OEDIPUS THE KING (Page 2)
To one who walketh warily his words
Commend themselves; swift counsels are not sure.
When with swift strides the stealthy plotter stalks
I must be quick too with my counterplot.
To wait his onset passively, for him
Is sure success, for me assured defeat.
What then's thy will? To banish me the land?
I would not have thee banished, no, but dead,
That men may mark the wages envy reaps.
I see thou wilt not yield, nor credit me.
[None but a fool would credit such as thou.] 
Thou art not wise.
Wise for myself at least.
Why not for me too?
Why for such a knave?
Suppose thou lackest sense.
Yet kings must rule.
Not if they rule ill.
Oh my Thebans, hear him!
Thy Thebans? am not I a Theban too?
Cease, princes; lo there comes, and none too soon,
Jocasta from the palace. Who so fit
As peacemaker to reconcile your feud?
Misguided princes, why have ye upraised
This wordy wrangle? Are ye not ashamed,
While the whole land lies striken, thus to voice
Your private injuries? Go in, my lord;
Go home, my brother, and forebear to make
A public scandal of a petty grief.
My royal sister, Oedipus, thy lord,
Hath bid me choose (O dread alternative!)
An outlaw's exile or a felon's death.
Yes, lady; I have caught him practicing
Against my royal person his vile arts.
May I ne'er speed but die accursed, if I
In any way am guilty of this charge.
Believe him, I adjure thee, Oedipus,
First for his solemn oath's sake, then for mine,
And for thine elders' sake who wait on thee.
Hearken, King, reflect, we pray thee, but not stubborn but relent.
Say to what should I consent?
Respect a man whose probity and troth
Are known to all and now confirmed by oath.
Dost know what grace thou cravest?
Yea, I know.
Declare it then and make thy meaning plain.
Brand not a friend whom babbling tongues assail;
Let not suspicion 'gainst his oath prevail.
Bethink you that in seeking this ye seek
In very sooth my death or banishment?
No, by the leader of the host divine!(Str. 2)
Witness, thou Sun, such thought was never mine,
Unblest, unfriended may I perish,
If ever I such wish did cherish!
But O my heart is desolate
Musing on our striken State,
Doubly fall'n should discord grow
Twixt you twain, to crown our woe.
Well, let him go, no matter what it cost me,
Or certain death or shameful banishment,
For your sake I relent, not his; and him,
Where'er he be, my heart shall still abhor.
Thou art as sullen in thy yielding mood
As in thine anger thou wast truculent.
Such tempers justly plague themselves the most.
Leave me in peace and get thee gone.
By thee misjudged, but justified by these.
Lady, lead indoors thy consort; wherefore longer here delay?
Tell me first how rose the fray.
Rumors bred unjust suspicious and injustice rankles sore.
Were both at fault?
What was the tale?
Ask me no more. The land is sore distressed;
'Twere better sleeping ills to leave at rest.
Strange counsel, friend! I know thou mean'st me well,
And yet would'st mitigate and blunt my zeal.
King, I say it once again,
Witless were I proved, insane,
If I lightly put away
Thee my country's prop and stay,
Pilot who, in danger sought,
To a quiet haven brought
Our distracted State; and now
Who can guide us right but thou?
Let me too, I adjure thee, know, O king,
What cause has stirred this unrelenting wrath.
I will, for thou art more to me than these.
Lady, the cause is Creon and his plots.
But what provoked the quarrel? make this clear.
He points me out as Laius' murderer.
Of his own knowledge or upon report?
He is too cunning to commit himself,
And makes a mouthpiece of a knavish seer.
Then thou mayest ease thy conscience on that score.
Listen and I'll convince thee that no man
Hath scot or lot in the prophetic art.
Here is the proof in brief. An oracle
Once came to Laius (I will not say
'Twas from the Delphic god himself, but from
His ministers) declaring he was doomed
To perish by the hand of his own son,
A child that should be born to him by me.
Now Laius--so at least report affirmed--
Was murdered on a day by highwaymen,
No natives, at a spot where three roads meet.
As for the child, it was but three days old,
When Laius, its ankles pierced and pinned
Together, gave it to be cast away
By others on the trackless mountain side.
So then Apollo brought it not to pass
The child should be his father's murderer,
Or the dread terror find accomplishment,
And Laius be slain by his own son.
Such was the prophet's horoscope. O king,
Regard it not. Whate'er the god deems fit
To search, himself unaided will reveal.
What memories, what wild tumult of the soul
Came o'er me, lady, as I heard thee speak!
What mean'st thou? What has shocked and startled thee?
Methought I heard thee say that Laius
Was murdered at the meeting of three roads.
So ran the story that is current still.
Where did this happen? Dost thou know the place?
Phocis the land is called; the spot is where
Branch roads from Delphi and from Daulis meet.
And how long is it since these things befell?
'Twas but a brief while were thou wast proclaimed
Our country's ruler that the news was brought.
O Zeus, what hast thou willed to do with me!
What is it, Oedipus, that moves thee so?
Ask me not yet; tell me the build and height
Of Laius? Was he still in manhood's prime?
Tall was he, and his hair was lightly strewn
With silver; and not unlike thee in form.
O woe is me! Mehtinks unwittingly
I laid but now a dread curse on myself.
What say'st thou? When I look upon thee, my king,
'Tis a dread presentiment
That in the end the seer will prove not blind.
One further question to resolve my doubt.
I quail; but ask, and I will answer all.
Had he but few attendants or a train
Of armed retainers with him, like a prince?
They were but five in all, and one of them
A herald; Laius in a mule-car rode.
Alas! 'tis clear as noonday now. But say,
Lady, who carried this report to Thebes?
A serf, the sole survivor who returned.
Haply he is at hand or in the house?
No, for as soon as he returned and found
Thee reigning in the stead of Laius slain,
He clasped my hand and supplicated me
To send him to the alps and pastures, where
He might be farthest from the sight of Thebes.
And so I sent him. 'Twas an honest slave
And well deserved some better recompense.
Fetch him at once. I fain would see the man.
He shall be brought; but wherefore summon him?
Lady, I fear my tongue has overrun
Discretion; therefore I would question him.
Well, he shall come, but may not I too claim
To share the burden of thy heart, my king?
And thou shalt not be frustrate of thy wish.
Now my imaginings have gone so far.
Who has a higher claim that thou to hear
My tale of dire adventures? Listen then.
My sire was Polybus of Corinth, and
My mother Merope, a Dorian;
And I was held the foremost citizen,
Till a strange thing befell me, strange indeed,
Yet scarce deserving all the heat it stirred.
A roisterer at some banquet, flown with wine,
Shouted "Thou art not true son of thy sire."
It irked me, but I stomached for the nonce
The insult; on the morrow I sought out
My mother and my sire and questioned them.
They were indignant at the random slur
Cast on my parentage and did their best
To comfort me, but still the venomed barb
Rankled, for still the scandal spread and grew.
So privily without their leave I went
To Delphi, and Apollo sent me back
Baulked of the knowledge that I came to seek.
But other grievous things he prophesied,
Woes, lamentations, mourning, portents dire;
To wit I should defile my mother's bed
And raise up seed too loathsome to behold,
And slay the father from whose loins I sprang.
Then, lady,--thou shalt hear the very truth--
As I drew near the triple-branching roads,
A herald met me and a man who sat
In a car drawn by colts--as in thy tale--
The man in front and the old man himself
Threatened to thrust me rudely from the path,
Then jostled by the charioteer in wrath
I struck him, and the old man, seeing this,
Watched till I passed and from his car brought down
Full on my head the double-pointed goad.
Yet was I quits with him and more; one stroke
Of my good staff sufficed to fling him clean
Out of the chariot seat and laid him prone.
And so I slew them every one. But if
Betwixt this stranger there was aught in common
With Laius, who more miserable than I,
What mortal could you find more god-abhorred?
Wretch whom no sojourner, no citizen
May harbor or address, whom all are bound
To harry from their homes. And this same curse
Was laid on me, and laid by none but me.
Yea with these hands all gory I pollute
The bed of him I slew. Say, am I vile?
Am I not utterly unclean, a wretch
Doomed to be banished, and in banishment
Forgo the sight of all my dearest ones,
And never tread again my native earth;
Or else to wed my mother and slay my sire,
Polybus, who begat me and upreared?
If one should say, this is the handiwork
Of some inhuman power, who could blame
His judgment? But, ye pure and awful gods,
Forbid, forbid that I should see that day!
May I be blotted out from living men
Ere such a plague spot set on me its brand!
We too, O king, are troubled; but till thou
Hast questioned the survivor, still hope on.
My hope is faint, but still enough survives
To bid me bide the coming of this herd.
Suppose him here, what wouldst thou learn of him?
I'll tell thee, lady; if his tale agrees
With thine, I shall have 'scaped calamity.
And what of special import did I say?
In thy report of what the herdsman said
Laius was slain by robbers; now if he
Still speaks of robbers, not a robber, I
Slew him not; "one" with "many" cannot square.
But if he says one lonely wayfarer,
The last link wanting to my guilt is forged.
Well, rest assured, his tale ran thus at first,
Nor can he now retract what then he said;
Not I alone but all our townsfolk heard it.
E'en should he vary somewhat in his story,
He cannot make the death of Laius
In any wise jump with the oracle.
For Loxias said expressly he was doomed
To die by my child's hand, but he, poor babe,
He shed no blood, but perished first himself.
So much for divination. Henceforth I
Will look for signs neither to right nor left.
Thou reasonest well. Still I would have thee send
And fetch the bondsman hither. See to it.
That will I straightway. Come, let us within.
I would do nothing that my lord mislikes.
[Exeunt OEDIPUS and JOCASTA]
My lot be still to lead
The life of innocence and fly
Irreverence in word or deed,
To follow still those laws ordained on high
Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky
No mortal birth they own,
Olympus their progenitor alone:
Ne'er shall they slumber in oblivion cold,
The god in them is strong and grows not old.
Of insolence is bred
The tyrant; insolence full blown,
With empty riches surfeited,
Scales the precipitous height and grasps the throne.
Then topples o'er and lies in ruin prone;
No foothold on that dizzy steep.
But O may Heaven the true patriot keep
Who burns with emulous zeal to serve the State.
God is my help and hope, on him I wait.
But the proud sinner, or in word or deed,
That will not Justice heed,
Nor reverence the shrine
Of images divine,
Perdition seize his vain imaginings,
If, urged by greed profane,
He grasps at ill-got gain,
And lays an impious hand on holiest things.
Who when such deeds are done
Can hope heaven's bolts to shun?
If sin like this to honor can aspire,
Why dance I still and lead the sacred choir?
No more I'll seek earth's central oracle,
Or Abae's hallowed cell,
Nor to Olympia bring
My votive offering.
If before all God's truth be not bade plain.
O Zeus, reveal thy might,
King, if thou'rt named aright
Omnipotent, all-seeing, as of old;
For Laius is forgot;
His weird, men heed it not;
Apollo is forsook and faith grows cold.
My lords, ye look amazed to see your queen
With wreaths and gifts of incense in her hands.
I had a mind to visit the high shrines,
For Oedipus is overwrought, alarmed
With terrors manifold. He will not use
His past experience, like a man of sense,
To judge the present need, but lends an ear
To any croaker if he augurs ill.
Since then my counsels naught avail, I turn
To thee, our present help in time of trouble,
Apollo, Lord Lycean, and to thee
My prayers and supplications here I bring.
Lighten us, lord, and cleanse us from this curse!
For now we all are cowed like mariners
Who see their helmsman dumbstruck in the storm.
[Enter Corinthian MESSENGER.]
My masters, tell me where the palace is
Of Oedipus; or better, where's the king.
Here is the palace and he bides within;
This is his queen the mother of his children.
All happiness attend her and the house,
Blessed is her husband and her marriage-bed.
My greetings to thee, stranger; thy fair words
Deserve a like response. But tell me why
Thou comest--what thy need or what thy news.
Good for thy consort and the royal house.
What may it be? Whose messenger art thou?
The Isthmian commons have resolved to make
Thy husband king--so 'twas reported there.
What! is not aged Polybus still king?
No, verily; he's dead and in his grave.
What! is he dead, the sire of Oedipus?
If I speak falsely, may I die myself.
Quick, maiden, bear these tidings to my lord.
Ye god-sent oracles, where stand ye now!
This is the man whom Oedipus long shunned,
In dread to prove his murderer; and now
He dies in nature's course, not by his hand.
My wife, my queen, Jocasta, why hast thou
Summoned me from my palace?
Hear this man,
And as thou hearest judge what has become
Of all those awe-inspiring oracles.
Who is this man, and what his news for me?
He comes from Corinth and his message this:
Thy father Polybus hath passed away.
What? let me have it, stranger, from thy mouth.
If I must first make plain beyond a doubt
My message, know that Polybus is dead.
By treachery, or by sickness visited?
One touch will send an old man to his rest.
So of some malady he died, poor man.
Yes, having measured the full span of years.
Out on it, lady! why should one regard
The Pythian hearth or birds that scream i' the air?
Did they not point at me as doomed to slay
My father? but he's dead and in his grave
And here am I who ne'er unsheathed a sword;
Unless the longing for his absent son
Killed him and so I slew him in a sense.
But, as they stand, the oracles are dead--
Dust, ashes, nothing, dead as Polybus.
Say, did not I foretell this long ago?
Thou didst: but I was misled by my fear.
Then let I no more weigh upon thy soul.
Must I not fear my mother's marriage bed.
Why should a mortal man, the sport of chance,
With no assured foreknowledge, be afraid?
Best live a careless life from hand to mouth.
This wedlock with thy mother fear not thou.
How oft it chances that in dreams a man
Has wed his mother! He who least regards
Such brainsick phantasies lives most at ease.
I should have shared in full thy confidence,
Were not my mother living; since she lives
Though half convinced I still must live in dread.
And yet thy sire's death lights out darkness much.
Much, but my fear is touching her who lives.
Who may this woman be whom thus you fear?
Merope, stranger, wife of Polybus.
And what of her can cause you any fear?
A heaven-sent oracle of dread import.
A mystery, or may a stranger hear it?
Aye, 'tis no secret. Loxias once foretold
That I should mate with mine own mother, and shed
With my own hands the blood of my own sire.
Hence Corinth was for many a year to me
A home distant; and I trove abroad,
But missed the sweetest sight, my parents' face.
Was this the fear that exiled thee from home?
Yea, and the dread of slaying my own sire.
Why, since I came to give thee pleasure, King,
Have I not rid thee of this second fear?
Well, thou shalt have due guerdon for thy pains.
Well, I confess what chiefly made me come
Was hope to profit by thy coming home.
Nay, I will ne'er go near my parents more.
My son, 'tis plain, thou know'st not what thou doest.
How so, old man? For heaven's sake tell me all.
If this is why thou dreadest to return.
Yea, lest the god's word be fulfilled in me.
Lest through thy parents thou shouldst be accursed?
This and none other is my constant dread.
Dost thou not know thy fears are baseless all?
How baseless, if I am their very son?
Since Polybus was naught to thee in blood.
What say'st thou? was not Polybus my sire?
As much thy sire as I am, and no more.
My sire no more to me than one who is naught?
Since I begat thee not, no more did he.
What reason had he then to call me son?
Know that he took thee from my hands, a gift.
Yet, if no child of his, he loved me well.
A childless man till then, he warmed to thee.
A foundling or a purchased slave, this child?
I found thee in Cithaeron's wooded glens.
What led thee to explore those upland glades?
My business was to tend the mountain flocks.
A vagrant shepherd journeying for hire?
True, but thy savior in that hour, my son.
My savior? from what harm? what ailed me then?
Those ankle joints are evidence enow.
Ah, why remind me of that ancient sore?
I loosed the pin that riveted thy feet.
Yes, from my cradle that dread brand I bore.
Whence thou deriv'st the name that still is thine.
Who did it? I adjure thee, tell me who
Say, was it father, mother?
I know not.
The man from whom I had thee may know more.
What, did another find me, not thyself?
Not I; another shepherd gave thee me.
Who was he? Would'st thou know again the man?
He passed indeed for one of Laius' house.
The king who ruled the country long ago?
The same: he was a herdsman of the king.
And is he living still for me to see him?
His fellow-countrymen should best know that.
Doth any bystander among you know
The herd he speaks of, or by seeing him
Afield or in the city? answer straight!
The hour hath come to clear this business up.
Methinks he means none other than the hind
Whom thou anon wert fain to see; but that
Our queen Jocasta best of all could tell.
Madam, dost know the man we sent to fetch?
Is the same of whom the stranger speaks?
Who is the man? What matter? Let it be.
'Twere waste of thought to weigh such idle words.
No, with such guiding clues I cannot fail
To bring to light the secret of my birth.
Oh, as thou carest for thy life, give o'er
This quest. Enough the anguish I endure.
Be of good cheer; though I be proved the son
Of a bondwoman, aye, through three descents
Triply a slave, thy honor is unsmirched.
Yet humor me, I pray thee; do not this.
I cannot; I must probe this matter home.
'Tis for thy sake I advise thee for the best.
I grow impatient of this best advice.
Ah mayst thou ne'er discover who thou art!
Go, fetch me here the herd, and leave yon woman
To glory in her pride of ancestry.
O woe is thee, poor wretch! With that last word
I leave thee, henceforth silent evermore.
Why, Oedipus, why stung with passionate grief
Hath the queen thus departed? Much I fear
From this dead calm will burst a storm of woes.
Let the storm burst, my fixed resolve still holds,
To learn my lineage, be it ne'er so low.
It may be she with all a woman's pride
Thinks scorn of my base parentage. But I
Who rank myself as Fortune's favorite child,
The giver of good gifts, shall not be shamed.
She is my mother and the changing moons
My brethren, and with them I wax and wane.
Thus sprung why should I fear to trace my birth?
Nothing can make me other than I am.
If my soul prophetic err not, if my wisdom aught avail,
Thee, Cithaeron, I shall hail,
As the nurse and foster-mother of our Oedipus shall greet
Ere tomorrow's full moon rises, and exalt thee as is meet.
Dance and song shall hymn thy praises, lover of our royal race.
Phoebus, may my words find grace!
Child, who bare thee, nymph or goddess? sure thy sure was more than
Haply the hill-roamer Pan.
Of did Loxias beget thee, for he haunts the upland wold;
Or Cyllene's lord, or Bacchus, dweller on the hilltops cold?
Did some Heliconian Oread give him thee, a new-born joy?
Nymphs with whom he love to toy?
Elders, if I, who never yet before
Have met the man, may make a guess, methinks
I see the herdsman who we long have sought;
His time-worn aspect matches with the years
Of yonder aged messenger; besides
I seem to recognize the men who bring him
As servants of my own. But you, perchance,
Having in past days known or seen the herd,
May better by sure knowledge my surmise.
I recognize him; one of Laius' house;
A simple hind, but true as any man.
Corinthian, stranger, I address thee first,
Is this the man thou meanest!
This is he.
And now old man, look up and answer all
I ask thee. Wast thou once of Laius' house?
I was, a thrall, not purchased but home-bred.
What was thy business? how wast thou employed?
The best part of my life I tended sheep.
What were the pastures thou didst most frequent?
Cithaeron and the neighboring alps.
Thou must have known yon man, at least by fame?
Yon man? in what way? what man dost thou mean?
The man here, having met him in past times...
Off-hand I cannot call him well to mind.
No wonder, master. But I will revive
His blunted memories. Sure he can recall
What time together both we drove our flocks,
He two, I one, on the Cithaeron range,
For three long summers; I his mate from spring
Till rose Arcturus; then in winter time
I led mine home, he his to Laius' folds.
Did these things happen as I say, or no?
'Tis long ago, but all thou say'st is true.
Well, thou mast then remember giving me
A child to rear as my own foster-son?
Why dost thou ask this question? What of that?
Friend, he that stands before thee was that child.
A plague upon thee! Hold thy wanton tongue!
Softly, old man, rebuke him not; thy words
Are more deserving chastisement than his.
O best of masters, what is my offense?
Not answering what he asks about the child.
He speaks at random, babbles like a fool.
If thou lack'st grace to speak, I'll loose thy tongue.
For mercy's sake abuse not an old man.
Arrest the villain, seize and pinion him!
What have I done? what wouldst thou further learn?
Didst give this man the child of whom he asks?
I did; and would that I had died that day!
And die thou shalt unless thou tell the truth.
But, if I tell it, I am doubly lost.
The knave methinks will still prevaricate.
Nay, I confessed I gave it long ago.
Whence came it? was it thine, or given to thee?
I had it from another, 'twas not mine.
From whom of these our townsmen, and what house?