Classical Texts Library >> Statius, Thebaid >> Book 11




Exile of Polynices & Tydeus


Bridal of the Adrastides
Embassy of Tydeus to Thebes


The Winds of War;
Prophecy of Amphiaraus


Army of the Seven
Necromancy of Tiresias
Drought of Nemea


Hypsipyle & the Lemnians
Death of Opheltes


Funeral of Opheltes
The First Nemean Games


Thebes Preparing for War
Battle & Demise of Amphiaraus


Amphiarus Swallowed by Earth
Battle & Death of Tydeus


Battle & Death of Hippomedon
Battle & Death Parthenopaeus


Night-time Foray
Sacrifice of Menoeceus
Battle & Death of Capaneus


Deaths of Polynices & Eteocles
Creon & Exile of Oedipus


Antigone & Argia
Theseus & Burial of the Dead


[1] When great-souled Capaneus had spent the fury of his unrighteous valour and gasped forth the Levin-fire that lodged within him, and when the long track of avenging flame that marked his fall to earth had left its brand upon the walls: victorious Jove with his right hand composed the shaken vault, and with his countenance restored the light of heaven. The gods welcomed him, as though he were breathless and weary after Phlegra’s fight, or had piled smoking Aetna upon Enceladus. Grasping the fragment of a shattered tower the hero lies, with a scowl yet upon his face, and leaving deeds for all the world to tell of, deeds that even the Thunderer might praise. As vast as in Avernus lies outstretched the defiler of Apollo’s mother,1 whom even the birds behold aghast when they emerge from his cavernous breast and view hi huge extended limbs, while the wretched fibres grow again to feed them: so burdens he the earth, flung prostrate, and scars the hostile fields and the plain that gasps with the heavenly sulphur. Thebes draws breath once more, and the bowed suppliants rise in the temples; vows and desperate wailing have an end, and the mothers dare to put down their little ones.

[21] But the Achaeans are swept over the plain in scattered, aimless rout. No more do they fear the squadrons of the foe or mortal steel: all have the anger of Jove before their eyes, all in their terror see their armour blazing and hear his thunder ringing in their helmets; Jove himself seemed to pursue and to oppose his fires to their flight. The warriors of Agenor press hard upon them, and use the tumult of the sky: as when upon Massylian meads a lion has crushed within his mighty jaws the untamed monarchs of the herd, and departs, his hunger sated; then growling bears draw nigh and greedy wolves, and with abated rage cowardly lap the blood of an alien prey. Here Eurymedon pursues, with armour rustic and uncouth and rustic weapons in his hand and native skill to arouse panic terrors – his sire was Pan; there goes Alatreus forth, tender in years for such emprise, and though a boy, matching his youthful father: fortunate both, but happier he who delights in such progeny; nor is it easy to discern whose weapons ring the louder, from whose arm more mightily flies the spear.

[39] The ramparts are thronged with a dense mass of fugitives. What changes dost thou bring, Gradivus! But lately the Pelasgians were climbing Cadmus’ walls, now they defend their own! Even so the clouds return, so when the south winds are blowing field after field is swept by the blast, so the surge now uncovers, now clothes with its white foam the thirsty sand. Far and wide perish the Tirynthian soldiery, that counterfeit the spoils of their native god; the stern son of Amphitryon mourns from the stars above to see the Nemean skins and the clubs and quivers like his own all drenched in blood. Upon the ironclad summit of the Argive tower stood Enyeus, foremost to cheer to prosperous battle with the trumpet, but then he was giving welcome signal to the distressed, and urging their flight and safe retirement to the camp: when suddenly through the air fell a sidelong blow, and as he sped the sound his hand, just as it was, was fixed to his left ear; already his spirit flies forth upon the empty breeze, already his frozen lips are silent, the trumpet completed its call alone.

[57] And now Tisiphone, having wrought her crimes and weary of the bloodshed of two peoples, seeks to conclude the fight with the brothers’ conflict; nor trusts she her own strength for so dire a fray, unless she can rouse from her infernal abode her companion Megaera and her kindred snakes to battle. Therefore she withdrew to an empty vale afar, and dug into the ground her Stygian blade, and muttered into the earth the name of the absent one, and – a sign indubitable to the Elysian realm – raised aloft a horned serpent from her hair with long-drawn hisses: he was the prince of her caerulean tresses, and straightway hearing him earth shuddered and sea and sky, and the Father glanced again at his Aetnaean fires.2 The other heard the sound: by chance she was standing near her sire, while Capaneus was belauded by the whole train of Dis, and refreshed his glorious shade in the Stygian streams. Forthwith she broke through the massive earth, and stood beneath the stars; the ghosts rejoice, and as the nether darkness grows less thick, so wanes the light above.

[75] Her fell sister receives her, and clasps her hand and speaks: “Thus far, my sister, have I been able to sustain our Stygian father’s dread commands and the frenzy laid upon me, alone upon the earth and exposed to a hostile world, while ye in Elysium constrain the unresisting ghosts. No mean reward is mine for my pains, my labours are not vain: this deep-drenched battle-field, these waters that reek with blood, the countless swarms that gladden Lethe’s bank – these are the tokens of my power, my signs of triumph. But what care I for these? Let Mars enjoy them, let Enyo boast and spread the story.3 Thou sawest – manifest surely was he in the Stygian shades – the chief whose jaws were fouled with blood, whose face dripped black corruption; insatiable, he ate the head of his hapless foe, which I did give him. Just now – was it not so? – the sound of a terrible din came down to you from the stars: me did that awful storm assail, ‘twas I who mingling with the hero’s fury-stricken arms laughed at the warring gods and the levin’s mighty wrath. But now, sister, long toil – I confess it – has wearied out my spirit, and my arm is slow; the infernal yew4 languishes in the air of heaven, and the too strong influence of the stars drowses my unaccustomed snakes. Thou who still hast all thy rage, whose tresses are still riotous and fresh from Cocytus’ fount, join thou thy strength to mine. ‘Tis no common fray or Martian battle that we prepare, but brothers – though kindly Faith and Duty resist, they will be o’ercome – ay, brothers shall draw the sword in combat hand-to-hand. A noble work! Gird we ourselves with deadly hate, with armed discord. Dost thou hesitate? Nay, choose which banner thou wilt bear. Both are compliant and will do our will; but the mob is double-minded, and I fear his mother’s words and Antigone’s persuasive tongue, lest they somewhat hinder our design. Ay, even he, who is wont to weary us with his entreaties and call on the Furies to avenge his eyes, already feels his fatherhood; already they say he weeps alone, far from the haunts of men; ay, verily, I like not to invade Thebes and the abode I know so well without thy succour. Command thou the impious exile, incite the Argive to the crime; see that the mild Adrastus prevail not, nor the Lernaean host delay thee. Go, and return to the mutual fray – my foe!”

[113] Their duties thus assigned, the sisters went their different ways: as from the two poles of the world South wind and North make war, one nurtured on Rhipaean5 snows, the other in Libyan sands: rivers, seas, clouds and woods resound, and soon is the ruin seen, the husbandmen lament their losses, yet pity the sailors whelmed upon the deep. When from Olympus’ top the exalted Sire beheld them pollute the air, and saw Hyperion’s frightened orb beflecked and tainted, with stern utterance he thus began: “Ye heavenly ones, we have seen armed fury pushed to the uttermost bound of right, and a war that yet was lawful, though one man engaged in impious conflict and dared to fall by my right hand. But now a duel unspeakable approaches, a combat yet unknown to miserable earth: look not upon it! Let no gods countenance such a crime, let it be hid from Jove; enough is it to have seen the deadly feast of Tantalus and the guilty altars of Lycaon, and Mycenae bringing the stars in hurried train upon the sky.6 Now once again must day be troubled; accept, O Earth, these baleful clouds, and let the sky be veiled; it is my will to spare heaven and my own deities; let not at least the star of the kindly maid7 behold such deeds, nor the Ledaean brethren.” So spake the omnipotent Sire and turned his gaze away from the guilty fields, and the earth lacked its joyous light serene.

[136] Meanwhile the daughter of Erebus hastes on the track of Polynices through the Argolic cohorts, and finds him even at the gate, uncertain whether to avoid so many horrors by death or flight. Omens too had troubled his doubting mind: wandering by the rampart in the hours of darkness, distressed at heart and brooding in deep despair, he had seen the phantom of his wife Argia, with tresses torn and a doleful torch in her hand – a sign from heaven! ay, that was her intent, such were the torches she was to bring her spouse! – so, when he asked why she was come and what her grief, what meant these emblems of woe, she did but weep and hide the flame in silence. He knows ‘twas but a mental vision of ill, for how could his spouse have come form Mycenae and draw nigh the wall, nor any know? But he is aware of Fate’s admonishing and his approaching doom, and fears to be aware. But when the Fury of yawning Acheron thrice smote her lash against his corslet, he raged without restraint, and yearned not to be seated on his throne, but for crime and carnage and to expire in his slaughtered kinsman’s blood, and suddenly he accosts Adrastus:

[155] “Late though it be, O father, and in our extremity, I am at length resolved, who am the last survivor of my comrades and the folk of Argos: then had been the time, when the Achaean blood was yet unshed, to step boldly forth and venture single combat, nor expose the Danaan flower and the sacred lives of princes, that I might crown me with a glory that was the woe of mighty cities. But now since the stern hour of valour is past, now at least let me be allowed to pay what I deserve. For well thou knowest, father, though deep thou doest hide thy wounds and dost revere thy son-in-law’s misery and shame: I am he, who, while thou wert ruling in peace and justice – ah! wretch that I am, would some other city had been my host! – exiled from country and throne8 – but exact thy punishment last: I challenge my brother – why dost thou start? I am resolved – to the death! nay, hinder me not, nor wilt thou be able. Not if my sad mother and unhappy sisters were to fling themselves between our weapons, not even if my sire were to oppose me as I rushed to battle and cast his sightless orbs upon my helm, should I give way. Shall I drink all that remains of Inachian blood, and even yet draw profit from your deaths? I saw the earth yawn and gape on my account, nor went I to the rescue; I saw Tydeus dead and caused his guilt; defenceless Tegea demands of me her prince, and his bereaved mother cries out against me in Parrhasian caves. I had not the spirit to scale Ismenos’ banks while Hippomedon stained its streams with gore, nor the Tyrian towers amid the thunder and join my rage to thine, O Capaneus. Why such craven fear for my own life? But I will make due recompense. Let all the Pelasgian brides and mothers and aged sires assemble, all whom I have robbed of so many joys, and whose homes I have despoiled – I fight my brother! what more remains to do? Let them look on, and pray for Eteocles’ victory. And now farewell, my wife, and farewell, sweet Mycenae! But thou, beloved sire – for mine is not all the blame for these ills, but Fate and the gods share the guilt with me – be gentle to my ashes, rescue my body after the battle and shield it from birds and from my brother,9 and bring home my urn, ‘tis all I ask, and, for thy daughter, unite her in worthier wedlock.”

[193] They fell to weeping, as when with returning spring the Bistonian snows are warmed and mighty Haemus melts and Rhodope is all dissolved into the straitened rivers. And the aged king had begun to soothe his rage with gentle words: but the cruel Fury broke off his speech with new terrors, and straightway, in the shape of Inachian Phereclus, brought his swift wing-footed steed and fatal arms, and with his helmet closed his ears to trusty counsels. Then “Haste!” she cried, “delay not! He too, so they say, is marching on the gates!” Thus, all scruples overcome, she seizes him and sets him upon his steed; ashen pale, he scours the open plain, and glances back to descry the looming shadow of the goddess.

[205] The Tyrian chieftain was offering in vain to Jove the sacrifice that his lightning stroke had won, thinking that the Danaans were disarmed. But neither the celestial sire nor any of the gods were at his altars, but baneful Tisiphone mingling with the affrighted attendants stands near, and to the infernal Thunderer10 turned aside his prayers. “Supreme of gods, to whom my Thebes owes its origin – though accursed Argos and angry Juno be jealous – since thou as a ravisher didst break up the revels on the Sidonian shore, and deign to bear on thy back a maiden of our race and to utter feigned lowings over the tranquil seas! Nor vainly do we believe that thou a second time didst enjoy Cadmean wedlock11 and invade the Tyrian dwellings in overpowering might: at length, at length thou dost gratefully regard thy kinsmen and the walls thou lovest, and sendest thy thunder to avenge; as though the heavenly palace had suffered assault, we saw thee rolling cloud on cloud to succour our lofty towers, and gladly we recognize thy kindly brand, and the lightnings that our sires once heard of old. Receive now our flocks and high-piled incense and our votive bull; worthy recompense is not in mortal power; let our own Bacchus and Alcides strive to repay thee, for them thou dost preserve these walls.”

[226] He spoke, but he murky flame leapt forth against his face and cheeks, and seized and burnt the diadem on his locks. Then still unsmitten the angry bull beflecked the shrine with bloody foam, and dashed wildly through the opposing concourse, bearing the altar upon his frenzied horns. The ministers scatter, and the soothsayer strives to console the king. Faint-heartedly he commands the rite to be renewed and carried through, and with feigned countenance screens his anxious fears. As when the Tirynthian felt the fire enwrap his bones and the Oetaean robe cling to his limbs, he continued the offering he had begun and poured the incense, still resolute and enduring the agony; soon beneath the stress he groaned aloud, while triumphant Nessus12 raged throughout his vitals.

[239] Aepytus, in excited breathless haste, comes running with news to the king, his post by the gate abandoned, and scarcely understood pants out these words to the anxious prince: “Break off thy pious worship and the untimely sacrifice, O king! Thy brother rides threatening round thy walls, and with spear and bridle assails thy hindering gates, and flinging many a challenge calls thee, thee alone to battle.” Behind him his sorrowing comrades weep, each echoing the speaker with their groans, while the host clash arms and rage against the foe. The monarch prays: “Now was the time,13 most righteous sire of the gods! What did Capaneus deserve?” A thrill of profound hatred shook the king, yet he rejoices in mid rage: as when a chieftain-bull after the repose of his rival’s exile hears with ear alert the bellow of his enemy, and knows his challenge, he stands consumed with mighty wrath before the herd, and pants forth his valour in hot foam, now fiercely tearing the ground with his hoof, now the air with his horns; the meadows quake, and the affrighted vales await the conflict.

[257] Nor are his friends less moved: “Let him batter the walls in vain!” “Can he dare so far with shattered forces?” “’Tis madness prompts the wretches to court danger, weigh no fears and detest safety.” “Stay thou assured upon thy throne, we will repulse the foe, bid us make war!” So speak those near him, but lo! Creon was at hand, aflame with grief and claiming for his tongue a warrior’s silence; Menoeceus galls his heart to fierceness, no peace does the father know; him he seeks and clutches, him he beholds panting the bloody stream from his breast, and ever falling from the cruel tower. And when he saw Eteocles in doubt and shrinking from the fight: “Thou shalt go,” he cries, “not, villain, shall we unavenged endure thee longer, thee the brother and the prince, made powerful by thy country’s tears and sufferings, guilty of Heaven’s Furies and the war. Long enough have we atoned thy perjuries to the angry gods. This city, once full of arms and wealth, and thronged with citizens, hast thou like a heaven-sent pestilence or plague of earth drained to nothing, yet castest thy tall shadow o’er its emptiness? Folk are lacking to be thy slaves: some lie on earth unburnt, others their native stream has already borne down to the sea; some seek their limbs, others tend anxious wounds. Come, restore to our wretched people their brothers, fathers, sons, restore husbands to their homes and farmsteads! Where now is mighty Hypseus, where is our neighbour Dryas, where are the arms of echoing Phocis and the Euboean chiefs? Yet them the impartial fate of war hath slain, but thou, my son – O shame! – liest the victim, ay, the victim of the throne, like some mute beast of the herd, alas! sprinkled with the first-fruits at the altar’s unhallowed rite and bidden die: and doth he still waver, and now at least when summoned refuse the challenge? or does the wicked Tiresias bid another go to battle, and devise a second oracle to bring me woe? Yes, why is Haemon alone left to his unhappy sire? Command him to go, and sit thou on a lofty tower to watch the spectacle! Why dost thou rage and look round upon thy retinue? These would have thee go, ay, and pay the penalty; even thy mother and thy sisters hate thee. Thy brother hotly threatens thee with the sword and death, and rends the stern barriers of thy gates – dost thou not hearken?”

[297] Thus spoke the father, gnashing his teeth, in transports of misery and rage. The other in reply: “Thou dost not fool me, nor art thou moved by thy son’s renowned death: that song of woe, those vaunts did but befit a father. But ambition lurks beneath those tears, ambition and concealed desire: thou art making his death a mask for thy mad hopes, and dost press me hard, as though succeeding to the vacant throne. Nor so utterly has Fortune left the Sidonian city that the sceptre should fall to thee, O most unworthy of so brave a son! Nor would revenge be difficult even now, but first – arms, arms, my servants! Let the brothers meet in battle. Creon would have some balm for his sorrow: take advantage of my rage; when I am victorious thou shalt pay me all.” Thus for a while he put off the quarrel, and thrust back the sword that wrath put in his hand. As a serpent, struck at a venture and wounded by a shepherd, lifts up its coils erect, and from all its length of body draws the poison to its mouth: but should the foe bend his course but a little, the threats abate, the vainly swollen neck subsides, and it swallows back the venom of its own anger.

[315] But when his mother heard the first news of the calamity in appalled dismay – nor was she slow to believe it – she went with face and tresses torn, and naked, blood-stained breast, reckless of sex and dignity: just as the mother of Pentheus14 climbed the heights of the frenzied mount to bring the promised head to fierce Lyaeus. Neither her maidens nor her devoted daughters can keep pace with her, such strength does despair lend to the unhappy woman, her enfeebled years grow vigorous with grief. And already the chief was fastening on him the glory of his helm, and taking his sharp javelins, and regarding his steed that rejoiced in the trumpets nor feared the bugle’s blast, when on a sudden his mother appeared, mighty to behold, and he and all his company grew pale with fear, and his squire took back the spear he was proffering.

[329] “What madness is this? Whence hath returned the Evil Spirit of this realm, restored again to life? Must ye then fight each other at the last? Is it too little to have led rival hosts and given the word for slaughter? And afterwards, what home awaits the victor? these arms of mine? O my dread spouse, blest hereafter in thy blindness! now pay ye the penalty, my guilty eyes! Must I then see this day? Whither, ruthless one, turnest thou thy threatening gaze? Why do flush and pallor alternate on thy countenance, and thy clenched teeth stifle angry mutterings? Ah, woe is me! thou wilt prevail! Yet first must thou test thy arms at home: I will stand in the threshold of the gate, a baneful omen and dread image of calamity. These hoary locks, these breasts must needs be trampled by thee, accursed one, and o’er thy mother’s womb this steed be driven. Ah! spare! why dost thou repel me from thy path with shield and sword? No solemn curses have I uttered against thee to the Stygian gods, nor invoked the Furies with sightless prayer. Hear me in my distress! ‘tis thy mother, not thy sire entreats thee, cruel one! Stay thy guilt, and take the measure of such madness. But thy brother – dost thou say? – beats at the walls, and raises impious war against thee. Ay, for no mother, no sister doth prevent him; but thee all beseech, here all make lament. Yonder scarce Adrastus alone dissuades from battle, or perchance doth urge it; wilt thou leave thy ancestral gate and the gods, and from my very embrace go forth against thy brother?”

[354] But in another region Antigone glides silently by stealth through all the tumult – nor does maidenly chastity delay her – and hastes in eagerness to climb to the summit of the Ogygian wall; old Actor follows close behind, though his strength avails not to reach the tower’s height. Awhile she hesitated at the sight of the host afar, then recognized him, alas! as with proud taunt and javelin he assailed the city; first her wailings fill the air, then, as though about to leap down from he wall, she cries: “Put up thy weapons and look but a moment at this tower, my brother, and turn thy bristling crest to face my eyes! Is it enemies thou findest? Is it thus we demand good faith and yearly pact? Is this an innocent exile’s just complaint and righteous cause? By thy Argive home, O brother – for thy Tyrian home thou slightest – by any joy thou hast therein, be softened: lo! both the armies, either folk entreat thee! Antigone, faithful to her kinsmen’s sufferings and suspected by the king, and sister but to thee, hard-hearted one, entreats thee! Remit at least thy frowning looks; let me perchance for the last time behold the face I love, and see whether thou dost weep at my lament. Him even now doth our mother urge with suppliant tears, and doth put back, they say, his naked blade: art thou still stubborn to me, to me who night and day weep for thy wandering exile, and have oftimes appeased thy father’s wrath even as it rose against thee? Why dost thou free thy brother of guilt? Verily he broke faith and his sworn word, guilty is he and cruel to his own; yet lo! he comes not to thy challenge.”

[382] At these words his rage began somewhat to grow faint though the Fury upbraided and resisted; already he has relaxed his arm, now he wheels his horse less sharply, now he falls silent; groans burst from him, his casque confesses tears, his ire is blunted, and he feels shame both to depart and to have come in guilt: when suddenly the Fiend, thrusting his mother aside, shatters the gate and hurls forth Eteocles crying: “I come, and only grudge thee thou wert the first to challenge; chide not my delay, my mother hung upon my arms and stayed me; what ho! my country, land of thy monarchs most unsure, now assuredly thou shalt be the victor’s!” The other in no milder strain: “At last, ruffian, dost thou keep faith, and come down into fair field? O once again after many a day my brother, engage! no law, no treaty but this remains.” So spoke he, scowling at his kinsman in hostile mood; for in his heart he chafes at the other’s numerous train, and his royal helm and the purple trappings of his charger, and his buckler’s glancing gold – though he himself was not meanly armed, and his cloak shone with no common lustre: Argia herself had wrought it in Maeonian fashion, and with skilled finger had woven strands of gold in the purple web.

[403] And now at the Furies’ impulse, they dash forward to the dusty plain, each goaded and inspired by his companion.15 These guide the reins themselves, and arrange the trappings and the shining arms, and entwine their snakes amid the horses’ manes. Set there upon the field is the crime of kindred blood, the dread conflict of one womb, beneath their helms the faces of brothers meet in battle. The banners quake, the trumpets are silent, and the Martian horns are struck dumb; thrice from the regions of gloom thundered their impatient monarch and shook the depths of earth, and even the deities of battle fled; renowned Virtue was nowhere seen, Bellona put out her torches, Mars drove afar his affrighted chariot, and the Maid16 shrank away with her fierce Gorgon-head, and into their places came the Stygian sisters. The wretched common folk stand high upon the house-tops, no place but is wet with tears, no tower but sounds with lamentations. Here old men complain that they have lived so long, there mothers stand with bosoms bare, and forbid their little ones to view the fray. The king of Tartarus himself orders the gates to be set open, and the Ogygian ghosts to attend their kindred’s monstrous deeds. Seated upon their native hills they pollute the day with grisly band, and rejoice that their own crimes should be surpassed.

[424] When Adrastus heard that the princes were rushing to the perilous fight with open taunts, and that shame could no longer hinder the ghastly deed, he hastens to the spot and himself drove between them, himself full-reverend both in monarchy and years. But what could a stranger’s influence avail with those who recked not even of their loved ones? Yet he entreats: “Shall we then behold this horror, sons of Inachus and Tyre? In the name of justice and the gods, in the name of war – persist not in your fury! Thee, foeman, I beseech – although, did thy rage suffer thee, thou too art not far from me in blood – thee, son-in-law, I command as well; if thy lust of power is so great, I put off this royal robe, go take Lerna and Argos for thyself alone!” But his persuasion no more abates their kindled rage, or checks their once-determined purpose, than did the Scythian Pontus ever stay the Cyanean rocks from clashing, though it rose high with arching waves. When he sees his prayers are fruitless, and the teams galloping in twofold dust to battle, and the frenzied princes feeling their hold on the javelin-strap, he flees away leaving all, camp, army, son-in-law and Thebes, and drives Arion forward, though he turn him in the yoke and give fateful warning: even as the warden of the shades and the third heir of the world, after the lot’s unkind apportioning, leapt down from his chariot and grew pale, for he was come to Tartarus and heaven was lost for ever.

[447] Yet would not Fortune suffer the fray, but halted at the opening of the crime, and delayed awhile. Twice were their onslaughts wasted, twice did a kindly mischance divert their charging steeds, and their flung darts fell aside pure of unnatural blood. They strain at the reins,17 with savage goads they incite their innocent teams; then too an awful prodigy of heaven stirs the armies, and from this side and that roll murmurs through the muttering hosts; often do they burn to renew the fight, to dash forward and to set their whole array in the wretches’ path.

[457] Long time, offended alike by earth and the company of the gods, had Piety18 been sitting in a remote region of the heavens, with unwonted dress and troubled countenance, and fillets stripped from her hair: she bewailed the fraternal strife, as though a hapless sister or anxious mother of the fighters, and loudly chiding cruel Jove and the guilty Fates protested she would leave heaven and the light of day, and descend to Erebus, for already she preferred the abodes of Styx. “Why, sovereign Nature, didst thou create me to oppose the passions of living folk and often the gods? Nought am I any more among men, nowhere ma I reverenced. Ah! what fury! alas! mankind, alas! dread Promethean skill! How blessed was the vacancy of earth and sea after Pyrrha’s time! Behold the race of mortals!” She spoke, and watching an occasion for her aid: “Let me but try,” she cried, “though my attempt be fruitless.” Down from the pole she leapt, and beneath the darkened clouds a snow-white track followed the footsteps of the goddess, sad though she was. Scarce had she set foot upon the plain, when a sudden peace stilled the fury of the warriors, and they were conscious of their crime; then tears bedewed faces and breasts, and a silent horror stole upon the brethren. Clad in feigned armour also and many dress she cries now to these, now to those: “Forward! be moving! Withstand them! Ye who have sons at home or brothers, or pledges held so dear. Even here – is it not plain, the gods unasked are pitiful? – weapons are falling, steeds wavering, and Chance herself resists.”

[482] She had somewhat stirred the doubting lines, had not grim Tisiphone marked her deceit, and swifter than the fire from heaven darted to her side, reproaching her: “Why hinderest thou the bold deeds of war, O sluggard, peace-devoted deity? Hence, shameless one! this battle-field, this day is mine; too late now defendest thou guilty Thebes. Where wert thou then when Bacchus made war and the orgies drove the matrons to arms and madness? Where wert thou idling, while the snake of Mars drank the unhallowed flood, while Cadmus ploughed, while the Sphinx fell defeated, while Oedipus was questioned by his sire,19 while by my torch’s light Jocasta was entering the marriage-chamber?” So she upbraids, and threatens her with hissing hydras and brandished torch, as she shrinks from her gaze and far withdraws her shamefast face; down over her eyes the goddess draws her mantle and flees to lay her complaint before the mighty Thunderer.

[497] Then verily are they kindled to yet more fiery wrath; battle pleases, and he armies, changed once more, are willing to look on. They begin anew the savage work: the impious monarch aims his dart, and first dares the fortune of the deadly spear; but striving to find a way through the middle of the shield it strikes not home, but is fabled by the solid gold. Then the exile advances, and utters loud a deadly prayer: “Ye gods, whom blinded Oedipus besought not vainly to blow the blaze of crime, I make no wrongful plea; with this same steel will I atone my deed and rend my breast, so that my rival die and leave me with the sceptre in my grasp, and, my vassal in the shades, take that sorrow with him to the tomb.” The swift javelin flies between horseman’s thigh and horse’s flank, willing death for both, but the blow was foiled by the rider’s bent knee, yet the spear-point baffled of its vow found a wound slantwise in the horse’s ribs. Scorning the tightened rein the steed darts headlong away, and traces a bloody curve along the reddened field. The other exults, thinking it his brother’s gore, and so thinks he himself in fear; and now the exile shakes free all his rein, and dashes in blind, impetuous onslaught against the wounded charger. Arms, bridles, weapons are all mingled in confusion, both horses lose their footing and are thrown to earth. Even as at night two ships that the cloudy South wind has locked together break oars, entangle ropes, and, struggling with each other and the storm through the long darkness, sink even as they are together to the depths: such was the appearance of the fight.

[524] Without skill or fashion, only in wrath and fury they engage, and see through their helms the flames of hate, and search with fiery glance each other’s countenance: no interval of ground divides them, swords are entangled, arms interlocked, and they catch the sound of each other’s cries like bugle or trumpet-call. As when rage has set lightning-swift boars rushing headlong to the fight, and raised the bristles erect upon their backs, fire quivers in their eyes, and the curved tusks of crescent shape ring loud; from a neighbouring height the anxious hunter watches the fray, and bids his hounds be silent: so bloodthirstily do they attack, nor yet do they deal mortal wounds, but the blood flows, the crime is accomplished. No more need is there of Furies: they only marvel and praise as they watch, and grieve that human rage exceeds their own. Each in furious lust seeks his brother’s life-blood, nor knows his own is flowing; at last the exile rushes in, and calling on his right arm, whose ire is more valiant and which has the greater justice in his crime, drove his sword deep into his kinsman’s body, where the corslet’s lowest rim now gives with feathers20 but ill protection to the groin. The other, not yet in pain, but frightened by the first cold of the steel, withdraws his shaken limbs behind his buckler, but soon more and more conscious of the wound he gasps and labours; nor does his foe spare him as he gives way, but taunts him: “Whither art thou retreating, brother? Behold the somnolent languor, the exhausted sleep of kings! See there long years of sheltered rule! But here thou seest limbs hardened by want and exile! Learn to be schooled in arms, nor trust to fortune!”

[552] So fight the hapless ones; life yet remained, though feeble, in the wicked king, and his last drops of blood, and awhile he could have stayed upright but purposely he falls, and even in the moment of death devises his last fraud. Cithaeron is startled by a shout,21 and his brother thinking he has conquered raises his hands to heaven: “’Tis well, my vow is heard; his eyes are heavy, and his face swims in death. Come, somebody, quick, away with the sceptre and the ornament of his locks, while he yet sees!” So speaking he drew nigh, and would fain also take his arms, as though to bear them to grace the shrines of his victorious land; but the other’s life was not yet spent, and he retained still breath enough to wreak his avenging wrath; and when he knew that he was standing over him and stooping to his body, he raises his weapon unperceived and calling up his hatred to strengthen the weak remnants of his failing life, now glad to die, he left the sword in his brother’s heart. But he: “Livest thou still, and doth thy malice yet survive, thou treacherous one, who wilt never merit an abode of peace? This way with me to the shades! There too will I demand my rights, if but the Gnosian urn of the Agenorian judge22 still stands, whereby kings may be punished.” No more he spake, but fell, and crushed his brother beneath all his armed weight.

[574] Go, savage souls, and pollute baleful Tartarus by your death, and exhaust all the punishments of Erebeus! And O ye Stygian goddesses, spare now the afflictions of mankind; in every land and throughout all ages let one day only have seen so dread a crime; let posterity forget the infamous horror, and kings alone recount that combat.

[580] But the sire, when he knew the horrid deed was over, burst out from his gloom profound, and in the dread gateway displays his living corpse; his grey hair and beard are filthy and matted with ancient gore, and locks congealed with blood veil his fury-haunted head; deep-sunken are his cheeks and eyes, and foul the traces of the sight’s uprooting. The maid23 sustains his left arm that leans its weight upon her; his right is supported by a staff. ‘Tis even as though the furrower of sluggish Avernus through loathing of the shades should leave his bark and come up to the world above and affright the sun and the pale stars, though himself unable long to endure the air of heaven; meanwhile the long tale grows as the ferryman dallies, and all along the banks the ages await him: in such wise does he come forth upon the plain, and to his comrade ‘mid her utter woe: “Lead me,” he cries, “to my sons, I pray, and set their father on the new-slain corpses.” The maiden hesitates, not knowing what he purposes; arms, men and chariots block their way, and entangle and delay them, and the old man’s steps falter in the high-piled carnage, and his hapless guide hath sore ado. But when the virgin’s shriek betrayed the long-sought bodies, he flung his full length on the cold limbs. No word the old man spake: he lies and moans upon their bloody wounds, nor do the long-attempted words follow. At length while he gropes and searches for the faces hidden within their helms the father found utterance for his long-silent grief:

[605] “Late after so long time art thou come, affection, to sway my heart? Doth mercy dwell in this human breast? Ah! thou hast conquered, Nature, conquered this unhappy father! Behold, I weep, and my tears steal over these dry wounds, this sinful hand follows with womanly beating of my breast. Receive these fitting obsequies of your unhallowed deaths, O cruel ones, too truly mine! I cannot recognize my sons, nor suit my words – tell me, daughter, I beg, which am I holding? With what honours now can one so cruel as I perform your rites? Oh, if my eyes could be restored for me to rend them! Oh, if I could wreak my rage upon my countenance as once I did! Ah, woe! alas, for a parent’s prayers and curses granted too faithfully! What god was it stood by when I prayed, and caught my words and told them to the Fates? ‘Twas madness caused those ills, and the Fury, and my father and my mother and my kingdom and my falling eyes – not I! By Dis I swear it, and by the darkness that I loved and this my innocent guide, so may I go to Tartarus by a worthy death, and Laius’ shade not angrily shun my presence! Woe is me, what brotherly embraces are these, what are these wounds I feel? Loose your hands, I entreat, and relax at last these deadly bonds, now at least let your sire come between you.” Amid such laments he little by little had become in mood for death, and secretly, lest his daughter should prevent him, sought a weapon; but prudent Antigone had withdrawn their swords from his reach. Then the old man in wrath: “Where are the weapons of death? Alas! ye Furies! has the blade sunk all its length into their bodies?” His feeble comrade lifts him as he speaks, and hides her own mute sorrow, rejoicing that grief has touched her savage sire.

[634] But the queen, terrified by the shout that marked the fight begun, had then brought forth from her chamber the famous sword, the sword that was the lamentable spoil of sceptred Laius. And with much complaining of the gods above and her dire couch and her son’s madness and the shade of her first lord she strove with her right hand, yet scarce at length as she leaned forward did the steel make entrance to her breast; the wound rent her aged veins, and the ill-fated couch is purged in blood. As the blade grated upon her skinny bosom Ismene fell upon her and weeping stanched the wound with her hair and tears: as when in the Marathonian glade sorrowful Erigone wept her fill for her slain sire, and already was untying the fatal girdle, and bent on death was fastening it to the sturdy boughs.

[648] And now, rejoicing to have foiled the hopes of both princes, Fortune with spiteful hand had transferred elsewhere the sceptre of Amphion’s realm, and Creon held the power of Cadmus. Ah, miserable end of war! for him had the brothers fought. Him does the seed of Mars proclaim, and Menoeceus lately offered to save the state endears him to the people. He climbs the throne of distressful Aonia, that brings death to tyrants: ah, flattering power! ill-counselling ambition! Will new rulers ne’er take heed by the examples of the old? Lo! he delights to stand in the accursed spot, and exert a bloody sway. What availest thou, kindlier Fortune? Already he begins to blunt the feelings of a sire, and once upon the throne to wipe Menoeceus from his heart. First, imbued with the savage customs of the palace, as proof and sample of his rule, he bids the Danaans be debarred from funeral fire, and the unhappy host he left under the bare vault, and their sad shades without a resting-place. Next, meeting the returning Oedipus in the entrance of the Ogygian gate, he quailed for a moment, and owned his lesser rank in silence, and checked his ready ire; but soon he resumes the king, and more boldly chiding his blind foe: “Avaunt,” he cried, “hateful omen to the conquerors, keep far hence thy Furies, and purify the Theban walls by thy departure! Fulfilled is thy long-endured hope: go, for thy sons lie dead; what wishes has thou left?”

[673] A thrill of frenzy shook him, his squalid cheeks stood quivering as though he saw, and his old age fell from him. Then thrusting away his daughter and his staff, sustained by wrath alone, he utters a cry in the indignation of his heart: “Hast thou already time to be cruel, Creon? Camest thou but lately by treachery to my throne and place of rank, miserable wretch, and art so soon permitted to trample on the ruin of kings? Already dost thou debar the conquered from burial, our kinsmen from their city? Well done! thou canst worthily defend the sceptre of Thebes! This is thy first day of power, but why dost thou foolishly restrict thy new authority? Why grudgingly measure out so great an office? Thou threatenest exile: that is but timorous harshness in a monarch! Why dost thou not forthwith imbue thy greedy blade? Thou hast the power, believe me! some minion would come eager to obey, and fearlessly sever my unresisting neck. Begin then! or dost thou expect me to fall prostrate and with suppliant hand grope for my stern master’s feet? But did I try, wouldst thou allow me? Canst thou threaten me with any punishments, or think that any terrors yet remain for me? Dost thou bid me leave the palace? Heaven and earth I have left of my own will, and uncompelled turned my fierce avenging hand on my own eyes: what canst thou command to equal that, malicious monarch? I take my flight, and leave an unhallowed land; what matters it whither I convey my blindness and my lingering death? Do I fear lest any people refuse to grant my prayer for as much of their soil as my miserable corpse will cover? But Thebes is sweet: ay, verily, here my birth is more renowned, here kindlier stars delight my vision, here are my mother and my sons! Nay, keep thou Thebes and rule it, with Cadmus’ fortune and Laius’ and mine; in such wise marry, and beget loyal sons! and lack the courage to escape by thy own hand the blows of Fortune, but when thou art in the toils, then hold life dear. There, ‘tis enough of blessings!24 come, daughter, lead me far away; yet why do I make thee share my sorrows? Give me a guide, great sovereign!”

[708] Hapless Antigone fears to be left behind, and pleads in different wise: “By thy heaven-blest throne, revered Creon, and Menoeceus’ sacred shade, pardon him in his affliction, forgive his proud words. Long grievance hath given him this style of speech; nor is he thus harsh to thee alone, even so addresses he the gods and Fate; his distress hath hardened him, even to me he is often discourteous; in his untameable heart there long hath dwelt a stifled freedom and a savage longing for pitiless death. And now behold in his cunning he rouses up thy anger and desires thee to punish him; but do thou, I pray, enjoy the greater blessings of thy realm, and in thy lofty state o’erlook the fallen, and have reverence for the mighty ruins of former kings. He too was once lifted high upon a throne and hedged with arms, and, impartial alike to great and humble, gave succour and justice to the wretched – who now has but one companion maid out of all his armies; not yet did he know exile. Can he oppose happiness? Dost thou proceed against him with hated and thy kingdom’s might? Dost thou drive him from thy house? Is it lest the groan too loudly at thy gate and meet thee with importunate prayers? Fear not that: far removed from thy hall will he lament; I will subdue his proud spirit and teach him submission, I will take him from the gatherings of men and hide him in a place of solitude. An outlaw will he be; for e’en should he wander, what foreign walls will open to him? Wouldst thou have him go to Argos and crawl a beggar into hostile Mycenae, or tell of the slaughter of the Aonians at the gate of conquered Adrastus, and entreat some scrap of succour for a Theban king? Doth it please thee that he should recount the crimes of our unhappy race, and show forth all his shameful plight? Conceal us, I pray, whate’er we are – no lengthy boon, O Creon: pity his old age, and grant me here, ay, here, I beg, to lay to rest my sire’s unhappy spirit. Surely Thebans may have burial!”

[739] So prays she, prostrate on the ground; her father leads her away, with angry words and scorning pardon. Even as a lion, whom once in his youth the woods and mountains trembled at, now lies sluggish beneath a lofty rock and disarmed by length of years: yet even in age is he terrible of aspect and not to be approached, and should the noise of lowing come to his languid ears, he springs up and remembers himself, and groans that his strength is broken, and that other lions lord it upon the plains.

[748] The monarch is moved by her plea, yet grants not everything to the suppliant’s tears, but cuts short a part of his bounty. “Thou shalt not,” he cries, “be kept far from the boundaries of thy land, so be it thou defile not with thy presence its sacred shrines and homes. Let the wilds of thy Cithaeron hold thee; and lo! this land is a fit dwelling for thy darkness, where the fight was fought and two races lie in blood.” So he speaks, and in haughty pride, amid the feigned applauding of his train and the weeping folk, sought the palace gate.

[757] Meanwhile the routed Pelasgians steal away from their fatal camp; none has his own ensigns or chief to follow; silently in scattered rout they go, and instead of a glorious death they cherish dishonoured life and a shameful home-coming. Night favours the fugitives and shrouds them in welcome gloom.

1. Tityos.
2. i.e., he looks again for his thunderbolts, after using one against Capaneus.
3. She despises such mean triumphs, and proceeds to compare her own.
4. From which her torch was made.
5. An imaginary mountain range at the N. limit of the world.
6. Tantalus cut up and boiled Pelops his son, and set him before the gods as a meal; Lycaon, father of Callisto, offered human meat to Jove; the sun turned away from Mycenae when Atreus set the flesh of Thyestes’ sons before their father; hence the sudden appearance of the stars.
7. Astraea, cf. Silv. i. 4. 2 “videt alma pios Astraea,” and note ad loc. She was frequently identified with Justice.
8. The construction (i.e., “now behold thee exiled,” etc., or some such word) is deliberately broken off to mark his excitement.
9. The dative after “tegas” may be explained by the same use of analogy that we have seen before (here = dat. after verbs of rescuing from).
10. i.e., Pluto.

11. With Semele; the same reference in i. 220-221.
12. i.e., the poison of Nessus’s shirt, given by him in treachery to Deianira, and by her as a love-charm to Hercules. Nessus was a centaur slain in Hercules’ poisoned arrows, and here he takes his revenge.
13. i.e., to hurl the thunderbolt. It should have been kept for Polynices, in comparion with whom Capaneus had done nothing.
14. Agave, who tore her son, the king of Thebes, in pieces for trying to suppress the Bacchic worship.
15. i.e., by one of the Furies.
16. Pallas.
17. To prevent the horses from swerving.
18. For the translation of this word see note on x. 780. Here it has reference to the rites of natural affection (hence her appeal to Nature), which the brothers are breaking.
19. When they met at the cross-roads. The serpent of Mars was slain by Cadmus after it had killed some of his men.
20. “Feathers”was the name given to small pieces of metal arranged scale-wise on the piece of skin or linen forming the basis of the cuirass; cf. Virg. Aen. xi. 770.

21. i.e., the onlookers.
22. i.e., Minos, who was son of Europa, daughter of Agenor, king of Tyre. Gnosus or Cnossus was a city of Crete; where Minos ruled.
23. Antigone.
24. Literally “I have hallowed good omens for you enough,” ironically, of course; for the phrase cf. l. 344 “vota sanxi.”