OEDIPUS AT COLONUS (Page 2)
Theseus, thy words so apt, so generous
So comfortable, need no long reply
Both who I am and of what lineage sprung,
And from what land I came, thou hast declared.
So without prologue I may utter now
My brief petition, and the tale is told.
Say on, and tell me what I fain would learn.
I come to offer thee this woe-worn frame,
A gift not fair to look on; yet its worth
More precious far than any outward show.
What profit dost thou proffer to have brought?
Hereafter thou shalt learn, not yet, methinks.
When may we hope to reap the benefit?
When I am dead and thou hast buried me.
Thou cravest life's last service; all before--
Is it forgotten or of no account?
Yea, the last boon is warrant for the rest.
The grace thou cravest then is small indeed.
Nay, weigh it well; the issue is not slight.
Thou meanest that betwixt thy sons and me?
Prince, they would fain convey me back to Thebes.
If there be no compulsion, then methinks
To rest in banishment befits not thee.
Nay, when I wished it they would not consent.
For shame! such temper misbecomes the faller.
Chide if thou wilt, but first attend my plea.
Say on, I wait full knowledge ere I judge.
O Theseus, I have suffered wrongs on wrongs.
Wouldst tell the old misfortune of thy race?
No, that has grown a byword throughout Greece.
What then can be this more than mortal grief?
My case stands thus; by my own flesh and blood
I was expelled my country, and can ne'er
Thither return again, a parricide.
Why fetch thee home if thou must needs obey.
What are they threatened by the oracle?
Destruction that awaits them in this land.
What can beget ill blood 'twixt them and me?
Dear son of Aegeus, to the gods alone
Is given immunity from eld and death;
But nothing else escapes all-ruinous time.
Earth's might decays, the might of men decays,
Honor grows cold, dishonor flourishes,
There is no constancy 'twixt friend and friend,
Or city and city; be it soon or late,
Sweet turns to bitter, hate once more to love.
If now 'tis sunshine betwixt Thebes and thee
And not a cloud, Time in his endless course
Gives birth to endless days and nights, wherein
The merest nothing shall suffice to cut
With serried spears your bonds of amity.
Then shall my slumbering and buried corpse
In its cold grave drink their warm life-blood up,
If Zeus be Zeus and Phoebus still speak true.
No more: 'tis ill to tear aside the veil
Of mysteries; let me cease as I began:
Enough if thou wilt keep thy plighted troth,
Then shall thou ne'er complain that Oedipus
Proved an unprofitable and thankless guest,
Except the gods themselves shall play me false.
The man, my lord, has from the very first
Declared his power to offer to our land
These and like benefits.
Who could reject
The proffered amity of such a friend?
First, he can claim the hospitality
To which by mutual contract we stand pledged:
Next, coming here, a suppliant to the gods,
He pays full tribute to the State and me;
His favors therefore never will I spurn,
But grant him the full rights of citizen;
And, if it suits the stranger here to bide,
I place him in your charge, or if he please
Rather to come with me--choose, Oedipus,
Which of the two thou wilt. Thy choice is mine.
Zeus, may the blessing fall on men like these!
What dost thou then decide--to come with me?
Yea, were it lawful--but 'tis rather here--
What wouldst thou here? I shall not thwart thy wish.
Here shall I vanquish those who cast me forth.
Then were thy presence here a boon indeed.
Such shall it prove, if thou fulfill'st thy pledge.
Fear not for me; I shall not play thee false.
No need to back thy promise with an oath.
An oath would be no surer than my word.
How wilt thou act then?
What is it thou fear'st?
My foes will come--
Our friends will look to that.
But if thou leave me?
Teach me not my duty.
'Tis fear constrains me.
My soul knows no fear!
Thou knowest not what threats--
I know that none
Shall hale thee hence in my despite. Such threats
Vented in anger oft, are blusterers,
An idle breath, forgot when sense returns.
And for thy foemen, though their words were brave,
Boasting to bring thee back, they are like to find
The seas between us wide and hard to sail.
Such my firm purpose, but in any case
Take heart, since Phoebus sent thee here. My name,
Though I be distant, warrants thee from harm.
Thou hast come to a steed-famed land for rest,
O stranger worn with toil,
To a land of all lands the goodliest
Colonus' glistening soil.
'Tis the haunt of the clear-voiced nightingale,
Who hid in her bower, among
The wine-dark ivy that wreathes the vale,
Trilleth her ceaseless song;
And she loves, where the clustering berries nod
O'er a sunless, windless glade,
The spot by no mortal footstep trod,
The pleasance kept for the Bacchic god,
Where he holds each night his revels wild
With the nymphs who fostered the lusty child.
And fed each morn by the pearly dew
The starred narcissi shine,
And a wreath with the crocus' golden hue
For the Mother and Daughter twine.
And never the sleepless fountains cease
That feed Cephisus' stream,
But they swell earth's bosom with quick increase,
And their wave hath a crystal gleam.
And the Muses' quire will never disdain
To visit this heaven-favored plain,
Nor the Cyprian queen of the golden rein.
And here there grows, unpruned, untamed,
Terror to foemen's spear,
A tree in Asian soil unnamed,
By Pelops' Dorian isle unclaimed,
Self-nurtured year by year;
'Tis the grey-leaved olive that feeds our boys;
Nor youth nor withering age destroys
The plant that the Olive Planter tends
And the Grey-eyed Goddess herself defends.
Yet another gift, of all gifts the most
Prized by our fatherland, we boast--
The might of the horse, the might of the sea;
Our fame, Poseidon, we owe to thee,
Son of Kronos, our king divine,
Who in these highways first didst fit
For the mouth of horses the iron bit;
Thou too hast taught us to fashion meet
For the arm of the rower the oar-blade fleet,
Swift as the Nereids' hundred feet
As they dance along the brine.
Oh land extolled above all lands, 'tis now
For thee to make these glorious titles good.
Why this appeal, my daughter?
Creon approaches with his company.
Fear not, it shall be so; if we are old,
This country's vigor has no touch of age.
[Enter CREON with attendants]
Burghers, my noble friends, ye take alarm
At my approach (I read it in your eyes),
Fear nothing and refrain from angry words.
I come with no ill purpose; I am old,
And know the city whither I am come,
Without a peer amongst the powers of Greece.
It was by reason of my years that I
Was chosen to persuade your guest and bring
Him back to Thebes; not the delegate
Of one man, but commissioned by the State,
Since of all Thebans I have most bewailed,
Being his kinsman, his most grievous woes.
O listen to me, luckless Oedipus,
Come home! The whole Cadmeian people claim
With right to have thee back, I most of all,
For most of all (else were I vile indeed)
I mourn for thy misfortunes, seeing thee
An aged outcast, wandering on and on,
A beggar with one handmaid for thy stay.
Ah! who had e'er imagined she could fall
To such a depth of misery as this,
To tend in penury thy stricken frame,
A virgin ripe for wedlock, but unwed,
A prey for any wanton ravisher?
Seems it not cruel this reproach I cast
On thee and on myself and all the race?
Aye, but an open shame cannot be hid.
Hide it, O hide it, Oedipus, thou canst.
O, by our fathers' gods, consent I pray;
Come back to Thebes, come to thy father's home,
Bid Athens, as is meet, a fond farewell;
Thebes thy old foster-mother claims thee first.
O front of brass, thy subtle tongue would twist
To thy advantage every plea of right
Why try thy arts on me, why spread again
Toils where 'twould gall me sorest to be snared?
In old days when by self-wrought woes distraught,
I yearned for exile as a glad release,
Thy will refused the favor then I craved.
But when my frenzied grief had spent its force,
And I was fain to taste the sweets of home,
Then thou wouldst thrust me from my country, then
These ties of kindred were by thee ignored;
And now again when thou behold'st this State
And all its kindly people welcome me,
Thou seek'st to part us, wrapping in soft words
Hard thoughts. And yet what pleasure canst thou find
In forcing friendship on unwilling foes?
Suppose a man refused to grant some boon
When you importuned him, and afterwards
When you had got your heart's desire, consented,
Granting a grace from which all grace had fled,
Would not such favor seem an empty boon?
Yet such the boon thou profferest now to me,
Fair in appearance, but when tested false.
Yea, I will proved thee false, that these may hear;
Thou art come to take me, not to take me home,
But plant me on thy borders, that thy State
May so escape annoyance from this land.
That thou shalt never gain, but this instead--
My ghost to haunt thy country without end;
And for my sons, this heritage--no more--
Just room to die in. Have not I more skill
Than thou to draw the horoscope of Thebes?
Are not my teachers surer guides than thine--
Great Phoebus and the sire of Phoebus, Zeus?
Thou art a messenger suborned, thy tongue
Is sharper than a sword's edge, yet thy speech
Will bring thee more defeats than victories.
Howbeit, I know I waste my words--begone,
And leave me here; whate'er may be my lot,
He lives not ill who lives withal content.
Which loses in this parley, I o'erthrown
By thee, or thou who overthrow'st thyself?
I shall be well contented if thy suit
Fails with these strangers, as it has with me.
Unhappy man, will years ne'er make thee wise?
Must thou live on to cast a slur on age?
Thou hast a glib tongue, but no honest man,
Methinks, can argue well on any side.
'Tis one thing to speak much, another well.
Thy words, forsooth, are few and all well aimed!
Not for a man indeed with wits like thine.
Depart! I bid thee in these burghers' name,
And prowl no longer round me to blockade
My destined harbor.
I protest to these,
Not thee, and for thine answer to thy kin,
If e'er I take thee--
Who against their will
Could take me?
Though untaken thou shalt smart.
What power hast thou to execute this threat?
One of thy daughters is already seized,
The other I will carry off anon.
This is but prelude to thy woes.
Hast thou my child?
And soon shall have the other.
Ho, friends! ye will not surely play me false?
Chase this ungodly villain from your land.
Hence, stranger, hence avaunt! Thou doest wrong
In this, and wrong in all that thou hast done.
CREON (to his guards)
'Tis time by force to carry off the girl,
If she refuse of her free will to go.
Ah, woe is me! where shall I fly, where find
Succor from gods or men?
What would'st thou, stranger?
I meddle not with him, but her who is mine.
O princes of the land!
Sir, thou dost wrong.
I take but what is mine.
What means this, sirrah? quick unhand her, or
We'll fight it out.
Not till thou forbear.
'Tis war with Thebes if I am touched or harmed.
Did I not warn thee?
Quick, unhand the maid!
Command your minions; I am not your slave.
Desist, I bid thee.
CREON (to the guard)
And O bid thee march!
To the rescue, one and all!
Rally, neighbors to my call!
See, the foe is at the gate!
Rally to defend the State.
Ah, woe is me, they drag me hence, O friends.
Where art thou, daughter?
Haled along by force.
Thy hands, my child!
They will not let me, father.
Away with her!
Ah, woe is me, ah woe!
So those two crutches shall no longer serve thee
For further roaming. Since it pleaseth thee
To triumph o'er thy country and thy friends
Who mandate, though a prince, I here discharge,
Enjoy thy triumph; soon or late thou'lt find
Thou art an enemy to thyself, both now
And in time past, when in despite of friends
Thou gav'st the rein to passion, still thy bane.
Hold there, sir stranger!
Hands off, have a care.
Restore the maidens, else thou goest not.
Then Thebes will take a dearer surety soon;
I will lay hands on more than these two maids.
What canst thou further?
Carry off this man.
And deeds forthwith shall make them good.
Unless perchance our sovereign intervene.
O shameless voice! Would'st lay an hand on me?
Silence, I bid thee!
Thy suppliant to utter yet one curse!
Wretch, now my eyes are gone thou hast torn away
The helpless maiden who was eyes to me;
For these to thee and all thy cursed race
May the great Sun, whose eye is everywhere,
Grant length of days and old age like to mine.
Listen, O men of Athens, mark ye this?
They mark us both and understand that I
Wronged by the deeds defend myself with words.
Nothing shall curb my will; though I be old
And single-handed, I will have this man.
O woe is me!
Thou art a bold man, stranger, if thou think'st
To execute thy purpose.
So I do.
Then shall I deem this State no more a State.
With a just quarrel weakness conquers might.
Ye hear his words?
Aye words, but not yet deeds,
Zeus may haply know, not thou.
Insolence that thou must bear.
Haste ye princes, sound the alarm!
Men of Athens, arm ye, arm!
Quickly to the rescue come
Ere the robbers get them home.
Why this outcry? What is forward? wherefore was I called away
From the altar of Poseidon, lord of your Colonus? Say!
On what errand have I hurried hither without stop or stay.
Dear friend--those accents tell me who thou art--
Yon man but now hath done me a foul wrong.
What is this wrong and who hath wrought it? Speak.
Creon who stands before thee. He it is
Hath robbed me of my all, my daughters twain.
What means this?
Thou hast heard my tale of wrongs.
Ho! hasten to the altars, one of you.
Command my liegemen leave the sacrifice
And hurry, foot and horse, with rein unchecked,
To where the paths that packmen use diverge,
Lest the two maidens slip away, and I
Become a mockery to this my guest,
As one despoiled by force. Quick, as I bid.
As for this stranger, had I let my rage,
Justly provoked, have play, he had not 'scaped
Scathless and uncorrected at my hands.
But now the laws to which himself appealed,
These and none others shall adjudicate.
Thou shalt not quit this land, till thou hast fetched
The maidens and produced them in my sight.
Thou hast offended both against myself
And thine own race and country. Having come
Unto a State that champions right and asks
For every action warranty of law,
Thou hast set aside the custom of the land,
And like some freebooter art carrying off
What plunder pleases thee, as if forsooth
Thou thoughtest this a city without men,
Or manned by slaves, and me a thing of naught.
Yet not from Thebes this villainy was learnt;
Thebes is not wont to breed unrighteous sons,
Nor would she praise thee, if she learnt that thou
Wert robbing me--aye and the gods to boot,
Haling by force their suppliants, poor maids.
Were I on Theban soil, to prosecute
The justest claim imaginable, I
Would never wrest by violence my own
Without sanction of your State or King;
I should behave as fits an outlander
Living amongst a foreign folk, but thou
Shamest a city that deserves it not,
Even thine own, and plentitude of years
Have made of thee an old man and a fool.
Therefore again I charge thee as before,
See that the maidens are restored at once,
Unless thou would'st continue here by force
And not by choice a sojourner; so much
I tell thee home and what I say, I mean.
Thy case is perilous; though by birth and race
Thou should'st be just, thou plainly doest wrong.
Not deeming this city void of men
Or counsel, son of Aegeus, as thou say'st
I did what I have done; rather I thought
Your people were not like to set such store
by kin of mine and keep them 'gainst my will.
Nor would they harbor, so I stood assured,
A godless parricide, a reprobate
Convicted of incestuous marriage ties.
For on her native hill of Ares here
(I knew your far-famed Areopagus)
Sits Justice, and permits not vagrant folk
To stay within your borders. In that faith
I hunted down my quarry; and e'en then
i had refrained but for the curses dire
Wherewith he banned my kinsfolk and myself:
Such wrong, methought, had warrant for my act.
Anger has no old age but only death;
The dead alone can feel no touch of spite.
So thou must work thy will; my cause is just
But weak without allies; yet will I try,
Old as I am, to answer deeds with deeds.
O shameless railer, think'st thou this abuse
Defames my grey hairs rather than thine own?
Murder and incest, deeds of horror, all
Thou blurtest forth against me, all I have borne,
No willing sinner; so it pleased the gods
Wrath haply with my sinful race of old,
Since thou could'st find no sin in me myself
For which in retribution I was doomed
To trespass thus against myself and mine.
Answer me now, if by some oracle
My sire was destined to a bloody end
By a son's hand, can this reflect on me,
Me then unborn, begotten by no sire,
Conceived in no mother's womb? And if
When born to misery, as born I was,
I met my sire, not knowing whom I met
or what I did, and slew him, how canst thou
With justice blame the all-unconscious hand?
And for my mother, wretch, art not ashamed,
Seeing she was thy sister, to extort
From me the story of her marriage, such
A marriage as I straightway will proclaim.
For I will speak; thy lewd and impious speech
Has broken all the bonds of reticence.
She was, ah woe is me! she was my mother;
I knew it not, nor she; and she my mother
Bare children to the son whom she had borne,
A birth of shame. But this at least I know
Wittingly thou aspersest her and me;
But I unwitting wed, unwilling speak.
Nay neither in this marriage or this deed
Which thou art ever casting in my teeth--
A murdered sire--shall I be held to blame.
Come, answer me one question, if thou canst:
If one should presently attempt thy life,
Would'st thou, O man of justice, first inquire
If the assassin was perchance thy sire,
Or turn upon him? As thou lov'st thy life,
On thy aggressor thou would'st turn, no stay
Debating, if the law would bear thee out.
Such was my case, and such the pass whereto
The gods reduced me; and methinks my sire,
Could he come back to life, would not dissent.
Yet thou, for just thou art not, but a man
Who sticks at nothing, if it serve his plea,
Reproachest me with this before these men.
It serves thy turn to laud great Theseus' name,
And Athens as a wisely governed State;
Yet in thy flatteries one thing is to seek:
If any land knows how to pay the gods
Their proper rites, 'tis Athens most of all.
This is the land whence thou wast fain to steal
Their aged suppliant and hast carried off
My daughters. Therefore to yon goddesses,
I turn, adjure them and invoke their aid
To champion my cause, that thou mayest learn
What is the breed of men who guard this State.
An honest man, my liege, one sore bestead
By fortune, and so worthy our support.
Enough of words; the captors speed amain,
While we the victims stand debating here.
What would'st thou? What can I, a feeble man?
Show us the trail, and I'll attend thee too,
That, if thou hast the maidens hereabouts,
Thou mayest thyself discover them to me;
But if thy guards outstrip us with their spoil,
We may draw rein; for others speed, from whom
They will not 'scape to thank the gods at home.
Lead on, I say, the captor's caught, and fate
Hath ta'en the fowler in the toils he spread;
So soon are lost gains gotten by deceit.
And look not for allies; I know indeed
Such height of insolence was never reached
Without abettors or accomplices;
Thou hast some backer in thy bold essay,
But I will search this matter home and see
One man doth not prevail against the State.
Dost take my drift, or seem these words as vain
As seemed our warnings when the plot was hatched?
Nothing thou sayest can I here dispute,
But once at home I too shall act my part.
Threaten us and--begone! Thou, Oedipus,
Stay here assured that nothing save my death
Will stay my purpose to restore the maids.
Heaven bless thee, Theseus, for thy nobleness
And all thy loving care in my behalf.
[Exeunt THESEUS and CREON]
O when the flying foe,
Turning at last to bay,
Soon will give blow for blow,
Might I behold the fray;
Hear the loud battle roar
Swell, on the Pythian shore,
Or by the torch-lit bay,
Where the dread Queen and Maid
Cherish the mystic rites,
Rites they to none betray,
Ere on his lips is laid
Secrecy's golden key
By their own acolytes,
There I might chance behold
Theseus our captain bold
Meet with the robber band,
Ere they have fled the land,
Rescue by might and main
Maidens, the captives twain.
Haply on swiftest steed,
Or in the flying car,
Now they approach the glen,
West of white Oea's scaur.
They will be vanquished:
Dread are our warriors, dread
Theseus our chieftain's men.
Flashes each bridle bright,
Charges each gallant knight,
All that our Queen adore,
Pallas their patron, or
Him whose wide floods enring
Earth, the great Ocean-king
Whom Rhea bore.
Fight they or now prepare
To fight? a vision rare
Tells me that soon again
I shall behold the twain
Maidens so ill bestead,
By their kin buffeted.
Today, today Zeus worketh some great thing
This day shall victory bring.
O for the wings, the wings of a dove,
To be borne with the speed of the gale,
Up and still upwards to sail
And gaze on the fray from the clouds above.
All-seeing Zeus, O lord of heaven,
To our guardian host be given
Might triumphant to surprise
Flying foes and win their prize.
Hear us, Zeus, and hear us, child
Of Zeus, Athene undefiled,
Hear, Apollo, hunter, hear,
Huntress, sister of Apollo,
Who the dappled swift-foot deer
O'er the wooded glade dost follow;
Help with your two-fold power
Athens in danger's hour!
O wayfarer, thou wilt not have to tax
The friends who watch for thee with false presage,
For lo, an escort with the maids draws near.
[Enter ANTIGONE and ISMENE with THESEUS]
Where, where? what sayest thou?
O father, father,
Would that some god might grant thee eyes to see
This best of men who brings us back again.
My child! and are ye back indeed!
By Theseus and his gallant followers.
Come to your father's arms, O let me feel
A child's embrace I never hoped for more.
Thou askest what is doubly sweet to give.
Where are ye then?
We come together both.
My precious nurslings!
Fathers aye were fond.
Props of my age!
So sorrow sorrow props.
I have my darlings, and if death should come,
Death were not wholly bitter with you near.
Cling to me, press me close on either side,
There rest ye from your dreary wayfaring.
Now tell me of your ventures, but in brief;
Brief speech suffices for young maids like you.
Here is our savior; thou should'st hear the tale
From his own lips; so shall my part be brief.
I pray thee do not wonder if the sight
Of children, given o'er for lost, has made
My converse somewhat long and tedious.
Full well I know the joy I have of them
Is due to thee, to thee and no man else;
Thou wast their sole deliverer, none else.
The gods deal with thee after my desire,
With thee and with this land! for fear of heaven
I found above all peoples most with you,
And righteousness and lips that cannot lie.
I speak in gratitude of what I know,
For all I have I owe to thee alone.
Give me thy hand, O Prince, that I may touch it,
And if thou wilt permit me, kiss thy cheek.
What say I? Can I wish that thou should'st touch
One fallen like me to utter wretchedness,
Corrupt and tainted with a thousand ills?
Oh no, I would not let thee if thou would'st.
They only who have known calamity
Can share it. Let me greet thee where thou art,
And still befriend me as thou hast till now.
I marvel not if thou hast dallied long
In converse with thy children and preferred
Their speech to mine; I feel no jealousy,
I would be famous more by deeds than words.
Of this, old friend, thou hast had proof; my oath
I have fulfilled and brought thee back the maids
Alive and nothing harmed for all those threats.
And how the fight was won, 'twere waste of words
To boast--thy daughters here will tell thee all.
But of a matter that has lately chanced
On my way hitherward, I fain would have
Thy counsel--slight 'twould seem, yet worthy thought.
A wise man heeds all matters great or small.
What is it, son of Aegeus? Let me hear.
Of what thou askest I myself know naught.