Antigone, written first, belongs chronologically after Oedipus Rex and before Oedipus at Colonus. The best-known traditional element of Greek tragedy is the chorus—the onstage performers of song and dance— which functions as a single voice or even a single idea in material form.
In the absence of explicit stage directions, the alternating dialogues among protagonist, chorus, and the other actors divide the play into discrete sections; these provide the structure for Greek tragedy. Aristotle in his Poetics c. The chorus has multiple functions.
The odes summarize the preceding action or speculate about its significance; both help clarify the issues for the audience. By anticipating the horrifying acts to come, the chorus can act as a kind of companion to the audience: a shock prepared for is a shock mitigated just enough to keep people in their seats. Generally the chorus stands like the audience outside the action, but unlike the audience makes comments and often has a stake in the outcome.
The chorus also functions as a normative standard against which the protagonist struggles. Since the consequences of the action in tragedies are generally frightful, the chorus response can sound 17 like the voice of humanity itself. By framing and elevating the ideas inherent in the action, the chorus is offering them to the audience for its own speculations. Finally, the chorus stands in opposition to the dreadful notion that the universe is without meaning.
Its monumental task is to make sense of the suffering it has witnessed onstage, thus keeping order intact and chaos at bay. Bernard Zimmerman in Greek Tragedy: An Introduction explains the different ways the tragic poets used the chorus: In Aeschylus [the chorus] serves as a vehicle of the dramatic action, and in Sophocles becomes a distinct dramatis persona with a minor part in that action.
The Euripidean chorus, by contrast, dismayed at what is happening around and in part because of it, no longer participates in the action but only sympathizes with the actors. Writers of tragedy took their material from legend and myth—sources that lent themselves to variations in the retelling. Playwrights could assume their audiences were familiar with the old legends; their task was to present the material in original ways.
The most prominent features of Greek tragedy are the spectacle and mystery of human suffering. The phenomenon of suffering—omnipresent and universal—stirs the intellect as well as the heart.
The notion of a single figure of high prominence at the center of the tragic action originated with Aristotle in Poetics. Aristotle singled out Oedipus Rex as the purest example of Greek tragedy, but centuries of attention to all forms of tragedy has established the validity of more than one narrative pattern.
Aristotle is of course not alone in singling out the play for special praise. And Freud brought a different kind of fame to the play when he used the Oedipal story in his Interpretation of Dreams as a paradigm for the unconscious desire for parricide and incest. The Oedipus complex has persisted as a major and widely recognized also disputed cultural concept.
Intellectuals of the Romantic period were especially drawn to the profound questions about personal identity that the story of Oedipus raised. She points out how amazing it is that they survived in manuscript form for 1, years, and reminds her contemporary readers who have no trouble finding copies of the plays in any bookstore that such ready availability is relatively recent. And, in 19 fact, Oedipus Rex was caught up in the long and loud debate over censorship in the British theater.
The play had been performed in its original Greek at Cambridge University in , but professional productions were forbidden. In the Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy, Fiona Macintosh, Lecturer in English at the University of London, provides a detailed account of the production history of Greek tragedy during the 19th and 20th centuries.
A license to perform was finally granted in by the Examiner of Plays. Most Americans are familiar with this ancient play or at least recognize elements of the story.
Scholars have numerous explanations for its widespread appeal. Other readers have noted that human beings have been grappling for centuries with the fearful mystery of undeserved suffering that the play so memorably embodies.
In our own time we cannot avoid coming face to face through the media with the grim spectacles of genocide, civil wars, torture, and the awesomely destructive powers of nature. All these involve the suffering of innocents on a grand scale. Greek tragedy and the related concept of the tragic hero have acquired a special status in Western culture. Here is something to ponder: Is there a value to preserving a definition of tragedy that prevents its use in describing the entire range of personal or collective misfortune?
Clearly there are differences between the sorry fate of a person fatally struck by lightning and the tribulation undergone by a figure like King Lear, Antigone, or Oedipus. It is possible that by knowing the character and circumstances of the person struck by lightning we might conclude that a genuinely tragic episode had occurred instead of a lamentable or catastrophic one. But what if something inestimable and essential about human life is lost by allowing these categories to be blurred or diluted?
Oedipus Rex brings the reader face to face with this issue. Readers may decide that their experience with the play is, among other things, an opportunity to reflect on whether these issues matter for the individual or cultural life.
His name connects him to his origins and character. Abandoned as an infant on a mountainside, with his ankles pierced to ensure his death, Oedipus later walks as an adult with swollen feet—one of the meanings of the words that make up his name. Oedipus has two personalities in the play; or more accurately, he reveals two sides of his complex character as the play unfolds.
In the beginning he is a model of Athenian virtue; he is masterful, optimistic, confident, and benign. When his reign is threatened he becomes suspicious, wrathful, punitive, and tyrannical. His fall from royal status and happy matrimony to shameful banishment has become the symbol of the reversal of fortune. Jocasta is sister of Creon, widow of Laius, and doomed wife and mother of Oedipus. Her bold and irreverent question about the reliability of oracles raises the issues—central to the play—of fate and free will, the role of Chance in the events transpiring, and the nature of divine justice.
Later she exposes her ambivalence about the gods by making an offering to Apollo. After realizing the truth of the terrible prophecy and failing to prevent Oedipus from his own discovery of it, Jocasta flees to their bedroom and hangs herself. The chaotic Sphinx and her nefarious riddle sabotaged his brief reign as king of Thebes following the death of Laius.
At the end of the play Creon does replace Oedipus as king of Thebes, but he shows no signs of gloating or excessive pride. Teiresias was a legendary Theban seer with supernatural gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy.
The goddess Minerva bestowed these gifts on Teiresias to compensate for his loss of eyesight. He was said to have both male and female characteristics to enhance his ability to know all that was, is, and will be. Teiresias is given a prominent role in T. In Oedipus Rex Teiresias is as reluctant to tell what he knows as Oedipus is eager to hear it. The arrival of the seer effects a change in Oedipus from being a benign king concerned for his people to a ruler indignantly defending his royal status.
Teiresias lives by intuition and symbol; Oedipus by power and directness. The clash between these two giant figures contributes to the dramatic energy of the play. The Chorus is distinct from the supplicants. It is drawn from a representative group of educated and reflective citizens, although it speaks with one voice.
The chorus is loyal to Oedipus and resists any accusation made against him without proof. When the validity of oracles is questioned, the chorus experiences great anxiety. It sings its famous ode about the consequences of losing belief in a divine order.
One of the functions the chorus has is to 23 anticipate and deflect the rising terror felt onstage by the other participants, including the audience. When terror can be held at a distance, the chorus takes up another of its functions: it analyzes what has happened and then speculates about meaning and consequences.
The crowd of Supplicants that approaches Oedipus represents the diverse population of Thebes currently suffering the afflictions of the plague. An elder calling himself the Priest of Zeus addresses Oedipus reverently and beseeches him to find the cause of the plague and a way to end it.
The Servant of Laius is summoned by Oedipus to tell his version of the murder at the crossroads. Oedipus says he killed all the men, leaving no survivors; the servant claims to have been the sole survivor. There are two Messengers. The first arrives at the palace to announce the death from old age of Polybus, father of Oedipus and king of Corinth, and the related news that Oedipus will be called as the new king.
Their relief is short-lived. The messenger goes on to identify himself as the shepherd who was given the infant Oedipus and who in turn gave him to the childless king and queen. In this way Oedipus learns a critical piece of his own riddle—that he is not blood-related to Laius.
Their brief appearance at the end of the play to say good-bye to their blinded and ruined father adds to the enormity of the horror onstage. They come at the invitation of Creon, who, in this gesture, reveals a measure of generosity and respect for the fallen Oedipus. Despite all this time and attention, there is still no consensus about the play. It is simply too dense with issues both timeless and timely. More than one hundred years ago, Clifton W.
Collins, while acknowledging the complexity of the play, pointed out another marvel: the deceptively simple plot. This description is not quite accurate. The separate enactments of parricide and incest have occurred or been initiated offstage; graphic renderings of horrible deeds were rarely depicted onstage in Greek drama.
What the play does provide is a retelling of the life of Oedipus from fortuitous rescue on the deserted mountainside to celebrated kingship to precipitous fall—all compressed into a matter of minutes on the stage. The action is fast paced. An inquisitive spirit—a compulsion to ask questions— permeates the play. These questions become matters of life and death for Oedipus. One way for the new reader 26 to frame the question is to focus on the issue of responsibility.
It is the one that generates the most passionate disputes and comes in many variations. Did Oedipus invite his own fate through some error or flaw? Is divine justice ever comprehensible from a human perspective? These matters of free will and predestination, of choice and determinism, and of responsibility and accountability are always relevant and engaging.
After grappling with these timeless issues, the reader may decide to focus on the more manageable questions about how the play works as a play. In either case the main activity on- and offstage is one of discovery. The songs and dances performed by the chorus are essential for defining these divisions.
The prologue is the part of the play that comes before the chorus makes its first appearance.
Sometimes the alternating strophe and antistrophe function as a mind in debate with itself. In the chronology of the Oedipus legend, Oedipus Rex tells the first part of the story. In the opening scene before the assembly of beleaguered supplicants, Oedipus radiates the essence of royal power and dignity.
He is masterful, confident, compassionate, prescient, and ready to act in the service of his subjects. It is the job of the king or president or prime minister to keep chaos at bay in his realm, and Oedipus, in word and demeanor, conveys confidently and unhesitatingly his intention to do so. He addresses his people like a father to his children.
Thebes is like an extended family. The plague is not present in every version of the Oedipus story. The plague afflicting Thebes is more than a spreading of infectious agents such as typhus, the likely historical scenario. As described by the priest whom Oedipus calls upon to speak, this plague behaves like a preternatural event—an assault on the regenerative sources of life itself: women of childbearing age, seeds, and female cattle.
The Greeks believed that destructive acts of nature were the work of the gods; the prospect of sterility—the end of life on earth—would therefore suggest that a monumental offense violating the order of creation had been committed. This ship-of-state imagery continues and intensifies in the play. The Theban citizens have staged a kind of demonstration in front of the palace, and their very presence poses a question to Oedipus about what he can do to save them.
They regard their king not as godlike but as their esteemed leader who has pitted 28 his intellectual power against the abominable Sphinx and won.
The Sphinx made its first appearance as a symbol in the age of the Fourth Dynasty c. In Greek mythology the figure is female and equipped with wings.
Perhaps the addition of wings was made to expand the range of its destructive powers. The noted English scholar of Sophoclean drama, R. The Sphinx demanded an answer to her infamous riddle and dashed to bits the body of each poor soul who tried and failed. The riddle asked for a definition: what being is it that sometimes has four feet, sometimes two, and sometimes three; speaks with a single voice; and is weakest when it has the most.
Phrasing her riddle deceptively, the Sphinx tricks her victims into thinking only an exotic answer will work. The answer is quite simple, however, and Oedipus gets it at once. He addresses the Sphinx: Man is it thou hast described, who, when on earth he appeareth, first as a babe from the womb, four-footed creeps on his way, then when old age cometh on, and the burden of years weighs full heavy, bending his shoulders and neck, as a third foot useth his staff.
To the man who could accomplish this feat, the despairing Creon had offered the throne and his widowed sister as wife. Thus he had come to be both savior of Thebes and famed solver of riddles. He assumed the throne and went on to marry Jocasta. They had two sons, Polynices and Etocles, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
I did not grasp it. For, tell me, where have you seen clear, Teiresias, with your prophetic eyes? When the dark singer, the sphinx, was in your country, did you speak word of deliverance to its citizens?
But I came, Oedipus, who knew nothing, and I stopped her. I solved the riddle by my own wit alone. Mine was no knowledge got from birds. I think you will be sorry, both you and your accomplice, for your plot to drive me out. And did I not regard you as an old man, some suffering would have taught you that what was in your heart was treason.
If you are king, at least I have the right no less to speak in my defense against you. Of that much I am master. You have your eyes but see not where you are in sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with. Do you know who your parents are? Unknowing you are an enemy to kith and kin in death, beneath the earth, and in this life. A deadly footed, double striking curse, from father and mother both, shall drive you forth out of this land, with darkness on your eyes, that now have such straight vision.
Shall there be a place will not be harbor to your cries,36 a corner of Cithaeron37 will not ring in echo to your cries, soon, soon,-when you shall learn the secret of your marriage, which steered you to a haven in this house,-haven no haven, after lucky voyage? And of the multitude of other evils establishing a grim equality between you and your children, you know nothing. Misery shall grind no man as it will you. Is it endurable that I should hear such words from him? Go and a curse go with you!
Quick, home with you! Out of my house at once! I would not have come either had you not call me. I did not know then you would talk like a fool— or it would have been long before I called you. I am a fool then, as it seems to you— but to the parents who have bred you, wise.
What parents? Who are they of all the world? This day will show your birth and will destroy you. How needlessly your riddles darken everything. Taunt me where you will find me great. It is this very luck that has destroyed you.
I do not care, if it has saved this city. Well, I will go. Come, boy, lead me away. Yes, lead him off. I have said what I came here to say not fearing your countenance; there is no way you can hurt me. I tell you, king, this man, this murderer whom you have long declared you are in search of, indicting him in threatening proclamation as murderer of Laius —he is here. Now is the time for him to run with a stronger foot than Pegasus38 for the child of Zeus leaps in arms upon him with fire and the lightning bolt, and terribly close on his heels are the Fates that never miss.
Antistrophe Lately from snowy Parnassus clearly the voice flashed forth, bidding each Theban track him down, the unknown murderer. In the savage forests he lurks and in the caverns like the mountain bull He is sad and lonely, his feet that carry him far from the navel of earth;39 but its prophecies, ever living, flutter around his head. Strophe The augur40 has spread confusion, terrible confusion; I do not approve what was said nor can I deny it.
I do not know what to say; I am in a flutter of foreboding; I never heard in the present nor past of a quarrel between the sons of Labdacus and Polybus, that I might bring as proof in attacking the popular fame of Oedipus, seeking to take vengeance for undiscovered death in the line of Labdacus. Antistrophe Truly Zeus and Apollo are wise and in human things all knowing; 38 Pegasus mythical winged horse. One man may pass another in wisdom but I would never agree with those that find fault with the king till I should see the word proved right beyond doubt.
For once in visible form the Sphinx came on him and all of us saw his wisdom and in that test he saved the city. So he will not be condemned by my mind. Citizens, I have come because I heard deadly words spread about me, that the king accuses me. I cannot take that from him. Perhaps it was a sudden gust of anger that forced that insult from him, and no judgment. But did he say that it was a compliances with schemes of mine that the seer told him lies?
Yes, he said that, but why, I do not know. Were his eyes straight in his head? Was his mind right when he accused me in this fashion?
I do not know; I have no eyes to see what princes do. Here comes the king himself. You, sir, how is it you come here? Have you so much brazen faced daring that you venture in my house although you are proved manifestly41 the murderer of that man, and though you tried, openly, highway robbery of my crown?
Did you imagine I should not observe the crafty scheme that stole upon me or seeing it, take no means to counter it? Was it not stupid of you to make the attempt, to try to hunt down royal power without the people at your back or friends? For only with the people at your back or money can the hunt end in the capture of a crown. You never made a search for the dead man? We searched, indeed, but never learned of anything. Why did our wise old friend not say this then?
Will you listen to words to answer yours, and then pass judgment? First of all hear what I shall say to that. If you think obstinacy42 without wisdom a valuable possession, you are wrong. And you are wrong if you believe that one, a criminal, will not be punished only because he is my kinsman.
You know this much, and can declare this much if you are loyal. That he would not have said that I killed Laius had he not met you first. You know yourself whether he said this, but I demand that I should hear as much from you as you from me.
Well, then. Did you or did you not urge me to send to this prophetic mumbler? I did indeed, and I shall stand by what I told you. How long ago is it since Laius. Yes, that I am not disposed to deny. You rule this country giving her an equal share in the government? Yes, everything she wants she has from me. What about Laius?
Vanished—died—was murdered? And I, as thirdsman to you, am rated as the equal of you two? It is long, a long, long time to reckon. Was this prophet in the profession then? Not if you will reflect on it as I do. I, at least, I was not born with such a frantic yearning to be a king—but to do what kings do.
And so it is with every one who has learned wisdom and self-control. As it stands now, the prizes are all mine—and without fear. He was, and honored as highly as he is today. At that time did he say a word about me? Never, at least not when I was near him. Creon means that Oedipus cannot see—or refuses to see—the facts do much that went against the grain. How should despotic43 rule seem sweeter to me than painless power and an assured authority?
I am not so besotted44 yet that I want other honors than those that come with profit. Why should I let all this go to win that? Prove what I say. Go to the oracle at Pytho and inquire about the answers, if they are as I told you.
For the rest, if you discover that I laid any plot together with the seer, kill me, I say, not only by your vote but by my own. But do not charge me on obscure opinion without some proof to back it. To throw away an honest friend is, as it were, to throw your life away, which a man loves the best.
His words are wise, king, if one fears to fall. Those who are quick of temper are not safe. When he that plots against me secretly moves quickly, I must quickly counterplot. If I wait taking no decisive measure his business will be done, and mine be spoiled.
O, city, city! I too have some share in the city; it is not yours alone. Stop, my lords! Here—and in the nick of time I see Jocasta coming from the house; with her help lay the quarrel that now stirs you. For shame! Why have you raised this foolish squabbling brawl? Go in, you, Oedipus, and you, too, Creon, into the house. Sister, Oedipus, your husband, thinks he has the right to do terrible wrongs—he has but to choose between two terrors: That God may never bless me!
May I die accursed, if I have been guilty of one tittle46 of the charge you bring against me! I beg you, Oedipus, trust him in this, spare him for the sake of this his oath to God, for my sake, and the sake of those who stand here. Be gracious, be merciful, we beg you. What do you want to do then? Banish me? In what would you have me yield?
No, certainly; kill you, not banish you. For my own interests, yes. But for mine, too, you should think equally. He has been no silly child in the past. Spare him.
Do you know what you ask? You are a rogue. Tell me then. Suppose you do not understand? But yet I must be ruler. Not if you rule badly.
I would have you know that this request of yours really requests my death or banishment. May the Sun God,47 king of Gods, forbid! But my spirit is broken by my unhappiness for my wasting country; and this would but add troubles amongst ourselves to the other troubles. Well, let him go then—if I must die ten times for it, or be sent out dishonored into exile. It is your lips that prayed for him pitied, not his; wherever he is, I shall hate him.
God grant that now, too, you may prove a fortunate guide for us. Tell me, my lord, I beg of you, what was it that roused your anger so? Yes, I will tell you. It was Creon and the plots he laid against me. Leave me alone! Take yourself off, I tell you. There was some misconceived suspicion of a story, and on the other side the sting of injustice.
So, on both sides? What was the story? I think it best, in the interests of the country, to leave it where it ended. You see where you have ended, straight of judgment although you are, by softening my anger.
Of his own knowledge or on information? He sent this rascal prophet to me, since he keeps his own mouth clean of any guilt. Do not concern yourself about this matter; listen to me and learn that human beings have no part in the craft of prophecy.
But, see now, he, the king, was killed by foreign highway robbers at a place where three roads meet—so goes the story; and for the son—before three days were out after his birth King Laius pierced his ankles and by the hands of others cast him forth upon a pathless hillside. So clear in this case were the oracles, so clear and false. Give them no heed, I say; what God discovers need of, easily he shows to us himself.
O dear Jocasta, as I hear this from you, there comes upon me a wandering of the soul—I could run mad. What trouble is it, that you turn again and speak like this? I thought I heard you say that Laius was killed at a crossroads. The only servant that escaped safe home. Is he at home now? Yes, that was how the story went and still that word goes round. Where is this place, Jocasta, where he was murdered? Phocis is the country and the road splits there, one of two roads from Delphi, another comes from Daulia.
No, when he came home again and saw you king and Laius was dead, he came to me and touched my had and begged that I should send him to the fields to be my shepherd and so he might see the city as far off as he might. So I sent him away. He was an honest man, as slaves go, and was worthy of far more that what he asked of me. How long ago is this? What have you designed, O Zeus, to do with me?
O, how I wish that he could come back quickly! He can. Why is your hear so set on this? O dear Jocasta, I am full of fears that I have spoken far too much; and therefore I wish to see this shepherd. What is the thought that troubles your heart? How old or young was he? He was a tall man and his hair was grizzled already—nearly white—and in his form not unlike you. O God, I think I have called curses upon myself in ignorance.
I am terrified when I look at you. I have a deadly fear that the old seer had eyes. I will. How was his company? Had he few with him when he went this journey, or many servants, as would suit a prince? In all there were but five, and among them a herald;48 and one carriage for the king.
It shall not be kept from you, since my mind has gone so far with its forebodings. Whom should I confide in rather than you, who is there of more importance to me who have passed through such a fortune? Polybus was my father, king of Corinth,49 and Merope, the Dorian,50 my mother.
I was held greatest of the citizens in Corinth till a curious chance befell me as I shall tell you—curious, indeed, but hardly worth the store set upon it. There was a dinner and at it a man, a drunken man, accused me in his drink of being bastard. I was furious but held my temper under for that day. Next day I went and taxed51 my parents with it; they took the insult very ill from him, the drunken fellow who had uttered it.
And I went at last to Pytho, though my parents did not know. Corinth city at the western end of the isthmus Greece that joins the Peloponnesus to Boeotia 50 Dorian n. When I heard this I fled, and in the days that followed I would measure from the stars the whereabouts of Corinth—yes, I fled to somewhere where I should not see fulfilled the infamies53 told in that dreadful oracle.
And as I journeyed I came to the place where, as you say, this king met with his death. Jocasta, I will tell you the whole truth. When I was near the branching of the crossroads, going on foot, I was encountered by a herald and a carriage with a man in it, just as you tell me.
He that led the way and the old man himself wanted to thrust me out of the road by force. I became angry and struck the coachman who was pushing me. When the old man saw this he watched his moment, and as I passed he struck me from his carriage, full on the head with his two pointed goad.
And then I killed them all. If it happened there was any tie of kinship twixt this man and Laius, who is then now more miserable than I, what man on earth so hated by the Gods, since neither citizen nor foreigner may welcome me at home or even greet me, but drive me out of doors?
And it is I, I and no other have so cursed myself. Was I not born evil? Am I not utterly unclean? I had to fly and in my banishment not even see my kindred not set foot in my own country, or otherwise my fate was to be yoked in marriage with my mother and kill my father, Polybus who begot me and had reared me. Would not one rightly judge and say that on me these things were sent by some malignant God? Sir, we too fear these things. But until you see this man face to face and hear his story, hope.
Yes, I have just this much hope—to wait until the herdsman comes. And when he comes, what do you want with him? Why what so particularly did you learn from my story? You said that he spoke of highway robbers who killed Laius. Now if he uses the same number, it was not I who killed him. One man cannot be the same as many.
But if he speaks of a man travelling alone, then clearly the burden of the guilt inclines toward me. Be sure, at least, that this was how he told the story. He cannot unsay it now, for every one in the city heard it—not I alone. But, Oedipus, even if he diverges from what he said then, he shall never prove that the murder of Laius squares rightly with the prophecy—for Loxias declared that the king should be killed by his own son. And that poor creature did not kill him surely, —for he died himself first.
So as far as prophecy goes, henceforward I shall not look to the right hand or the left. But yet, send some one for the peasant to bring him here; do not neglect it. I will send quickly. Now let me go indoors. I will do nothing except what pleases you. Strophe May destiny ever find me pious in word and deed prescribed by the laws that live on high: Antistrophe Insolence55 breeds the tyrant, insolence 55 insolence n.
But I pray that the God may never abolish the eager ambition that profits the state. For I shall never cease to hold the God as our protector. Strophe If a man walks with haughtiness of hand or word and gives no heed to Justice and the shrines of Gods despises—may an evil doom smite him for hiss ill-starred pride of heart!
When such things are done, what man shall contriveto shield his soul from the shafts of the God? When such deeds are held in honor, why should I honor the Gods in the dance? O Zeus, if you are rightly called the sovereign lord, all mastering, let this not escape you nor your ever-living power! Might I learn from you, sirs, where is the house of Oedipus? Or best of all, if you know, where is the king himself? This is his house and he is within doors. This lady is his wife and mother of his children.
God bless you, lady, and God bless your household! God bless you, sir, for your kind greeting! What do you want of us that you have come here? What have you to tell us? Good news, lady. Good for your house and for your husband. What is your news? Who sent you to us? I come from Corinth and the news I bring will give you pleasure.
Perhaps a little pain too. What is this news of double meaning? The people of the Isthmus will choose Oedipus to be their king. That is the rumor there.
I can do no good by my advice, and so I came as suppliant to you, Lycaean Apollo, who are nearest. He is in his grave. Death has got him. Is that the truth? May I die myself if it be otherwise! Be quick and run to the King with the news! O oracles of the Gods, where are you now? It was from this man Oedipus fled, lest he should be his murderer!
And now he is dead, in the course of nature, and not killed by Oedipus. Dearest Jocasta, why have you sent for me? Listen to this man and when you hear reflect what is the outcome of the holy oracles of the Gods.
Who is he? What is his message for me? He is from Corinth and he tells us that your father Poly bus is dead and gone. Tell me yourself. All that you say would be said perfectly if she were dead; but since she lives I must still fear, although you talk so well, Jocasta: Great light of comfort; but I fear the living. Who is the woman that makes you afraid? Since this is the first matter you want clearly told: Polybus has gone down to death.
You may be sure of it. By treachery or sickness? A terrible oracle, stranger, from the Gods. A small thing will put old bodies asleep. Can it be told?
Or does the sacred law forbid another to have knowledge of it? So he died of sickness, it seems, —poor old man! Yes, and of age—the long years he had measured. O dear Jocasta, why should one look to the Pythian hearth? They prophesied that I should kill my father!
That I told you before now. What about her frightens the queen and you? Once on a time Loxias said that I should lie with my own mother and take on my hands the blood of my own father.
This was the fear which drove you out of Corinth? Old man, I did not wish to kill my father. Why should I not free you from this fear, sir. You would not find me thankless if you did. You did, but I was misled by my fear. Why, it was just for this I brought the news, — to earn your thanks when you had come safe home.
No, I will never come near my parents. Why should man fear since chance is all in all for him, and he can clearly foreknow nothing? Best to live lightly, as one can, unthinkingly. But he to whom such things are nothing bears his life most easily. Pythian hearth n. What do you mean, old man? If your homecoming is checked by fears like these.
The murder and the incest? Why do you speak of that old pain? Yes, old man; that is my constant terror. Do you know that all your fears are empty? How is that, if they are father and mother and I their son? Because Polybus was no kin to you in blood. What, was not Polybus my father? No more than I but just so much. My swaddling60 clothes brought me a rare disgrace. You yourself did not find me then? You took me from someone else? Neither he nor I begat you.
Yes, from another shepherd. Why then did he call me son? A gift he took you from these hands of mine.
Who was he? Do you know him well enough to tell? You mean the king who reigned here in the old days? His childlessness before persuaded him. Was I a child you bought or found when I was given to him? And why were you a traveler in those parts? I was in charge of mountain flocks. You were a shepherd? Yes, but at least at that time the man that saved your life, son. What ailed me when you took me in your arms? Is he alive still, so that I could see him?
You who live here would know best. Do any of you here know of this shepherd whom he speaks about in town or in the fields? Tell me. I think he is none other than the peasant whom you have sought to see already; but Jocasta here can tell us best of that. Jocasta, do you know about this man whom we have sent for? Is he the man he mentions?
In that your ankles should be witnesses. Why ask of whom he spoke?
It will be wasted labor. With such clues I could not fail to bring my birth to light.
I beg you—do not hunt this out—I beg you, if you have any care for your own life. What I am suffering is enough. Keep up your heart, Jocasta.
O be persuaded by me, I entreat you; do not do this. I will not be persuaded to let be the chance of finding out the whole thing clearly. Then the best counsel vexes me, and has for some while since. O Oedipus, God help you! God keep you from the knowledge of who you are!
Here, some one, go and fetch the shepherd for me; and let her find her joy in her rich family! O Oedipus, unhappy Oedipus! Why has the queen gone, Oedipus, in wild grief rushing from us? I am afraid that trouble will break out of this silence. Break out what will! I at least shall be willing to see my ancestry, though humble. But I account myself a child of Fortune,62 beneficent Fortune, and I shall not be dishonored. Such is my breeding, and I shall never prove so false to it, as not to find the secret of my birth.
Strophe If I am a prophet and wise of heart you shall not fail, Cithaeron, by the limitless sky, you shall not! Antistrophe Who was it bore you, child? One of the long-lived nymphs63 who lay with Pan64— the father who treads the hills?
Or was she a bride of Loxias, your mother? The grassy slopes are all of them dear to him. If some one like myself who never met him may make a guess, —I think this is the herdsman, whom we were seeking. His old age is consonant with the other. And besides, the men who bring him I recognize as my own servants.
You can be sure I recognize him.