SENECA, OEDIPUS
 

SENECA INDEX

HERCULES FURENS 1

HERCULES FURENS 2

TROADES

MEDEA

PHAEDRA

OEDIPUS

AGAMEMNON

THYESTES

HERCULES OETAEUS 1

HERCULES OETAEUS 2

PHOENISSAE

OEDIPUS, TRANSLATED BY FRANK JUSTUS MILLER

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

OEDIPUS, king of Thebes; the son, as he supposed, of Polybus, king of Corinth, and Merope his wife, but found to be the son of Laïus and Jocasta.
JOCASTA, wife of Oedipus, found to be also his mother.
CREON, a Theban prince, brother of Jocasta.
TIRESIAS, the prophet of Thebes, now old and blind.
MANTO, daughter of Tiresias.
OLD MAN, sent from Corinth to announce to Oedipus the death of Polybus.
PHORBAS, shepherd in charge of the royal flocks of Thebes.
MESSENGER, who announces the self-inflicted blindness of Oedipus and the suicide of Jocasta.
CHORUS of Theban elders.

THE SCENE is laid before the royal palace of Thebes; the play opens in the early morning of the day within which the tragedy is consummated.

ARGUMENT

An oracle once came to Laïus, king of Thebes, that he should perish by his own son’s hands. When, therefore, a son was born to him, he gave the infant to his chief shepherd to expose on Mount Cithaeron. But the tender-hearted rustic gave the babe instead to a wandering herdsman of Polybus, the king of Corinth.
Years later a reputed son of Polybus, Oedipus by name, fearing an oracle which doomed him to slay his father and wed his mother, fled from Corinth, that so he might escape this dreadful fate. As he fared northward he met and slew an old man who imperiously disputed the narrow way with him. Upon arriving at the Theban land he read the riddle of the Sphinx, and so destroyed that monster which Juno had sent to harass the land which she hated; and for this service Oedipus was made the husband of Jocasta, the widowed queen of Laïus (recently slain, so said report, by a band of robbers, on the high road), and set upon the vacant throne.
Now other years have passed, and sons and daughters have been born to the royal pair. But now a dreadful pestilence afflicts the State. Oedipus has sent Creon to consult the oracle, to learn the cause and seek the means of deliverance from the scourge. And while he waits his messenger’s return the murky dawn still finds him grieving for his kingdom’s wretched plight.

OEDIPUS
[1] Now night is driven away; the hesitant sun returns, and rises, sadly veiling his beams in murky cloud; with woeful flame he brings a light of gloom and will look forth upon our homes stricken with ravening plague, and day will reveal the havoc which night has wrought.

[6] Does any man rejoice in royalty? O deceitful good, how many ills dost hide beneath thy smiling face! As lofty peaks do ever catch the blasts, and as the cliff, which with its jutting rocks cleaves the vast deep, is beaten by the waves of even a quiet sea, so does exalted empire lie exposed to fate. How happily had I escaped the sceptre of my father, Polybus! An exile freed from cares,1 fearless, wandering, upon a kingdom (be heaven and the gods my witness) I came by chance. Things unspeakable I fear – that by my hand my father shall be slain. Of this the Delphic laurels warn me, and another, still greater crime they assign to me. Is any wickedness greater than a murdered sire? O hapless filial love! – I am ashamed to tell my doom – Phoebus threatens the son with his father’s chamber, with bed made infamous, defiled by unhallowed passion. ‘Twas the fear of this that drove me from my father’s realm. Not as a fugitive2 did I leave my home; of my own will, distrustful of myself, O Nature, I made thy laws secure. When thou dreadest some great calamity, though thou thinkst it cannot befall, still do thou fear. I dread all things exceedingly, and I do not trust myself unto myself.

[28] Now, even now the fates were aiming some blow at me; for what am I to think when this pestilence, so deadly to Cadmus’ race, so widespread in its destruction, spares me along? For what evil am I reserved? Midst the ruins of my city, midst funerals to be lamented with tears ever fresh, midst the slaughter of a nation, I stand unscathed – aye! Prisoner at Phoebus’ bar. Couldst thou hope that to crimes like thine a wholesome kingdom would be granted? I have made heaven pestilent.3

[37] No soft breeze with its cool breath relieves our breasts that pant with heat, no gentle Zephyrs blow; but Titan augments the scorching dog-stars’s fires, close-pressing upon the Nemean Lion’s4 back. Water has fled the streams, and from the herbage verdure. Dirce is dry, scant flows Ismenus’ stream, and with its meagre wave scarce wets the naked sands. With paling light glides Phoebus’ sister athwart the sky, and the gloomy heavens are wan in the lowering day. No star in clear nights glitters, but a heavy, black fog broods o’er the lands. The citadels of the heavenly gods and their homes on high are veiled in hellish aspect. The ripened corn withholds its fruitful harvest, and though the golden crop waves high its wheaten ears, the grain dies shrivelled on its parched stalk. No class is free from death; but every age and sex is smitten alike. Young men with old, fathers with sons, are joined by the deadly plague; husband and wife by a single fire are burned, and funerals lack bitter tears and lamentations. Nay, the persistent bane of our so great a woe hath of itself dried our eyes and, as oft in utmost misery, our tears have perished. Here to the final flames a stricken father bears his son; there a crazed mother carries her child and hastens back to bring another to the selfsame pyre. Nay more, in their very grief new grief arises and mist funeral rites their own rites befall. Anon, with others’ fires they burn the bodies of their own; yes, fire is stolen, for the wretched have no shame. No separate mounds cover the hallowed bones. Mere burning is enough; how small a part is turned to ashes! No ground is left for tombs; nor woods refuse more pyres. Neither prayers nor any skill avails the stricken. Healers fall victims; the disease drags down those who seek to aid.

[71] Prostrate at the altars, I stretch suppliant hands, begging my fates to hasten, that I may anticipate my country’s ruin and not fall after all the rest, and mine become the last funeral of my realm. Oh, divinities too harsh, Oh, heavy fate! To me alone in all this people is death denied, so ready for all others? Come, fly the land thy baleful hand has tainted, leave the tears, the deaths, the pest-laden air which thou bringest with thee, ill-omened guest; fly quickly! (long since ‘twere well) – even to thy parents!5

JOCASTA
[Who has entered in time to hear her husband’s last words.]
[81] What boots it, husband, to make woe heavier by lamentation? This very thing, methinks, is regal – to face adversity and, the more dubious thy station and the more the greatness of empire totters to its fall, the more firm to stand, brave with unfaltering foot. ‘Tis not a manly thing to turn the back to Fortune.

OEDIPUS
[87] Far from me is the crime and shame of cowardice, and my valour knows not dastard fears. Should swords be drawn against me, against even the fierce Giants would I boldly bear opposing hands. The Sphinx, weaving her words in darkling measures, I fled not; I faced the bloody jaws of the fell prophetess and the ground white with scattered bones. And when from a lofty cliff, already hovering over her prey, she prepared her pinions and, lashing her tail like a savage lion, stirred up her threatening wrath, I asked her riddle. Thereupon came a sound of dread; her jaws crashed, and her talons, brooking no delay, eager for my vitals, tore at the rocks. The lot’s intricate, guile-entangled words, the grim riddle of the winged beast, I solved.

[103] [To himself.] Why too late dost thou now in madness pray for death? Thou hadst thy chance to die. This sceptre is thy meed of praise, this thy reward for the Sphinx destroyed. That dust, that cursed dust of the artful monster is warring against me still; that pest which I destroyed is now destroying Thebes. One only salvation is left us now, if any way of salvation Phoebus shows.

CHORUS
[110] Thou art falling, O noble race of Cadmus, with all thy city. Reft of its tillers thou seest thy land, O pitiable Thebes. Destruction feeds, O Bacchus, on that soldiery of thine, thy comrades to farthest Ind, who dared to ride on the Eastern plains and plant thy banners on the world’s first edge. The Arabs, blest with their cinnamon groves, they saw, and fleeing horsemen, the backs of the treacherous Parthians,6 to be feared for their flying shafts; they pierced to the shores of the ruddy sea,7 whence Phoebus discloses his rising beams, opens the gates of day, and with nearer torch darkens the naked Indians.

[124] We, the offspring of an unconquered stock, are perishing, are falling ‘neath the fierce onslaught of fate. Each hour a new train moves on to Death; the long array of a mournful band hastes to the shades; the gloomy procession jams, and for the throng that seeks burial the seven gates spread not wide enough. The grievous wrack of carnage halts and funeral crowds funeral in unbroken line.

[133] First the plague struck the slow-moving sheep; to their bane did the woolly flock crop the rich herbage. Ready to smite his victim’s neck, the priest had taken his stand; while his upraised hand aimed the unerring blow, the bull, his horn glimmering with gold, sank dully down. Shattered by the blow of a heavy axe, the neck yawned open8; but no blood, only foul gore, oozing from the dark wound, stained the steel. The prancing steed, slowing in mid-course, fell down and flung his rider over his sinking shoulder.

[145] The abandoned cattle lie stricken in the fields; the bull pines away amidst his dying kine. The herdsman deserts his dwindling herd, midst this wasting bullocks dying. No more do stags fear ravenous wolves; subsides the mad lion’s roar; no fierceness now among the shaggy bears. The lurking serpent has lost its bane; parched and dying he lies, his venom dried.

[154] No more do the woods, crowned with their own foliage, shed dusky shadows on the mountain-sides; the fields no more grow green with fertile glebe, no more do the vine’s full branches bend ‘neath the load of its own deity; all things have felt our plague.

[160] They have burst the bars of abysmal Erebus, the throng of sisters with Tartarean torch,9 and Phlegethon,9 changing his own course, has mingled Styx with our Sidonian10 streams. Dark Death opens wide his greedy, gaping jaws and unfolds all his wings, and the boatman11 who plies the troubled stream with roomy skiff, tough hardy in his vigorous old age, can scarce draw back his arms wearied with constant poling, worn out with ferrying the fresh throng o’er. Nay more, they say that the dog12 has burst his chains of Taenarian iron, and is wandering through our fields; that the earth has rumbled; that ghosts go stealing through the groves, larger than mortal forms; that twice have Cadmean forests trembled and shed their snows; twice has Dirce welled up with blood; in the silent night Amphion’s hounds have bayed.

[180] O dire appearance and new form of death, far heavier than death! Benumbing languor fetters the listless limbs; the sickly cheeks burn red; small spots overspread the face. Then hot vapours scorch the body’s very citadel13 and distend the cheeks with blood; the eyes stand staring, and accursèd fire14 feeds upon the limbs. There is a ringing in the ears; black blood drips from the strained nostrils and bursts the swelling veins. Full oft does a grating cough rack the inmost frame. Now they strain cold stones close to their breasts; or where new freedom in the house permits, since the watcher has been borne forth, ye15 hasten to the springs, and with full draughts feed your fevered thirst. Prostrate the crowds lie at the altars and pray for death – this alone the compliant gods bestow. They seek the shrines, not that they may appease the divinities with gifts, but joying to glut the very gods.

[CREON is seen returning from his mission.16]

OEDIPUS
[202] Who, pray, is he who seeks the palace with hasty steps? Is Creon at hand, noble in blood and deed, or does my sick fancy see false for true?

CHORUS
[205] He is at hand, Creon, by all our prayers desired.

[Enter CREON.]

OEDIPUS
[206] With dread am I shaken, fearing the trend of fate,17 and my fluttering heart wavers betwixt two moods; where joy with grief commingled lies in doubt, the uncertain soul fears though it longs to know.

[210] O brother of my consort, if to weary hearts thou bringest any aid, quickly declare thy news.

CREON
[212] Doubtful lies the answer and involved the doom.

OEDIPUS
[213] Who grants a doubtful help to sufferers, grants none.

CREON
[214] In mazy riddles is the Delphic god wont to hide his secrets.

OEDIPUS
[215] Speak out, though it be doubtful; to read riddles to Oedipus alone is given.

CREON
[217] The god bids the king’s murder be atoned by banishment and the murdered Laïus be avenged. Not sooner shall the bright sun course the heavens, and give wholesome draughts of unpolluted air.

OEDIPUS
[221] And who was the murderer of the illustrious king? Tell whom Phoebus names, that he may pay the penalty.

CREON
[223] May it be safe, I pray, to have gold of things to sight and hearing dreadful. Numbness has settled though my limbs; my chill blood freezes. When Phoebus’ hallowed shrine I entered with reverent feet and raised pious hands in due supplication to the god, the double peaks of snow-clad Parnassus gave an angry roar; the overhanging laurel of Phoebus trembled and shook its foliage, and suddenly the holy waters of the Castalian spring stood still. The priestess of Leto’s son began to fling loose her bristling locks and, deep stirred, to suffer Phoebus. She had not yet reached the cave, when, with a mighty roar, words louder than voice of man leaped forth:18

[233] “Kind shall the stars return to the Theban city of Cadmus,
If, O fugitive guest, Ismenian Dirce thou leavest,
Stained with the blood of a king, from infancy known to Apollo.
Brief shall be to thee the joys of thy impious slaughter:
With thee war shalt thou bring, and war to thy sons leave behind thee,
Foully returned, once more to the impious womb of thy mother.”

OEDIPUS
[239] That which, at Heaven’s warning, I am now prepared to do should fittingly have been done in honour of the dead king’s dust, that none might treacherously profane the sacred sceptre. Kings have most need to guard the life of kings; none hath care for him when dead whom alive he fears.

CREON
[244] Our care for the dead is greater fear dispelled.

OEDIPUS
[245] Did any fear prevent a pious duty?

CREON
[246] Aye, the Sphinx and the dire threats of her accursèd chant.

OEDIPUS
[247] Now at Heaven’s command let the crime be expiated. Whoever of the gods dost look with favour upon kingdoms – thou,19 thou whose are the laws of the swift-revolving heavens; and thou,20 greatest glory of the unclouded sky, who presidest over the twelve signs21 in thy changing course, who doest unroll the slow centuries with swift wheel; and thou, his sister,22 ever faring opposite to thy brother, Phoebe, night-wanderer; thou23 whom the winds obey, who over the level deep dost speed thy azure care; and thou24 who dost allot homes devoid of light – do ye all attend: Him by whose hand Laïus fell may no peaceful dwelling, no friendly household gods, no hospitable land in exile entertain; over shameful nuptials may he lament and impious progeny; may he, too, slay his own father with his own hand and do – can aught heavier be entreated? – whatever I have fled from. There shall be no place for pardon. I swear by the sway which I now, a stranger, bear, and by that which I abandoned; by my household gods; by thee, O father Neptune, who in double stream dost play against my shores on either side25 with scanty waves. And do thou26 thyself come as witness to my words, thou who doest inspire the fate-speaking lips of Cirrha’s priestess: So may my father spend peaceful age and end his days secure on his lofty throne; so may Merope know the nuptial torches of her Polybus alone, as by no grace shall the guilty one escape my hand.

[274] But tell me, where was the impious crime committed? Did he die in open battle or by treachery?

CREON
[276] Seeking holy Castalia’s leafy groves, he trod a way hedged in by close-pressing thickets, where the road, three-forking, branches out upon the plains. One road cuts through Phocis, the land that Bacchus loves, whence lofty Parnassus, leaving the lowlands, by a gentle slope lifts heavenward his two peaks; but one leads off to the land27 of Sisyphus bathed by two seas; a third into the Olenian fields, through a low valley winding, reaches the vagrant waters and crosses the cool shallows of Elis’ stream. Here as he fared, relying on peaceful times, a band of robbers suddenly attacked him with the sword and wrought the crime unwitnessed.

[TIRESIAS is seen approaching.]
[288] But in the nick of time, stirred by Phoebus’ oracle, Tiresias, through slow with trembling limbs, comes hurrying, and with him Manto, leading her sightless father.

[Enter TIRESIAS, old and blind, led by his daughter MANTO.]

OEDIPUS
[291] O thou to the gods consecrate, thou next to Phoebus’ self, explain the oracle; tell whom the fates demand.

TIRESIAS
[293] That my tongue is slow to speak, that it craves delay, it behoves thee not, O great-souled Oedipus, to wonder; from the blind much of the truth is hidden. But whither my country, whither Phoebus calls me, I will follow. Let us search out the fates; if my blood were fresh and warm, I would receive the god in my own breast.28 Drive to the altars a pure white bull and a heifer whose neck has never borne the curved yoke. Do thou, my child, who guidest thy blind father, report the clear tokens of the prophetic sacrifice.
[The victims are stations at the altars as directed.]

MANTO
[303] A perfect victim stands before the sacred altars.

TIRESIAS
[304] To our vows invoke Heaven’s presence with the accustomed prayer, and heap the altars with the Orient’s gift of frankincense.

MANTO
[306] Now have I heaped incense on the gods’ sacred hearth.

TIRESIAS
[307] What of the flame? Doth is already seize upon the generous feast?

MANTO
[308] It flashed up with sudden light, and suddenly died down.

TIRESIAS
[309] Did the fire stand clear and bright? Did it lift a pure, pointed flame straight skyward and, spreading, unfold its topmost crest upon the air, or sidewise does it creep uncertain of its course, and with wavering smoke fall murkily?

MANTO
[314] Not one appearance only had the changeful flame. As when rain-bringing Iris entwines her various colours, who, over a great space of heaven sweeping, by her painted bow proclaims the storm, so wouldst thou be in doubt what colour is lacking, what is present in the flame; dark-blue, mingled with yellow spots, it hovered, then was blood-red, and at last trailed off in blackness.

[321] But see, the combative flame is separating into two parts and the discordant embers of one sacred pile are rent in twain – O father, I tremble as I gaze: Bacchus’ gift poured out changes to blood, and dense smoke wreathes the king’s head; denser still it settles about his very face and with its thick cloud has hidden light in gloom. O father, tell us what it means.

TIRESIAS
[328] What can I tell, halting mid conflicting voices of a soul amazed? What shall I say? Dire ills they are, but hidden in mystery. ‘Tis the gods’ wont with clear signs to manifest their wrath. What is it which they would, and again would not, reveal? What grim menace are they concealing? Something which shames the gods. Quick, bring the victims hither, and with salted meal sprinkle the bullocks necks. With placid mien do they suffer the rites and the outstretched hands?

MANTO
[337] Facing east, the bull, lifting high his head, shrank from the day and turned in terror from the sun’s bright face.

TIRESIAS
[340] With one blow smitten do they fall to earth?

MANTO
[341] The heifer threw herself upon the ready steel and with one blow fell; but the bull, twice smitten, hither and yon wanders uncertain and feebly drives forth his scarce-resisting life.

TIRESIAS
[345] Does the blood spurt quick from out a narrow thrust, or does it but slowly o’erflood a deep-driven blow?

MANTO
[347] The blood of one through the proper path, where the breast gapes wide, pours in a stream; the other’s grievous wounds are stained with but scanty drops; nay, backward turning, the blood flows copiously through mouth and eyes.

TIRESIAS
[351] These ill-omened sacrifices rouse dread forebodings. But describe to me the sure marks of the entrails.

MANTO
[353] Father, what is this? With no gentle motion, as is their wont, do the entrails shake and quiver, but my whole hand do they cause to tremble and blood spurts afresh from the veins. The heart, diseased through and through, is withered and lies deep hidden, and the reins are of livid hue. A great part of the entrails is wanting, and from the rotting liver black gall oozes forth, and see – ever fatal omen for sole sovereignty – two heads rise side by side with equal bulge; yet each cloven head is hidden in but thin membrane, refusing a lurking place to secret things. The hostile29 side rises with sturdy strength and shows seven swelling veins; but all these an intercepting line cuts straight across, preventing their return. The positions have been changed; no organ lies in its own place, but all things reversed: on the right side lie the lungs all clogged with blood, and with no room for breath; on the left is not the region of the heart; no caul with soft covering stretches its rich folds over the entrails. Nature is subverted; even the womb follows not its law. Let us look close and see whence comes this stiffness in the entrails. What monstrosity is this? A foetus in an unmated heifer! nor does it lie in accustomed fashion, but fills its mother in an unnatural place. Moaning it moves its limbs, and its weak members twitch with convulsive rigors. Livid gore has stained the entrails black. [She ceases her inspection as the bodies of the victims suddenly begin to move.] The sadly mangled forms essay to move, and one disembowelled body strives to rise and menaces the priests with its horns; the entrails flee from my hand. Nor is that wound which strikes thy ears the deep lowing of the herd, nor are frightened cattle bellowing anywhere; it is the lowing of the altar-fires, the affrighted murmurings of the hearth.

OEDIPUS
[384] What do these signs of the terrifying rites portend? Declare; with no timid ear will I drink in thy words. Extremest ills are wont to make men calm.

TIRESIAS
[387] Thou wilt look with envy upon these ills for which thou seekest aid.

OEDIPUS
[388] Tell me the one thing the gods would have me know: who has defiled his hands with the murder of the king?

TIRESIAS
[390] Neither the birds which on light pinion cut the depths of heaven, nor vitals plucked from still living breasts, can summon up the name. We must essay some other path: the king himself must be recalled from the regions of the perpetual night, that, released from Erebus, he may point out his murderer. We must unseal the earth, must implore the implacable divinity of Dis, must draw forth hither the people of infernal Styx. Say to whom thou wilt assign the awful mission; for ‘tis not right for thee, whose are the highest powers of state, to look upon the shades.

OEDIPUS
[399] Thee, Creon, this task demands, to whom as next in succession my kingdom looks.

TIRESIAS
[401] While we are loosing the bars of abysmal Styx let the people’s hymn sound with the praise of Bacchus.

[Exuent CREON, TIRESIAS, and MANTO.]

CHORUS 30
[403] Bind your streaming locks with the nodding ivy, and in your soft hands grasp the Nysaean thyrsus!

[405] Bright glory of the sky, come hither to the prayers which thine own illustrious Thebes, O Bacchus, offers to thee with suppliant hands. Hither turn with favour thy virginal face; with thy star-bright countenance drive away the clouds, the grim threats of Erebus, and greedy fate. Thee it becomes to circle thy locks with flowers of the springtime, thee to cover thy head with Tyrian turban, or thy smooth brow to wreathe with the ivy’s clustering berries; now to fling loose thy lawless-streaming locks, again to bind them in a knot close-drawn; in such guise as when, fearing thy stepdame’s31 wrath, thou didst grow to manhood with false-seeming limbs, a pretended maiden with golden ringlets, with saffron girdle binding thy garments. So thereafter this soft vesture has pleased thee, folds loose hanging and the long-trailing mantle. Seated in thy golden chariot, thy lions with long trappings covered, all the vast coast of the Orient saw thee, both he who drinks of the Ganges and whoever breaks the ice of snowy Araxes.

[429] On an unseemly ass old Silenus attends thee, his swollen temples bound with ivy garlands; while thy wanton initiates lead the mystic revels. Along with thee a troop of Bassarids in Edonian dance beat the ground, now on Mount Pangaeus’ peak, now on the top of Thracian Pindus; now midst Cadmean dames has come a maenad, the impious comrade of Ogygian Bacchus, with sacred fawn-skins girt about her loins, her hand a light thyrsus brandishing. Their hearts maddened by thee, the matrons have set their hair a-flowing; and at length, after the rending of Pentheus’ limbs, the Bacchanals, their bodies now freed from the frenzy, looked on their infamous deed as though they knew it not.

[444] Cadmean Ino, foster-mother of shining Bacchus, holds the realms of the deep, encircled by bands of Nereids dancing; over the waves of the mighty deep a boy holds sway, new come, the kinsman of Bacchus, no common god, Palaemon.

[449] Thee, O boy, a Tyrrhenian band once captured and Nereus allayed the swollen sea; the dark blue waters he changed to meadows. Thence flourish the plane-tree with vernal foliage and the laurel-grove dear to Phoebus; the chatter of birds sounds loud through the branches. Fast-growing ivy clings to the oars, and grape-vines twine at the mast-head. On the prow an Idaean lion roars; at the stern crouches a tiger of Ganges. Then the frightened pirates swim in the sea, and plunged in the water their bodies assume new forms: the robbers’ arms first fall away; their breasts smite their bellies and are joined in one; a tiny hand comes down at the side; with curving back they dive into the waves, and with crescent-shaped tail they cleave the sea; and now as curved dolphins they follow the fleeing sails.

[467] On its rich stream has Lydian Pactolus borne thee, leading along its burning banks the golden waters; the Massgetan who mingles blood with milk in his goblets has unstrung his vanquished bow and given up his Getan arrows; the realms of axe-wielding Lycurgus have felt the dominion of Bacchus; the fierce lands of the Zalaces have felt it, and those wandering tribes whom neighbouring Boreas smites, and the nations which Maeotis’ cold water washes, and they on whom the Arcadian32 constellation looks down from the zenith and the wagons twain.32 He has subdued the scattered Gelonians; he has wrested their arms form the warrior maidens33; with downcast face they fell to earth, those Thermodontian hordes, gave up at length their light arrows, and became maenads. Sacred Cithaeron has flowed with the blood of Ophionian34 slaughter; the Proetides fled to the woods, and Argos, in his stepdame’s very presence, paid homage to Bacchus.

[487] Naxos, girt by the Aegean sea, gave him in marriage a deserted maiden,35 compensating her loss with a better husband. Out of the dry rock there gushed Nyctelian36 liquor; babbling rivulets divided the grassy meadows; deep the earth drank in the sweet juices, white fountains of snowy milk and Lesbian wine mingled with fragrant thyme. The new-made bride is led to the lofty heavens; Phoebus a stately anthem sings, with his locks flowing down his shoulders, and twin Cupids brandish their torches. Jupiter lays aside his fiery weapons and, when Bacchus comes, abhors his thunderbolt.

[504] While the bright stars of the ancient heavens shall run in their courses; while the ocean shall encircle the imprisoned earth with its waters; while the full moon gather again her lost radiance; while the Day Star shall herald the dawn of the morning and while the lofty Bears shall know naught of caerulean37 Nereus; so long shall we worship the shining face of beauteous Lyaeus.38

[Enter CREON, returned from the rites of necromancy.]

OEDIPUS
[509] Although thy very face displays signs of woe, declare by whose life we are to appease the gods.

CREON
[511] Thou bidst me speak what fear would leave unsaid.

OEDIPUS
[512] If falling Thebes is not enough to move thee, at least be moved by the tottering sceptre of a kindred house.

CREON
[514] Thou wilt long not to have known what thou desirest o’ermuch to know.

OEDIPUS
[515] An idle remedy for ills is ignorance. What! wilt e’en bury revelations of the public weal?

CREON
[517] Where foul the medicine, ‘tis loathsome to be healed.

OEDIPUS
[518] Speak out thy tidings, or, by severe suffering broken, thou shalt know what the power of an angered king can do.

CREON
[520] Kings hate the words whose speaking they compel.

OEDIPUS
[521] To Erebus shalt thou be sent, a cheap sacrifice for all, unless by thy speech thou disclose the secrets which the rites reveal.

CREON
[523] Let me be silent. Can any less liberty be sought from kings?

OEDIPUS
[524] Often, e’en more than speech, to king and kingdom dumb liberty brings bane.

CREON
[526] When silence is not allowed, what is allowed?

OEDIPUS
[527] He weakens power who is silent when bidden to speak.

CREON
[528] Words forced from me I pray thee hear with calm.

OEDIPUS
[529] Was any ever punished for speech compelled?

CREON
[530] Far from the city is a grove dusky with ilex-trees near the well-watered vale of Dirce’s fount. A cypress, lifting its head above the lofty wood, with mighty stem holds the whole grove in its evergreen embrace; and an ancient oak spreads its gnarled branches crumbling in decay. The side of one devouring time has torn away; the other, falling, its roots rent in twain, hangs propped against a neighbouring trunk. Here are the laurel with bitter berries, slender linden-trees, Paphian myrtle, and the alder, destined to sweep its oarage over the boundless sea; and here, mounting to meet the sun, a pine-tree lifts its knotless bole to front the winds. Midmost stands a tree of mighty girth, and with its heavy shade overwhelms the lesser trees and, spreading its branches with mighty reach, it stands, the solitary guardian of the wood. Beneath this tree a gloomy spring o’erflows, that knows nor light nor sun, numb with perpetual chill; an oozy swam surrounds the sluggish pool.

[548] Hither when the aged priest came, there was no delay; the place furnished night.39 Then a ditch is dug and into it are thrown brands plucked from funeral pyres. The priest shrouds his body in a mournful pall and waves a branch.40 His gloomy robe sweeps o’er his feet; in the squalid garb of mourning the old man advances, his hoary hair bound with a wreath of death-dealing yew. Black-fleeced41 sheep and oxen of sable hue are backward dragged. The flame devours the feast, and the living victims writhe in the deadly fire. Then he summons the spirits of the dead, and thee who rulest the spirits, and him42 who blocks the entrance to the Lethaean stream; o’er and o’er and o’er he repeats a magic rune, and fiercely, with frenzied lips, he chants a charm which either appeases or compels the flitting ghosts. He makes libation of blood upon the altars, burns the victims whole, and soaks the trench with plenteous blood. Of snowy milk likewise he makes libation, pours wine with his left43 hand, repeats his chants, and, with gaze on ground, summons the ghosts with deeper tone and wild.

[569] Loud bayed the pack of Hecate; thrice the deep valley gave out a mournful noise; the whole place was shaken and the ground was stricken from below. “My prayers are heard,” says the priest; “prevailing words I uttered; blind Chaos is burst open, and for the tribes of Dis a way is given to the upper world.” All the wood shrank down, its foliage bristling; the stout oaks were split and the whole grove shook with horror; the earth also shrank back, and from her depths gave forth a groan – whether Hell brooked it ill that its deep abyss was assailed, or Earth of herself, that she might give passage to the dead, with crashing noise burst her close barriers; or else in mad rage three-headed Cerberus shook his heavy chains.

[582] Suddenly the earth yawned and opened wide with gulf immeasurable. Myself, I saw the numb pools amidst the shadows; myself, the wan gods and night in very truth. My frozen blood stood still and clogged my veins. Forth leaped a savage cohort and stood full-armed, the whole viper brood, the troop of brothers sprung from Dircaean44 teeth. Then grim Erinys shrieked, and blind Fury and Horror, and all the forms which spawn and lurk midst the eternal shades: Grief, tearing her hair; Disease, scarce holding up her wearied head; Age, burdened with herself; impending Fear, and greedy Pestilence, the Ogygian people’s curse. Our spirits died within us. Even she45 who knew the rites and the arts of her aged sire stood amazed. But he, undaunted and bold from his lost sight, summons the bloodless throng of cruel Dis.

[598] Straightway, like clouds, the shadowy forms flit forth and snuff the air of open heaven. Not as many falling leaves does Eryx show; nor does Hybla in mid-spring as many flowers produce, when in close masses cling the swarming bees; as many waves break not on the Ionian sea; as many birds, fleeing cold Strymon’s threats, leave not the wintry land and, cleaving the sky, change Arctic snows for the warm valley of the Nile; as were the throngs which the priest’s call summoned forth. Eagerly the shivering ghosts seek the shelter of the shady grove. First from the gound, his right hand grasping a wild bull by the horns, Zethus emerges, and Amphion, in his left holding the shell which by its sweet music drew the rocks. And midst her children Tantalis,46 at last safe in her pride, holds up her head with insolent arrogance, and numbers o’er her shades. A mother worse than she, Agave comes, still raging; her the whole band follows who rent their king in pieces, and after the Bacchanals mangled Pentheus comes, even now savage and holding to his threats.

[619] At length, when often called, one lifts his shame-stricken head and, shrinking afar from all the throng, seeks to hide himself. The seer presses hard after him and redoubles his Stygian prayers, until he bring out to open view the features that fain would hide – Laïus! I shudder as I tell it. There he stood, a sight of horror, his limbs streaming o’er with blood, his ragged locks matted with foul filth; and with raving lips he spoke: “O savage house of Cadmus, rejoicing even in kindred blood, brandish the thyrsus, with frenzied hands rend thy sons – ‘twere better so; for Thebes’ crowning crime is – the love of mother. O fatherland, not by the wrath of Heaven, but by sin art thou despoiled. ‘Tis not the plague-fraught south wind with its destructive blast, nor yet the earth, too little watered by the rain from heaven, that with its dry breath is harming thee; but thy blood-stained king, who as the price of cruel murder has seized the sceptre and the incestuous chamber of his sire, detested son! – but worse the mother than the son, again pregnant in her unhallowed womb; and to his own origin he returned and brought his mother impious progeny, and (a thing the beasts scarce do) himself begot brothers to himself – entanglement of evil, a monster more confused than his own Sphinx. Thee, thee, who in thy blood-stained hand dost hold the sceptre, thee and thy whole city will I, thy father, still unavenged, pursue; and with me Erinys as bridesmaid of thy nuptials will I bring, yea, I will bring her sounding with her lash; thine incestuous house will I overturn and thy household with unnatural strife will I destroy.

[647] “Wherefore speedily expel ye the king from out your borders, in exile drive him to any place so-ever with his baleful step. Let him leave the land; then, blooming with flowers of spring, shall it renew its verdure, the life-giving air shall give pure breath again, and their beauty shall come back to the woods; Ruin and Pestilence, Death, Suffering, Corruption and Distress, fit company for him, shall all depart together. And he himself with hastening steps shall long to flee our kingdom, but I will set wearisome delays before his feet and hold him back. He shall creep, uncertain of his way, with the staff of age groping out his gloomy way.47 Rob ye him of the earth; his father will take from him the sky.” 47

OEDIPUS
[659] An icy chill has crept through my bones and limbs; all that I feared to do I am accused of having done. But Merope, still wed to Polybus, refutes the charge of incest; and Polybus, alive and well, cleanses my hands. Each parent clears me from the charge of blood and incest: what room is left for crime? As for Laïus, Thebes mourned his loss long ere I set foot on Boeotian soil. Is the old priest lying, or is some god oppressing Thebes?48 – Now, now I hold the confederates of a crafty plot: the priest invents these charges, using the gods as a screen for trickery and to thee he promises my sceptre.

CREON
[671] I, should I wish my sister driven from the throne? If sacred fealty to my kindred house held me not fixed in my present station, yet that high estate itself, ever o’erfraught with care, would frighten me. Let it be thine in safety to lay off this burden, nor let it o’erwhelm thee when thou wouldst withdraw. Now more safely wilt thou set thyself in humbler place.

OEDIPUS
[678] Dost even urge me of free will to lay down the heavy cares of state?

CREON
[679] Thus would I counsel those to whom the way e’en yet is open to either choice; but as for thee ‘tis necessary now to bear thy lot.

OEDIPUS
[682] Whoso longs to reign, his surest way is to praise humble life and prate of ease and sleep. Calm is oft counterfeited by a restless soul.

CREON
[685] Does not my long loyalty plead enough for me?

OEDIPUS
[686] To traitors loyalty gives opening for treason.

CREON
[687] Free from a king’s burdens, I enjoy a king’s advantages; my home is honoured by throngs of citizens, and no day rises to dawning from the night on which my royal kinsman’s bounty does not overflow my house; apparel, rich food, deliverance, all are granted to many through my favour. What should I think still lacking to a lot so blest?

OEDIPUS
[694] What sill is lacking49; prosperity has no bounds.

CREON
[695] Shall I then, my cause unheard, fall like a criminal?

OEDIPUS
[696] Did ye show due regard unto my life? Did Tiresias hear my cause? And yet ye hold me guilty. Ye set the example; I but follow it.

CREON
[699] What if I am innocent?

OEDIPUS
[699] Doubts as if certainties kings are wont to fear.

CREON
[700] Who trembles with vain fear, true fear deserves.

OEDIPUS
[701] Set free the guilty, and he hates; let all that’s doubtful perish.

CREON
[703] Thus is hatred bred.

OEDIPUS
[703] He who fears hatred overmuch knows not to rule; fear is the guard of kingdoms.

CREON
[705] Who harshly wields the sceptre with tyrannic sway, fears those who fear; terror recoils upon its author’s head.

OEDIPUS
[707] [To attendants.] Shut up the guilty man in a rocky dungeon and guard him well. I to the royal palace will return.

[CREON is led away by attendants. Exit OEDIPUS.]

CHORUS
[709] Not thou50 the cause of our great perils, not on thy account do the fates assail the house of Labdacus; nay, ‘tis the ancient wrath of the gods that follows us. Castalia’s grove lent its shade to the Sidonian wanderer51 and Dirce bathed the colonists from Tyre, what time great Agenor’s son,51 weary with tracking Jove’s thefts52 over all the world, in fear halted beneath our trees, worshipping his sister’s ravisher; and, by the advice of Phoebus, bidden to follow a straying heifer which had never bent beneath the plough or the slow wain’s curving yoke, he gave over his quest53 and named a nation54 from that ill-omened heifer.

[725] From that time on, our land has e’er produced strange monsters: either a serpent, rising from the valley’s depths, hisses on high above the ancient oaks and overtops the pines; ever higher, above the Chaonian trees he lefts his dark-blue head, although his greater part still lies upon the ground; or else the earth, teeming with impious birth, brings forth armed men: loud resounding the battle-call from the curving horn, and the brazen trumpet sent forth its piercing notes. Their tongues and lips, ne’er nimble before, were first employed in the battle-cry of their unfamiliar voice.

[738] The kindred bands filled the plains, and this offspring, worthy the seed that had been sown, measured their life by a single day; born after the passing of the Morning Star, they perished ere Hesperus arose. The wanderer55 quaked at prodigies so strange, and fearfully awaited the assault of the new-born folk; until the savage youth56 fell in death, and their mother57 beheld the children she had but now brought forth returned to her own bosom. With this may the horror of civil strife have passed! May the Thebes of Hercules58 know those fratricidal struggles only!

[751] What of the doom of Cadmus’ grandson, when the antlers of the long-lived stag covered his brow with their strange branches, and his own hounds pursued the master? Headlong from the woods and mountains the swift Actaeon fled, and with feet more nimble, scouring glades and rocky places, shuddered at the feathers59 fluttering in the breeze, and avoiding the snares he himself had set; at length he gazed into the still pool’s water and saw his horns and his beast-like countenance. ‘Twas in tha same pool the goddess60 of too stern chastity had bathed her virgin limbs!

OEDIPUS
[764] My soul broods o’er its cares and renews its fears. That by my crime Laïus fell, gods both of heaven and hell affirm; and yet my soul conscious of innocence and known to itself better than to the gods, makes denial. Retracing the dim path of memory, I see one met on the way fallen ‘neath the blow of my stout staff and given o’er to Dis; but first the old man arrogantly from his car thrust the younger from the way. Yet that was far from Thebes, where Phocis’ land parts the three-forked roads.

[Enter JOCASTA.]
[773] O thou, my soul’s own mate, resolve by doubts, I pray thee; what span of life had Laïus at his death? In the fresh prime of life died he, or in broken age?

JOCASTA
[776] Midway between age and youth, but nearer age.

OEDIPUS
[777] Did a great thong gird the king about?

JOCASTA
[778] The most mistook the uncertain path and strayed; a few by faithful toil kept near his car.

OEDIPUS
[780] Did any companion share the royal fate?

JOCASTA
[781] One did faith and valour cause to share his fate.

OEDIPUS
[782] [Aside.] I have the guilty man; the number tallies, and the place. [To JOCASTA.] But add the time.

JOCASTA
[783] Now is the tenth harvest being reaped.

[Enter an old Corinthian messenger.]

OLD MAN
[784] [To OEDIPUS.] The Corinthians summon thee to thy father’s throne. Polybus has gained his everlasting rest.

OEDIPUS
[786] How heartless Fortune assails me on every hand! But tell me by what fate my sire is fallen.

OLD MAN
[788] Soft slumber set his aged spirit free.

OEDIPUS
[789] My father lies died, and by no violence. I call to witness that now I may lift clean hands to heaven, hands that need fear no charge of crime. But the more fearful part of my fates remains.

OLD MAN
[793] All fears thy father’s kingdom will dispel.

OEDIPUS
[794] I would seek my father’s kingdom, but from my mother do I shrink.

OLD MAN
[795] Dost fear thy mother, who, in anxious suspense, longs for thy coming.

OEDIPUS
[796] ‘Tis love itself bids me flee.

OLD MAN
[797] Wilt leave her widowed?

OEDIPUS
[797] There dost thou touch on the very thing I fear!

OLD MAN
[798] Speak out; what hidden fear weighs on thy soul? ‘Tis my wont to offer kings a loyal silence.

OEDIPUS
[800] Warned by the Delphic oracle, I dread my mother’s bed.

OLD MAN
[801] Then cease thy empty fears, thy horrible forebodings; Merope was not in truth thy mother.

OEDIPUS
[803] What did she hope to gain by a changeling son?

OLD MAN
[804] Kings’ children hold rude loyalty in check.61

OEDIPUS
[805] The secrets of the chamber – tell how thou knowest them.

OLD MAN
[806] ‘Twas these hands gave thee, a tiny babe, unto thy mother.

OEDIPUS
[807] Thou gav’st me to my mother; but who gave to thee?

OLD MAN
[808] A shepherd, ‘neath Cithaeron’s snowy peak.

OEDIPUS
[809] What chance brought thee within that wood?

OLD MAN
[810] On that mountain-side was I tending my horned flocks.

OEDIPUS
[811] Now name also the sure marks upon my body.

OLD MAN
[812] Thy soles had been pierced with iron, and thou hast thy name62 from thy swollen and crippled feet.

OEDIPUS
[814] Who was he who gave thee my body as a gift? I seek to know.

OLD MAN
[815] He fed the royal flocks; there was humbler band of shepherds under him.

OEDIPUS
[817] Tell me his name.

OLD MAN
[817] An old man’s early memory grows faint, failing through weakness and long disuse.

OEDIPUS
[819] Couldst recognize the man by face and feature?

OLD MAN
[820] Perchance I might; some trifling mark oft-times calls back the memory of things that time hath buried and made dim.

OEDIPUS
[822] Let all the flocks be driven hither to the sacred altars, their guides with them; go, slaves, and quickly summon those with whom is the herds’ chief control.
[The slaves depart on the errand.]

OLD MAN
[825] Whether design or chance conceals these things, suffer to lie hid for ever what has lain hid so long; truth often is made clear to the discoverer’s bane.

OEDIPUS
[828] Can any bane greater than all this be feared?

OLD MAN
[829] Great, be thou sure, is that bane which thou seekst with toil so great. Here meet, from that side and from this, the public weal and the king’s, and both are in equal balance. Keep thy hand from both; challenge thou nothing; let the fates unfold themselves.63

OEDIPUS
[833] ‘Tis not expedient to disturb a happy state; that is with safety changed which is at its worst.

OLD MAN
[835] Dost seek for a nobler thing than royal lineage? Beware lest thou rue the finding of thy parentage.

OEDIPUS
[837] I will seek certainty even of rueful birth; so resolved am I to know.

[Enter PHORBAS.]
[838] [To himself.] Behold the ancient, heavey with years, once keeper of the royal flocks, Phorbas. [To OLD MAN.] Dost recall the old man’s name or features?

OLD MAN
[841] His form comes easily to my memory; but that face, while not well known, again is not unknown to me.

[843] [To PHORBAS.] While Laïus held the throne, didst ever as a slave drive rich flocks on Cithaeron’s tracts?

PHORBAS
[845] Cithaeron, abounding ever in fresh pasturage, in summer-time gave feeding-ground for my flocks.

OLD MAN
[847] Dost thou know me?

PHORBAS
[847] My memory falters and is in doubt.

OEDIPUS
[848] Didst thou once give a boy to this man here? Speak out. Thou falterest? Why do thy cheeks change colour? Why seekst for words? Truth scorns delay.

PHORBAS
[851] Thou stirrest matters o’erclouded by long lapse of time.

OEDIPUS
[852] Speak, lest pain force thee to the truth.

PHORBAS
[853] I did give him an infant, a worthless gift; ever could he have enjoyed the light or sky.

OLD MAN
[855] Far be the omen! He lives and I pray may live.

OEDIPUS
[856] Why dost thou say that the child thou gavest did not survive?

PHORBAS
[857] Through both his feet a slender iron rod was driven, binding his legs together. A swelling64 engendered in the wound, galled the child’s body, a loathsome plague.

OEDIPUS
[860] [To himself.] Why seekest further? Now doth fate draw near. [To PHORBAS.] Who was the babe? Speak out.

PHORBAS
[861] My loyalty forbids.

OEDIPUS
[862] Hither with fire, someone! Now shall flames banish loyalty.

PHORBAS
[863] Is truth to be sought along such cruel ways? Pardon I beg.

OEDIPUS
[864] If I seem harsh to thee, and headstrong, vengeance is in thy hands; speak thou the truth. Who was he? Of what sire begot? Of what mother born?

PHORBAS
[867] Born of thy – wife.

OEDIPUS
[868] Yawn, earth! And do thou, king of the dark world, ruler of shades, to lowest Tartarus hurl this unnatural interchange ‘twixt brood and stock. Citizens, heap stones upon my accursed head; slay me with weapons. Let father, let son assail me with the sword; let husband and brothers arm hands against me, and let the sick populace snatch brands from the pyres and hurl them at me. The crime of the age I wander, hate of the gods, destruction of holy law, the very day I drew the untried air already worthy death. [To himself.] Now be stout of soul, now dare some deed worthy of thy crimes. Go, get thee to the palace with hurrying feet; congratulate thy mother on her house enriched by children.
[Exit.]

CHORUS
[882] Were it mine to shape fate at my will, I would trim my sails to gentle winds, lest my yards tremble, bent ‘neath a heavy blast. May soft breezes, gently blowing, unvarying, carry my untroubled barque along; may life bear me on safely, running in middle course.

[892] While, in fear of the Cretan king, madly the lad65 sought the stars, in strange devices trusting, and strove to vanquish true birds in flight, and laid his commands on pinions all too false, his name he robbed the sea of its own name.66 But shrewd old Daedalus, balancing a middle path, stopped midway of the clouds, awaiting his winged son (as a bird flees the threatening hawk and gathers her scattered and frightened brood), until the boy in the sea plied hands enmeshed in the shackles of his daring flight. Whatsoever exceeds the allotted bounds, hangs in a place unsure.

[Enter a messenger from within the palace.]
[911] But what is this? The doors creak open; behold, a servant of the king, stricken with woe, beast with his hand upon his head. Tell us what news thou bringst.

MESSENGER
[915] When Oedipus grasped his foretold fate, and his breed unspeakable, he condemned himself as convicted of the crime and, seeking the palace with deadly purpose, entered within that hateful roof with hurried step. As over the fields a Libyan lion rages, with threatening front and shaking his tawny mane; so he, his face fierce with passion, with eyes wild staring, with groans and deep mutterings, limbs with cold sweat streaming, froths and threatens, and his mighty, deep-buried anguish overflows. He, raging in soul, plans some monstrous deed to match his destiny.

[926] “Why do I delay punishment?” he cries; “let someone with the sword assail this guilty breast, or overwhelm me with burning fire or stones. What tigress, what ravening bird will pounce upon my vitals? Do thou thyself, thou all-holding haunt of crime, O curst Cithaeron, send thy wild beasts against me from thy forests, send thy maddened dogs – once more send Agave.67 O soul, why shrinkst from death? ‘Tis death alone saves innocence from fortune.”

[935] With this he lays impious hand on hilt and draws his sword. “So then? With brief suffering like this canst atone for so great crimes, and with one blow wilt pay all debts? Thy death – for thy father ‘tis enough; what then to thy mother, what to thy children shamefully begot, what to her who with utter ruin is atoning for thy crime, thy mourning country, wilt thou give? Thou canst not pay!68 Let that same Nature who in Oedipus alone reverses established laws, devising strange births, be changed anew for my punishment. Be it thine to live again, to die again, ever to be reborn, that at each birth thou mayst pay new penalties. Now use thy wit, poor wretch; let that which may not oft befall, befall thee long – choose thou a lasting death. Search out a way whereon to wander, not mingling with the dead and yet removed from the living; die thou, but reaching not thy sire. Dost hesitate, O soul?”

[952] Lo, with sudden shower a flood o’erwhelms his face and waters his cheeks with weeping. “And is it enough to weep? Only thus far shall mine eyes o’erflow with some few drops? Nay, driven from their sockets, let them follow the tears they shed. Ye gods of wedlock, is it enough? These eyes must be dug out!” He speaks and raves with wrath; his cheeks burn threatening with ferocious fire, and his eyeballs scarce hold themselves in their place; his face is full of reckless daring and mad savagery, as of one in boundless rage; with groans and dreadful cries, his hands into his eyes he thrusts. But his starting eyes stand forth to meet them and, eagerly following their kindred hands, rush upon their wound. With hooked fingers he greedily searches out his eyes and, torn from their very roots, he drags both eyeballs out; still stay his hands in the empty sockets and, deep fixed, tear with their nails the deep-set hollows of his eyes and empty cavities; vainly he rages, and with excessive fury raves.

[971] The hazard of light is o’er; he lifts his head, surveys the regions of the sky with his empty sockets, and makes trial of the night. The shreds which still hang from eyes unskilfully plucked out he breaks away, and in triumph cries aloud to all the gods: “Spare now my land, I pray you; now have I done justice, I have paid the debt I owed; at last have I found night worthy of my wedlock.” A hideous shower drenches his face and his mangled brow spouts streams of blood from his bursting veins.

CHORUS
[980] By fate are we driven; yield ye to fate. No anxious cares can change the threads of its inevitable spindle. Whate’er we mortals bear, whate’er we do, comes from on high69; and Lachesis maintains the decrees of her distaff which by no hand may be reversed. All things move on in an appointed path, and our first day fixed our last. Those things God may not change which speed on their way, close woven with their causes. To each his established life goes on, unmovable by any prayer. To many their very fear is bane; for many have come upon their doom while shunning doom.

[995] The gates have sounded, and he himself, with none to guide and sightless, gropes his way.

[Enter OEDIPUS.]

OEDIPUS
[998] All’s well, ‘tis finished; to my father have I paid my debt. How sweet the darkness! What god, at length appeased, has shrouded my head in this dark veil? Who has forgiven my crimes? I have escaped the conscious eye of day. Nothing, thou parricide, dost owe to thy right hand; the light hath fled from thee. This is the face becometh Oedipus.

[Enter JOCASTA.]

CHORUS
[1004] See, there, with hurried step, frantic, beside herself, Jocasta rushes forth, just as, in frenzied rage, the Cadmean mother70 tore her son’s head away and realized her deed. She hesitates, longs and yet fears to speak to the afflicted one. Now shame has given way to grief; but her first words falter on her lips.

JOCASTA
[1009] What shall I call thee? Son? Dost question it? Thou art my son; does “son” shame thee? Though thou wouldst not, speak, my son – why doest thou turn away thy head, thy sightless face?

OEDIPUS
[1012] Who wills not that I enjoy my darkness? Who restores my eyes? My mother’s, lo, my mother’s voice! I have worked in vain. ‘Tis unlawful that we meet again. Let the vast sea roll between our impious selves, let remote lands separate, and if beneath this world there hangs another, facing other stars and a straying sun, let it take one of us.

JOCASTA
[1019] Fate’s is that fault of thine: by fate no one is made guilty.

OEDIPUS
[1020] Now spare thy words, mother, spare my ears, by these remnants of my mangled body, I beseech thee, by the unhallowed offspring of my blood, by all that in our names is right and wrong.71

JOCASTA
[1024] Why art benumbed, my soul? Since thou hast shared his guilt, why dost refuse to share his punishment? Through thee, incestuous one, all grace of human law has been confused and lost. Die then, and let out thy impious spirit with the sword. Not if the father of the gods himself, shaking the universe, with deadly hand should hurl his glittering bolts at me, could I ever pay penalty equal to my crimes – I, a mother accurst. Death is my darling wish; let the way of death be sought.

[1032] [To OEDIPUS.] Come, lend thy hand against thy mother, if thou art parricide; this lacks to crown thy work.

[1034] [To herself.] Nay, let me seize his sword; by this blade lies slain my husband – nay, why not call him by his true name? – my husband’s father. Shall I pierce my breast with this, or thrust it deep into my bared throat? Thou knowest not to choose a place? Strike here, my hand, through this capacious womb, which bore my husband and my sons!
[She stabs herself and falls dead.]

CHORUS
[1040] There lies she slain. Her hand dies on the wound, and the sword is driven out by strong streams of blood.

OEDIPUS
[1042] Thee, O fate-revealer, thee, guardian and god of truth, do I upbraid. My father only did I owe the fates; twice parricide and more guilty than I feared, I have slain my mother; for ‘tis by my sin that she is done to death. O lying Phoebus, I have outdone the impious fates.

[1047] With quaking step pursue thy darkling ways; with faltering feet grope through blind night with apprehensive hand. Make haste, planting uncertain steps, go, speed thee, fly! – but stop, lest thou stumble and fall upon thy mother.

[1052] All ye who are weary in body and burdened with disease, whose hearts are faint within you, see, I fly, I leave you; lift your heads. Milder skies come when I am gone. He who, though near to death, still keeps some feeble life, may freely now draw deep, life-giving draughts of air. Go, bear ye aid to those given up to death; all pestilential humours of the land I take with me. Ye blasting Fates, thou quaking terror of Disease, Wasting, and black Pestilence, and mad Despair, come ye with me, with me. ‘Tis sweet to have such guides.
[Exit.]

THE END.

1. i.e. regarding the oracle, whose fulfilment he thought he had escaped.
2. i.e. to avoid the consequences of some crime already committed.
3. i.e. “I have caused the gods on my account to work this great destruction”; or, as Farnabius interprets: “I have infected the very air.” This latter interpretation is favoured by l. 79.
4. The sun is in the constellation of Leo in July.
5. i.e. Polybus, king of Corinth, and Merope, his wife, who, he supposed, were his parents and from whom he had fled to Thebes.
6. A reference to the proverbial “Parthian shot,” delivered while in flight or seeming flight.
7. Referring not to our “Red Sea,” but to the Indian Ocean. See Herc. Fur., 903; Thy. 371.
8. The experience with two victims is described. The first bull fell before he was struck; the second was struck with the axe, but no blood flowed.
9. In reference to the hot fever of the plague-smit victims. Phlegethon was the burning stream of Hades.
10. i.e. Phoenician. Cadmus, son of Agenor, king of Phoenicia had founded Thebes.

11. Charon.
12. Cerberus.
13. i.e. the head.
14. Sacer ignis is usually supposed to be erysipelas, “St. Anthony’s fire.”
15. He addresses the sick folk whom, when the watcher is dead rush to the water, which only inflames their thirst.
16. See Argument.
17. i.e. of the oracle which Creon had been sent to consult.
18. The oracles were commonly given out in dactylic hexameters.
19. Jupiter.
20. Phoebus, the sun.

21. i.e. of the Zodiac.
22. Phoebe, the moon.
23. Neptune.
24. Pluto.
25. He believes that the Isthmus of Corinth is his native land.
26. Apollo.
27. The Isthmus.
28. i.e. he would speak directly by inspiration instead of proceeding by the different methods of divination.
29. Farnabius, commenting on the passage, says that the haruspices made an imaginary division of the exta into two parts; the one, called familiaris, they assigned to friendly influences, the other, hostilis, to hostile. According to the appearance of both these parts, they foretold coming events.
30. While the choruses in Seneca’s tragedies are often more or less dithyrambic in character, this is his best illustration of the dithyramb. That the address to these opening lines is to the Bacchant women is clear from the terms employed: Effusam comam, mollia brachia. This gives colour to the reading of Gronovius in line 404, armatae.

31. Juno’s.
32. The two phrases refer to the same constellation, conceived first as bears, and second as wagons or wains.
33. The Amazons.
34. Referring to Pentheus’ death.
35. Ariadne deserted by Theseus.
36. i.e. wine. The following lines describe the wonders of nature’s bounty in honour of Bacchus’ nuptials.
37. Nereus, a sea-god, is here used for the sea itself, and the description “sea-blue” is literally applied.
38. Bacchus.
39. The proposed rites were ordinarily performed only at night.
40. i.e. of some funereal tree, as the yew or cypress.

41. These features are characteristic of the rites of necromancy which are here described.
42. Cerberus [or Charon].
43. Because offered to the malignant infernal powers.
44. A far-fetched epithet from the fact that it was in Dirce’s cave that the dragon was found which Cadmus slew and from whose teeth the warriors sprang.
45. Manto.
46. Niobe.
47. Both passages point to Oedipus’ self-inflicted blindness.
48. i.e. bringing sedition as well as pestilence.
49. i.e. royal power.
50. Oedipus.

51. Cadmus.
52. Europa, whom Jove, in bull form, had stolen away. Agenor had sent Cadmus to find her, with instructions not to return unless successful.
53. i.e. the quest enjoined upon him by his father.
54. Boeotia, from bous.
55. i.e. Cadmus, exiled by his father.
56. The monsters sprung from the dragon’s teeth.
57. The earth.
58. Hercules was born at Thebes.
59. Tied to bushes along deer-runs in order to frighten the animals in the desired direction.
60. Diana.

61. The meaning of this sentential, especially in its application as Merope’s reason for secretly adopting a son, is not altogether clear. Various suggestions have been offered by commentators as to the interpretation. Perhaps the simplest interpretation is the best, that royal offspring (and hence the insurance of succession) is the strongest hold upon lagging loyalty which threatens to fall away.
62. Oidipous, “swollen-footed.”
63. i.e. let well enough alone. The condition of the state is critical, and Oedipus’ personal problem is acute; but wisdom bids keep hands off and let the fates unfold themselves.
64. See l. 813, note.
65. Icarus.
66. The sea was subsequently called after him the Icarian sea.
67. Agave in her madness had helped tear Pentheus in pieces.
68. i.e. by mere death. The Latin is the regular phrase for bankruptcy.
69. A Stoic doctrine.
70. Agave.
71. He prays her in the name both of their proper (mother and son) and improper (husband and wife) relations.

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