In Oedipus Tyrannus (abridged/shortened version outlined below for the writer), should we view Oedipus as tragic only, OR can we find something heroic in his actions and end?
Support your argument by discussing only events and lines from the play (outlined below). Make sure to explain your definition of “Hero” so that your readers are working from the same set of criteria that you are.
** Please – No Outside Sources…This should be a close reading essay, and should use as evidence primarily passages from the story which I have provided below…thanks..!
Translated by Peter Meineck & Paul Woodruff
SCENE: Before the royal house of Thebes. The great doors of
the house stand upstage center. There are two wing
entrances, one onstage left and one onstage right.
There is a holy altar center stage. A throng of citizens
have gathered there as suppliants.
(Enter Oedipus through the great doors.)
My children, new nurtured by old Thebes,
Why have you come here pleading,
Wearing wreaths and clutching boughs?
The city burns with pungent spice.
Healing hymns echo the sounds of suffering.
To have heard such news from others
Would not have been right.
My children, I am here, famous Oedipus.
(Oedipus addresses an elderly priest.)
Old man, it is your duty to speak for all.
Why are you kneeling in supplication—
What do you fear, what do you want?
I will help. Only a heartless man could bear
To see such sorrow and not feel pity.
Oedipus, master of my country, look.
Every age gathers at your altar: fledglings
Not yet fit to fly, elders bending beneath time,
Ministers of Zeus, as I, and the flower of our youth.
Your people cram the city’s squares
Crowding Athena’s two temples,
The river god’s sacred shrine
And the blood-charred altar of the prophet.
Look, see for yourself: the city is plunged
Headlong into the depths of disaster,
Engulfed by a murderous seething tide.
Desolation wastes away the harvest,
Destroys our herds grazing in the fields,
Blights the women and makes them barren.
Some furious god hurls pestilence and plague,
Draining the house of Cadmus,
As Hades bloats on dirges of death.
We know that you are not a god;
These children came to your hearth to plead
To the man who knows best the trials of life,
For you understand divine power.
You came to Thebes, saved us from the Sphinx,
And without any help, delivered us from despair.
We could do nothing; we knew nothing.
It is said that once you were helped by a god;
We believed it, and you saved all our lives.
Now, Oedipus, our master and greatest power,
We are all in your care, and we beg of you:
Come to our aid.
Have you heard from a god, a man,
Is there something that you know?
You understand what to do at such times,
That is clear; all of us trust your judgment.
Come, noblest of men, save the city.
Come, be true to your fame.
Our country calls you its savior;
You earned the title. Let it never be remembered
That you once raised us up, only to let us fall.
You brought us lucky signs and good days;
Now you need do the same for us again.
If you want to rule as master of this land,
You need men to master, not walls and ships.
A nation of no-one can only be nothing.
My poor children, I understand the hope
That brings you here—how could I not?
I know you are all in pain; every one of you
Feels it, but at least that pain is only yours.
None of you can know the anguish that I feel.
Sick to my soul, I grieve not only for myself
But for the whole city, for everyone, for you.
You have not disturbed me; I could not sleep.
These nights have seen me weep a flood of tears.
My mind has wandered so many trails of thought
Until at last my search sought out the one and only cure.
I have already sent Creon, my own wife’s brother,
To the Pythian oracle, Apollo’s shrine at Delphi.
There he will learn the will of the gods
And what I must say or do that I might save the city.
But he should have returned by now;
Too much time has passed since he left.
I fear what might have happened—where can he be?
When he does come, I would be worthless if I failed
To do what is made apparent by the word of a god.
Well said and timely too.
These men say they have seen Creon.
Bless us, Lord Apollo! Let it be deliverance.
Let good news shine bright in his eyes.
Good news, yes. Can you see him?
He’s wearing a thick, fresh laurel wreath . . . good news!
Soon he will hear us; then we’ll know for sure.
(Enter Creon from the stage left wing.)
Creon, royal brother, son of Thebes,
What word have you brought from the god?
Good words. If fortune smiles,
It will set these troubles straight.
Yes, certainly, but what of the oracle?
Is there any hope? Have we anything to fear? Tell me!
Here? With all these people around us? If you wish,
I’m ready to talk. Or we can go inside.
Let everyone hear. I grieve for them
Far more than I do for myself.
Then hear the words I heard from the god.
Lord Apollo has made his will clear:
Drive out defilement nurtured in your land.
Cherish it no longer; it must be purged.
How should we purge this curse? What is the cause?
The purge is banishment, or else death for death.
The cause is murder, and blood guilt storms over our city.
Who is this man whose fate has been revealed?
We had a leader here whose name was Laius,
Before you came to steer our city straight.
I know. I’ve heard of him, though I never saw the man myself.
He’s dead, and the command is clear:
Punish the killers by force.
And where on this earth are they? Where can the faint
Track of this old blood-crime be found?
On Theban soil, the god proclaims.
Search leads to capture; what is ignored escapes.
But where was Laius murdered? In the palace?
Out in the country? Or did it happen abroad?
He’d been abroad, seeking an oracle, they said,
And he never came home from his journey.
Did anyone see it happen? Someone on the same journey,
A messenger? A clue to solve this crime?
No, they all died, except one who fled in fear.
But he said he saw only one thing for certain.
What was that? One thing could reveal much more.
Hope can spring from such a small beginning.
A pack of thieves killed him in ambush;
Not one man alone, but many.
How would a thief dare to do such a thing
Unless he had been paid off by someone here?
There were suspicions. But Laius was dead,
And we had no one to help in our crisis.
Your ruler had been murdered! What crisis
Could have kept you from a complete investigation?
The Sphinx. Her riddles made us set aside
That mystery; we had to deal with the trouble at hand.
Then I will start again. I will see it exposed.
You are right, Apollo is fully justified
To remind us of our obligations to the dead.
Watch, as I join the fight for this land
As the god’s true instrument of vengeance.
I do not do this for some far-off cousin.
I have my own reasons for driving out this infection;
The killer, whoever it may be, could kill again
And lay those deadly hands on me.
As I serve this cause, so I serve myself.
Now quickly, my children, up off the steps,
Take your boughs of supplication and go.
Call the people of Thebes to assemble here,
And I will do everything. Apollo be with us,
He will reveal our fortune—or our fall.
Up, children; he has given his word
That he will do all that we asked,
And we have all heard the oracle from Apollo.
Come to our aid, Apollo, save us from the sickness!
(Exit Oedipus through the great doors; exit Creon stage right. Exit the suppliants through the stage right wing. Enter the chorus of Theban citizens from the stage right wing.)
Choral Entry-Song (Parodos)
Be good to us, O Word of Zeus! What is your meaning?
Rich in gold, the prophet speaks to shining Thebes.
But I am strung between fear and hope. Panic beats at my mind.
Blessed Healer to whom we cry,
I await your answer with awe and dread:
Will it be a new demand?
Or will the passing years fulfill an ancient curse?
Tell me, Child of Hope, golden immortal word.
Daughter of Zeus, I first call on you,
And on the earth-holder, your sister
Artemis, who is seated on her rounded throne,
Glorious in the center of Thebes—
And on Apollo, who strikes from afar. Come,
O you three protectors, let me see you now.
If ever you have saved us, when disaster raged over the city,
If ever you sent the flames of misery far away,
Come, save us now.
Pain, misery beyond reckoning:
My people, all my people, sick with plague.
I search my mind for some defense,
But there is none.
No crops will grow, none from our fabled earth.
No children crown the birth pangs of our women.
But they cry out, and, one by one,
You see them take bird wings and rise
Like flame on flame, unassailable in flight,
To the dark shore of the western god.
Death, beyond the city’s reckoning:
Beyond pity, children lie on the ground unmourned,
Bearing death to the living,
While wives and gray-haired mothers
Stream to the bank of altars,
Exhausted by their sadness,
Moaning, begging for relief.
Hymns flash out to the healing god
With cries of lamentation.
Over us, we pray, golden daughter of Zeus,
Raise the bright face of your shield.
Blazing Ares, god of war, comes against me now.
With no bronze sword or shield.
He scorches me, and the shouts rise about him.
Turn him back, put him to flight out of our land.
Give him a fair wind
Either back to the broad lap of the Atlantic
Or back to the cruel surf of the Thracian sea.
For now the horror left undone
By night is finished in the day.
Smite the war god, Father Zeus,
For yours is the power of ultimate fire:
Smash him with your thunderbolt.
Lord of light, Apollo, lift your bow, I pray.
Loose from its gold-spun string
A shower of arrows, irresistible.
And send down also the radiant beams
Of Artemis, who sets the mountain peaks
Of Lycia shining in the night.
And I call upon you, god of the golden crown,
You who share your name with our land,
Bacchus, glowing with wine and happy cries of Maenads:
Bring your torches of blazing pine
And strike the god whom the gods detest.
(Enter Oedipus through the great doors.)
You plead for help. Let me provide the answer:
If you listen to me and do as the disease demands,
You will rise again and find relief from this curse.
I tell you these things as a stranger,
A stranger to all that happened here,
But I cannot go far on this trail alone
Unless I have some sort of sign.
Therefore, as I have since become a citizen,
I will make this decree to all of Thebes:
If any man knows who killed Laius, son of Labdacus,
I command him to disclose everything to me.
Do not fear that you will condemn yourself.
I offer amnesty and will drop all charges—
Only exile, and you will leave this land unharmed.
Should anyone know that the murderer is a foreigner,
Let him not keep silent any longer;
I will pay a rich reward and give my grateful thanks.
But if you should keep silent out of fear,
To protect yourself or shield a friend,
Then hear what I will do,
Should my ruling be ignored:
I forbid any inhabitant of the land
Where I hold the seat of power
To speak with or shelter this man,
To share the sacred or hold sacrifice,
Or to sprinkle the water of holy rites.
Banish him, shun him from your homes.
This is the man who has plagued us
With the curse the oracle revealed to me.
So I stand, side by side with the god,
Fighting for the rights of the murdered man.
I damn the killer, whoever he may be,
An unknown man, or one of many.
May he suffer and die, pain beyond pain.
I damn myself, if I should come to know
That he shares my hearth and home—
Then I call this curse to fall on me.
I command you, see this to its end,
For my sake, for the gods, and for your country,
Decaying into a godforsaken wasteland.
Even if Apollo had not sent his decree,
It was not right that the crime went unpurged.
Your king, the best of men, was cruelly killed,
But you sought no answers. Now I rule,
I have the authority that once was his,
I own his bed and make his wife mine.
My children, planted in the same mother as his,
Could have forged a bond of blood between us,
If fate had not fallen and he had not died childless.
His cause is mine, and I will fight for him,
As if he were my very own father,
And I will stop at nothing to find
The one who has this man’s blood on his hands,
For the sake of ancient Agenor, Cadmus, Polydorus,
And Labdacus, and for Laius, the last of his line.
Those who disobey me be damned by the gods:
Your barren land will know no harvest,
Nurture no children. This curse or something
Far, far worse will doom you to destruction.
Those faithful Thebans who accept my words
Can claim that Justice stands at their side.
May the good grace of the gods be with you forever.
As you request, sir, I will speak on oath:
I did not kill him, and I cannot name
The man who did. Apollo set us to this search;
Apollo should reveal the man who did this.
You are right, but there is not a man alive
Who can force the will of the gods.
May I tell you what I think is second best?
Tell me, and the third best; I’ll hear it all.
There is one I know who has the gift of sight,
Clear as Apollo—Tiresias. Inquire of him,
If you wish to learn precisely what took place.
I have seen to that already. On Creon’s advice
I sent a herald to fetch him. Twice now. Where is he?
I can’t believe he has not yet arrived.
Without him, all we have are meaningless old rumors . . .
Rumors? I must look everywhere; tell me every word.
He was killed, they say, by travelers on the road.
I know, but nobody saw anything.
Even so, this curse of yours will make him flee,
If he can still feel any shred of fear.
A man who acts without fear will not flee from words.
(Enter Tiresias, the blind prophet, led by a boy from the stage left wing.)
Here is the one who will put him to the test,
The godlike prophet they are leading in,
The only man who was born to know the truth.
Tiresias, great visionary, mystic teacher,
Medium to other worlds, above and below,
Though you are blind, I know you sense
The sickness that has infected the city.
You can deliver us, you can keep us safe.
We questioned Apollo—did the heralds
Tell you?—the god has sent his answer;
We must discover who murdered Laius
And sentence them to banishment or death.
Only then will this sickness be purged.
Please help us now, interpret the signs,
Use every part of your prophet’s craft.
Save yourself, your city, save me,
Save everything that this death has defiled.
We are all in your care, and the finest
To give is to use your powers for greater good.
Oh, oh. It is a hateful thing to know, when nothing
Can be gained from knowledge. I saw it clearly
But forced it from my thoughts! How else could I be here?
What is it? Why this despair?
Please let me go home. It’s for the best.
You bear your load; let me bear mine.
But this hostility is unlawful! This city raised you.
You cannot cheat us of this prophecy!
I see your words, dangerous words.
In such precarious times it’s best that I say nothing.
By all the gods! Don’t turn your back on us.
We’re all on our knees, begging you.
You all know nothing and I will never speak of it!
You’ll not hear of these horrors from me.
What? So you do know but refuse to speak?
Traitor! You condemn your city to destruction.
I’ll not cause this pain, not yours, not mine.
Stop your investigation. I’ve nothing more to say.
Nothing? Damn you! You could make the coldest stone
Burn with rage. Is there anything that moves you?
Will you never speak? You could end this now!
You condemn my temper yet fail to see
Where your own dwells. Instead, you blame me.
Could anyone not be angry after hearing
How you hold our city in such contempt?
I’ve kept my secret, but what will be will be.
What will be? If you know what’s coming, you must tell me.
I have nothing more to say. Go on, rage against me
If you want, vent your savagery, do what you will.
If it’s anger you want, then I’ll spare you none
And speak what’s on my mind. I see it now:
You had a hand in this, you were part of the plot.
It was you, and if you’d had eyes in your head,
You would have murdered the man yourself!
What? Then hear me speak. Obey the edict
That you yourself proclaimed: No one here
Shall ever speak with you again.
You are this land’s defiler, you are the curse!
Insolence! How dare you stir up such a story?
Do you think you’ll escape the consequences?
Yes, I do. Truth protects me.
This is not prophecy! Who put you up to this?
You did; you forced me to tell you.
Tell me what? Say it again so there will be no misunderstanding.
How could you not understand? Do you dare me to speak of this?
Again! Let there be no doubt.
I say that the murderer you seek is you.
You’ll be sorry you said that vile thing twice.
Rage on and I’ll tell you even more!
Say what you will; your lies mean nothing.
I say you can’t comprehend it, living in abomination,
Intimate with nearest and dearest, failing to see the evil.
Do you believe you can say these things with impunity?
I do, if there is power in truth.
Indeed there is, but not for you; you have no power—
Your ears and your mind are as blind as your eyes.
You poor fool, the same abuse you hurl at me
They’ll soon enough be hurling back at you.
Never-ending night shrouds you in darkness.
You’re harmless to those of us who see the light.
It is not I who will bring down your doom.
Apollo will be sufficient, and he has it all in hand.
Did you plot all of this, or could it be Creon?
Creon doesn’t plague you, you plague yourself!
Prosperity, power, skill surpassing skill—
These should be admired, not envied.
What jealous craving eats away at you people?
Is it because of my tyranny? I never asked for it;
It was handed to me by the city.
For this, my dear old friend, loyal Creon,
Longs to cast me out, stalking in secret,
Ambushing me with this conniving trickster.
You cheating old beggar! All you can see
Is personal profit. To the future you’re blind!
Tell me, when have your prophecies been proved?
When the Sphinx sounded her deadly song
Did you speak to save our people then?
The riddle could not be solved by just any man.
It needed the skills of a seer, but where were you?
You saw no omens, you made no revelations,
There was no divine inspiration, you knew nothing.
Then I came, ignorant Oedipus. I silenced her
By using my mind, not signs from the sky!
Did you really think you could just cast me out
And align yourself with the throne of Creon?
Conspirators! You will pay dearly for trying
To put the blame on me. If you weren’t so old
I would have taught you your lesson already.
Our judgment is that this man spoke
In anger, and so did you, Oedipus.
But we have no need of angry words, only this:
Explain the oracle, the word of the god.
Yes, you hold the power, but I am still your equal
In at least having the right to reply.
I am not one of your minions; I answer to Apollo.
Nor do I stand with Creon; he is not my patron.
You ridicule me and call me blind,
But your eyes cannot see your own corruption
Or where you live and just who you live with.
Do you even know your parents? You, an oblivious
Enemy to all your kith and kin, both living and dead.
The double-edged curse of your mother and father,
Treading the terror, will hound you out of this land,
And then your keen eyes will see only darkness.
What place will not harbor your cries
Echoing from the slopes of Mount Cithaeron
When you come to understand the marriage you made?
You thought that fortune had sailed you to a safe haven,
But you cannot perceive the deluge of disasters
That will be the measure of you and your children.
So sling your mud at Creon and soil
My words with your foul insults—
No man will ever suffer as much as you.
Must I tolerate this, from him?
Damn you! Scurry back where you came from,
Get away from my house! Get away!
I would not have come if you had not summoned me.
And I never would have sent for you
If I had known you were a babbling fool!
I am what I am; a fool, if that is what you think,
But those that bore you thought me wise enough.
Wait! What did you say? Who gave birth to me?
This day bears your birth and brings your devastation.
Is everything you say shrouded in dark riddles?
Are you not the greatest solver of riddles?
Insult me there and you’ll discover just how great I am.
Yet your blessing proves to be your curse.
I couldn’t care less what you say; I saved this city.
Then I will leave you to it. Come, boy, lead me away.
Then take him away! He’ll just impede us here.
He’ll cause me no more trouble once he’s gone.
I’ll go, when I’ve said why I came. I’m not frightened
By your angry glare; you could never hurt me.
I tell you, the murderer of Laius, the object
Of your self-proclaimed manhunt,
The one you’ve sought for so long—he is here.
He seems at first to be a newcomer from abroad,
Yet soon he’ll be seen as a born Theban. But no joy
For him in that. Hopeless, a blind man who once could see,
A beggar who before was rich, led by a stick,
Picking his way across lands unknown.
All will be seen; both brother and father
To the children he holds so dear, husband
And son to the woman who bore him. He bred
In his father’s bed and his father’s blood he shed!
Now go in and think on that; when you prove me false,
Then you can say that the seer has no sight!
(Exit Tiresias and the boy through the stage left wing. Exit Oedipus through the great doors.)
Second Chorus (First Stasimon)
Who is the man? The holy oracle
From Delphi sings from the rock
Unspeakable, unspeakable crimes:
Who is it stained his hands in blood?
Now, even horses of the wind
Are too slow for his escape.
The son of Zeus leaps after him
With blazing thunderbolts,
And the horrible death-goddesses
Cannot be shaken off his trail.
The shining word flashes from Parnassus:
“Dog his tracks, everyone,
Whoever he may be.”
Through wild forests, in caves,
On rocky crags, the fugitive roams,
Alone, like a bull in pain,
His foot in pain,
Putting behind him the prophecies
From center earth; but they rise up,
Always, they live and flutter around him.
And now I’m amazed! Worried. Frightened.
That clever soothsayer—
I can’t believe him, I can’t deny him,
I don’t know what to say.
I’m floating on hope,
Blind here and now, blind to the future.
Was there a feud between the families
Of Laius and Polybus?
I never heard of a feud,
Now or before.
So how can I take sides?
How can I join the cause of Laius
Against Oedipus, with all his popularity?
This murder is not yet solved.
Zeus and Apollo are wise;
They know what mortals do.
But a human prophet?
There’s no true way to tell that he knows more than I.
Tiresias is clever.
Well, clever men compete; they put each other down.
No. I will not add my voice to the accuser’s
Until I see the charge made good.
We saw him plainly—Oedipus—
When the winged Sphinx attacked.
And we saw that he was clever.
That was proof. The city loved him.
I can’t convict him in my mind,
Not yet, not of any crime.
(Enter Creon from the stage right wing.)
Fellow citizens, this is terrible, what I hear.
This accusation against me, by our ruler Oedipus,
It’s outrageous. Amid all this trouble,
If he now thinks I have done him any harm,
In word or deed, any harm whatever,
I’d rather die, not live another moment
Than carry such a reputation. The damages
Are enormous from a charge like that:
I’d be called a traitor to my city,
A traitor to you and even to my family.
But it was driven by anger, not thought.
I don’t think he meant to blame you.
But did the word come out in the full light of day:
That I planted lies for the prophet to tell?
Yes, but I know he didn’t mean it.
Did his eyes shift when he accused me?
Was he in his right mind?
I don’t know. I never see what rulers do.
He’s on his way from the palace now.
(Enter Oedipus through the great doors.)
You? You dare to come here, to my house?
What bare-faced audacity!
Here’s the murderer in plain sight.
Clearly, he meant to steal my power
Gods! What was it that you saw in me—
Weakness, stupidity? Did you really think
That I’d never see through your scheme
And take steps against your creeping conspiracy?
What a fool, to think you could even try
To pursue power with no allies, no following.
Without men and means, there can be no conquest.
Do you know what you should do? You had your say;
Now it is your turn to listen to me. Learn first, then judge.
There’s nothing more to learn from your malicious words.
I know that you are my most deadly enemy.
The very point on which I wish to speak . . .
The very point is that you are plainly guilty.
Do you really take pride in being so stubborn
And thoughtless? You’ve lost your mind!
And you’re out of your mind! Do you really think
You can harm your own family with impunity?
In principle I agree, but no one
Has done you wrong. You must have proof.
Did you, or did you not, persuade me
To send for that self-righteous soothsayer?
I did. And I’d still give the same advice.
How long has it been since Laius . . .
Since he what? I’ve no idea.
Since he vanished, violently.
You’d have to go back a long, long time.
And this old prophet, was he in business back then?
Yes, as expert then as now and highly revered.
And at that time did he ever mention me?
No. Not that I know of.
Was there no murder investigation?
We tried. We never heard . . .
And what of your expert? Why did he not speak then?
I don’t know—and so I have the sense to keep quiet.
You know; and if you had any sense, you’d tell.
What do you mean? If I knew something I wouldn’t deny it.
Without your support, he never would have dared
To name me as the killer of Laius.
Is that what he said? Then you’re the one who knows,
And I have just as much right to question you.
Ask your questions. I’ll never be found a murderer.
So you say. You are married to my sister, aren’t you?
There’s no denying that.
And you have equal power with her, as ruler of this land?
Whatever she desires, I provide.
And is it not true that I am equal to you both, that we three are equal?
Exactly! The evil in our family is revealed.
No! Look at yourself from my point of view,
And ask this question first: Do you think anyone
Would choose to rule in constant fear
When he could sleep without trembling,
And have exactly the same power? Not me.
Why should I want to be Tyrannus?
I’d be insane! I already do as I please.
I have everything from you, and nothing to fear.
As ruler, I’d have to do things against my will,
But the power I have now is exactly to my taste.
Why would I find tyranny more attractive?
I’m not a fool, I’m not enthralled,
I do not hunger for more than what is fair—
And profitable. As it is, I’m friends
With everyone! People fawn on me
Whenever they want anything from you,
Because I am their best hope of success.
So how could I give that up and be a traitor?
Look, I hate the very idea of such a plot,
And I’d never dare join people actually doing it.
Test me. Go to the oracle at Delphi
And ask if my report was accurate.
And then, if you prove I conspired
With that seer, take my life.
I’ll add my vote to yours for death.
But don’t you presume me guilty without proof.
“It’s not right to think good men are bad,
Or bad men good, if your reasons are worthless.”
“When you reject a noble friend, you cast
Your very life away, and all you hold so dear.”
In time, you will be certain of my innocence.
“It takes time to prove the goodness of a man,
But you’ll see evil come to light in one bad day.”
A good speech, my lord. Anyone who treads carefully will agree:
Decisions made too quickly are dangerous.
When a conspirator moves quickly against me,
Then I must be quick to conspire back at him.
If I hesitate I will lose the initiative,
While he will seize the moment and strike.
What do you want? To throw me out of Thebes?
No, not exile. I demand your death.
When have I done anything to deserve that penalty?
When you showed how much you resented me.
Why won’t you believe what I tell you?
How can I believe a man like you?
I see it now. You’ve lost your mind.
My mind is clear.
Then it should think like mine.
Like yours? You’re contemptible!
And you could be wrong.
Nevertheless, I must rule.
Not if it means ruling badly.
Oh, my city, my city . . .
I belong in this city, it’s not only yours!
Stop! Please, gentlemen, Jocasta
Is on her way from the house. This is timely;
She will surely make you settle your dispute.
(Enter Jocasta through the great doors.)
What are you thinking? Why this outburst of fighting words?
You should be ashamed, forcing your personal quarrels on us
When the whole country is suffering from such sickness.
Why don’t you go inside, and Creon, please go home.
There’s no reason to cause this mayhem.
Sister, your husband, Oedipus, wants to throw me out
Of my own country or have me put to death.
He’s on the brink of making a horrible decision.
Indeed I am. Jocasta, I caught him conniving,
Hatching malignant plots against me.
If I did anything that you accuse, then may the gods
Let me die in misery—I put this curse on myself!
You must accept his word, Oedipus. He has sworn
Before the gods. Oaths call for reverence.
So do I, and so do the people standing before you.
Take thought, sir. I pray you change your mind . . .
And why should I yield?
He has never been a man to speak lightly.
You must respect the power of this oath.
Do you know what you are asking of me?
Then say what you mean!
He’s a part of your family and under his own curse:
You should not disgrace him with a groundless charge.
Then you should know that what you want
Will mean my exile or my death.
No, by the brightest of the gods, Apollo.
If that was ever in my mind, then let me die the death,
Friendless, godforsaken, in agony.
But the wasting of this land eats away my heart,
Horror piled on horror,
First the plague and now this deadly quarrel.
Then let him go, though it means death
Or dishonor, cast out of my country, forever.
I feel for you, not him; your voice has moved me.
Wherever he goes he’ll always have my hate.
Look, you’re as hateful now as you were fierce before.
Your submission is as painful as your rage. It’s in your nature—
A kind of justice—that you hurt yourself the most.
Go! Leave me. Go!
I will go.
You don’t know the truth, but these men knew what was right.
(Exit Creon through the stage right wing.)
Lady, you should help him home.
First, I want to know what happened.
Only words—blind suspicion.
But that eats away at a man, even when it’s wrong.
Words on both sides?
What did they say?
No more, please, no more. This land is full
Of agony already. They spoke; now, let it be.
Can you see what you have done, trying
To blunt my edge with your good intentions?
Sir, I have said it many, many times: You can be sure
I’d have to lose every shred of my good sense
Before I’d turn away from you.
You were the one, when our land was tossed
In storms of trouble, who brought us a fair breeze,
Put us in order. Now, I pray again,
Be our good steersman—make us safe!
By the gods, sir, what is the cause?
Why are you so angry? Please explain.
I will, not for them, but from respect for you, my wife.
It is Creon; he conspires against me.
Tell me exactly how this fighting started.
He says I am guilty of murdering Laius.
Was he a witness? Or is he acting on hearsay?
He sent his malevolent soothsayer;
He would never say such things himself.
A soothsayer? Then you should dismiss all charges.
Listen. I’ll tell you why you can’t rely
On any merely human soothsayers.
Here, in brief, is my evidence:
An oracle came to Laius once—I won’t say
“From Apollo”; it came from priests—
That “Laius would die at the hands of a son
That would be born to him and me.”
But Laius was killed by strangers
At a place where three roads meet. That’s the story.
And our son? He did not last three days.
Laius yoked his feet and had him thrown away—
By other people—into a wilderness of mountains.
So Apollo did not make the tale come true:
The boy never came to murder his father;
The father had nothing to fear from his son.
That’s the way a soothsayer charts the truth!
Don’t trust them. The god knows what’s needed:
The god himself will speak when he sees fit.
What you’re telling me shakes my soul,
Sends my mind reeling one way then another.
What’s the matter? You’re startled. Tell me.
I thought I heard you say that Laius
Was murdered where three roads meet.
So they say. The tale’s still told.
Where exactly did this happen?
A place called Phocis, where the road divides,
One road from Delphi, one from Daulis.
When was this?
The news came shortly before you arrived
And became the master of our land.
Zeus! What are you conspiring against me?
What is tormenting you, Oedipus? Please tell me.
Wait! Not yet. Tell me what Laius
Looked like. How old was he?
He was dark, about your size,
Hair just starting to go gray.
O gods, no! I think I’ve cursed myself,
Called down calamity. I never knew . . .
What do you mean? It scares me to look at you.
A terrifying thought. What if the blind prophet can see?
It will all be exposed if you can tell me just one more thing.
I’ll try. But you frighten me.
Was he traveling with a small entourage
Or in force at the head of a large column?
He had five men, including his herald;
There was one carriage, and Laius rode in that.
Oh, now I start to see!
Jocasta, who told you about this?
A slave. The only survivor.
Is he still here, among our household?
No. He came and saw that you
Now held the power Laius had
Before he died. He touched my hand,
Begging me to send him far away,
To be a shepherd in fields from which
He could not see this city. I did as he asked.
He was a slave, but I owed him more than this.
Could he be brought back as soon as possible?
He could. But why ask for this?
Jocasta, I fear I’ve already said too much.
I have to see this man for myself.
Very well. But I deserve to know
This burden that you find so hard to bear.
I will not keep it from you, not when hope seems
So very far away. To talk to you at a time
Like this means more to me than anything.
My father was Polybus of Corinth and my mother,
Merope, a Dorian. I was held in the highest esteem,
A prominent man. Then something strange happened,
Something that shocked me. It wasn’t much,
And I should not have worried, but my thoughts raced:
A drunken dinner guest filled with wine
Blurted out that I was not my father’s son.
It was all I could do that day to control my rage.
But on the next day, I went to my mother and father
Seeking some explanation, and they were furious
That anyone would speak such spurious slander.
I was consoled, but a rumor creeps in stealth,
And soon enough it started to grate on my mind.
I left in secret; my mother and father never knew
I went to Delphi. But there, Apollo shunned me,
Denied my questions and sent me away,
But not before he revealed what was to come.
Such tormenting horrors! He said I would
Mate with my mother and reveal a race
Too vile to stand in the sight of man.
He said I would kill my father.
I heard Apollo’s word, and I ran,
Tried to flee a universe from Corinth,
To reach some place that would never see
The fulfillment of that revolting prophecy.
On and on until I reached the region
Where you say your ruler met his death.
You, dear wife, you shall know the truth:
I traveled to a place where three roads meet
And saw a herald coming toward me
Followed by a horse-drawn carriage,
And seated inside, a man, just as you said.
We met, then the herald and the old man
Ordered me out of their way, forcing ahead.
Run off the road, I furiously struck the driver,
The old man saw this and as his carriage passed
He cracked his two-pronged goad down on my head
And I swiftly smashed my walking stick square
Across his shoulders; he spun headlong out of his carriage,
And I killed every last one of them, there and then.
But if this stranger bled the blood of Laius,
Who could be as contemptible as I?
What man could be more heaven-hated?
Neither foreigner nor citizen could shelter me;
I would be shunned in silence,
A pariah, hounded from humanity.
Condemned by a curse called down
By no one else but me.
If these hands that touched her killed him,
I have defiled a dead man’s bed. Am I so foul?
So hopelessly unholy? Then I’ll be banished,
An outcast, never to see my family,
Never to set foot in the land I called my home.
Or I’ll be yoked in marriage to my mother
And forced to murder my own father,
Dear Polybus, who brought me into the world.
Some malicious spirit bears down on me—
What man in his right mind could say otherwise?
No, no, never, great gods above,
Never let me see that terrible day,
Wrench me from the human race, obliterate me!
But never let me see myself so disgraced.
That would be horror for us all. But keep hope alive
Until you’ve heard from the man who was there.
I will await the herdsman;
He is now my only hope.
And when he arrives, what then?
Let me tell you; if what he says agrees
With your story, then I will escape this crisis.
What did you hear me say?
You said he explained how Laius was killed
By several thieves. If he still says thieves,
Then I could not have killed him.
How can one be the same as many?
But if he should speak of just one lone man,
Then the guilt will clearly fall on me.
Don’t worry, I told you exactly what he said.
It’s too well known for him to take it back.
The whole city heard it, not just me.
But even if he tries to change his tale,
He cannot make the oracle prove true.
Laius’ death was not the one that was foretold:
He did not die by his son’s hand,
That wretched child never killed him;
He was dead himself, long before the murder.
So much for soothsayers. After that they’ll never
Have me looking for answers, here, there, and everywhere.
You are right, of course, but I still want
That herdsman here. Send for him now.
I’ll send for him the quickest way.
Let’s go inside. I want what’s best for you.
(Exit Oedipus and Jocasta through the great doors.)
Third Chorus (Second Stasimon)
Be with me always, Destiny,
And may I ever sustain holy
Reverence in word and deed,
According to the Laws on high,
Brought to birth in brightest sky
By Heaven, their only father.
These Laws were not made by men;
Men are born to die.
But the Law shall never sleep forgotten;
Great among gods, it never ages.
Hubris grows from tyranny,
Hubris overflowing, a monstrous waste,
Loss without measure:
It climbs high,
It rushes to a precipice jutting out—
The end, no foothold saves it now.
And so I pray the god will not dissolve
What is good for the city, our wrestling for power.
May god protect us always.
If a man moves in lofty pride
His hands or tongue
Fearless of injustice—
No reverence for holy places—
I pray he meet an evil fate
To pay for his miserable excesses.
If he piles wealth on wealth, without justice,
If he does not shrink from fighting reverence
And puts his hand to what may not be touched,
Then may his efforts be wasted,
And may there be no shield
To save his mind from blows.
But if gods give honor to a life like his,
Why should I dance in prayer and praise?
No longer will I go in reverence
To the sacred navel of the world—
Not to Delphi, not to Abai,
Or the temple at Olympia,
If the oracles do not come true
For all humanity to see.
Ruler of all, O Zeus our lord,
If that be your name, do not let this escape
Your notice or your undying power:
Apollo’s word to Laius long ago
Is fading, it is already lost.
Now Apollo’s fame and honor die away,
And everything divine departs.
(Enter Jocasta and an attendant through the great doors. She is holding wreaths and a small container of incense.)
I thought that I should go to the temple, sirs,
And bring these gifts to the gods—
Incense and ritual wreaths.
Oedipus is chafing his mind too much,
One agony after another. It makes no sense:
He weighs this strange news
Against old prophecies and lets anyone who speaks
Frighten him. Nothing I say can raise his hopes.
(Jocasta makes her offerings at the altar.)
Apollo, nearest god, to you I pray:
I have come with offerings,
I entreat you for relief, light out of darkness.
The captain of our ship has lost his wits,
And we are all so very afraid.
(Enter an elderly Corinthian from the stage left wing.)
I am a stranger here. Please, tell me,
Where is the house of Oedipus Tyrannus.
Or better yet, where is the man himself?
This is his house, and he’s at home.
But here is his wife and mother of his children.
Blessings on her and her family:
She is a perfect wife for him.
The same to you, sir, thanks for your kind greeting.
Tell me, now, what brings you here?
Good news for your house, lady, and for your husband.
What is it? Who sent you?
I came from Corinth. My news . . .
Well, it might please you, or it might make you sad.
What is it? Why such ambivalence?
I hear that the people of Corinth
Will make him ruler of their land.
What! Is old Polybus no longer in power?
No. He’s dead and buried.
What are you saying? Polybus is dead?
On my life, it’s true.
JOCASTA: (To her attendant.)
You, go at once and tell this to your master.
These oracles from the gods—
Where are they now? Oedipus was so afraid
Of killing Polybus that he ran from home.
And now look: He was killed by chance, not Oedipus.
(Enter Oedipus through the great doors.
Jocasta, dear wife,
Why call me from our house?
Listen to this man. He’ll make you doubt
The truth of “holy oracles from the gods.”
Well, who is he? What is he saying?
He’s from Corinth. He has news
That your father, Polybus, is dead.
What’s your message? Speak for yourself.
If I must tell him that first,
Yes, he is dead and gone. It is true.
Was there foul play, or did he die of natural causes?
A small push lays an old man down to sleep.
So sickness sapped the poor man’s life.
Yes. That and old age.
Why? Why, dear wife, should we observe the oracle
At Delphi, or strain to see signs from birds screeching
In the sky? They led me to believe that I would kill
My father, yet he’s dead and buried deep in the earth.
And here am I, who never raised a hand against him,
Unless my absence made him die brokenhearted.
Then, I suppose, I could be called his killer,
But not the kind contained within these worthless oracles.
Polybus has taken those with him to Hades.
Exactly what I said in the beginning.
You did, but fear misguided me.
And now you mustn’t worry about these things any more.
But I should still shun my mother . . . her bed.
Why be afraid? Chance governs human life,
And we can never know what is to come.
Live day by day, as best you can.
You must not fear this marriage to your mother:
Many a man has slept with his own mother
In a dream. But these things mean nothing
If you bear life’s burdens easily.
This would all be well and good
If my mother were dead, but she’s still alive
And I still fear her, whatever you say.
But this is spectacular—your father’s dead!
A great comfort, but it’s the living that scare me.
Who is the woman you are worried about?
The wife of Polybus, old man, Merope.
But why are you so afraid of her?
A terrifying prediction, stranger, given by a god.
May I hear? Is it permitted for you to speak of it?
It is. My fate was revealed by Apollo.
He said I would lie with my own mother
And stain my hands with my father’s blood.
From then on I shunned Corinth, kept well away,
And all seemed well, except I always knew
I would never again see my parents’ kind faces.
And this was the fear that made you leave your home?
So I could not kill my father.
Why don’t I relieve you of this fear?
I came to do you good, after all.
For that I’d pay you dearly.
And that’s the very reason I came—
I’ll receive my reward when you come home.
No! I will not be near my parents.
My boy, it’s quite clear you don’t know what you’re doing.
By all the gods! Explain yourself, old man.
If they are the reason you shun a homecoming . . .
I’m afraid I’ll see Apollo’s word come true.
So you wouldn’t have the guilt of a crime against parents?
You are right, old man, it is my ever-present fear.
And you never knew! Really, you had no cause for fear.
Why? They are my parents; I am their son.
Because Polybus is no relation of yours.
What are you talking about? I was born to Polybus.
The man was no more to you than I am.
How could you equal my father? You are nothing to me.
He did not father you, and neither did I.
Then why did he call me his son?
You were a gift, you see, taken from my own hands.
From another’s hands? But he loved me like a son.
He was overcome by the need to have a child.
So you gave me away. Was I bought? Did you find me somewhere?
I found you in a tangled ravine on Mount Cithaeron.
Why were you traveling in that region?
At that time I was grazing sheep in the mountains.
So you were a wandering shepherd, a hired hand?
Yes, child, and there and then your rescuer.
And when you first held me, was I hurt?
Your own feet can testify to that!
An old affliction; why speak of it now?
Because I set you free from a spike that pierced your feet.
A hideous blemish I’ve carried from the cradle.
That’s how you came to have your name.
Gods! Who did this—my mother? My father?
I don’t know. The man who gave you to me, he’d understand.
You took me from someone else? You didn’t find me?
No, another shepherd gave you to me.
Who was it? Do you know? Can you tell me?
I think I heard he belonged to Laius.
The Tyrannus who used to rule this country?
Of course. The man was his herdsman.
Does he still live? Can I see him?
CORINTHIAN: (To the chorus.)
You men who live here, you’d know best.
Do any of you gathered here know
Who this herdsman could be?
Is he somewhere out in the country? Is he here?
Make it known! Everything must be exposed.
I think he’s the same man,
The shepherd you wanted to see just now.
Jocasta would have the best answer.
My wife? (To Jocasta.) Could the man he means
Be the one we summoned? Do you know?
Why ask who it was? Don’t listen to this man.
Put his worthless words right out of mind.
I cannot, not while I hold the evidence
That will reveal the truth of my birth.
No! By all the gods, if you care for your life,
Stop these questions. Have I not suffered enough?
Be brave. Even if I find my mother was a slave,
Descended from slaves, you would still be noble.
Even so, be persuaded, I entreat you. Stop.
You’ll never persuade me to give up the truth.
But this is for your own good. It is what’s best . . .
Then long ago your “best” married me to woe.
Your fate is dismal. I pray you never know the man you are.
Now, somebody bring this herdsman here.
Let her bask in the glory of her eminent line.
Your fate is hideous. That is all
That I can say to you, all I can say forever.
(Exit Jocasta through the great doors.)
What is it, Oedipus? What savage grief
Has hurled your wife away?
Her silence frightens me; evil will break from it.
Then it will break! I have to know
Who I am, however low my birth.
That woman, with her feminine conceit,
Is ashamed of my humble origins,
But I see myself as a child of good-giving
Fortune, and I will not be demeaned.
She is my mother, the seasons my kin,
And I rise and fall like the phases of the moon.
That is my nature, and I will never play the part
Of someone else, nor fail to learn what I was born to be.
Fourth Chorus (Third Stasimon)
Tomorrow, if my skill is good
At soothsaying, Heaven be my witness,
You, O Mount Cithaeron, will know glory
Shining in the full moon’s light,
For you have been nurse and mother to Oedipus.
We dedicate our dance to you,
For you it was
Brought joy to our masters.
Apollo, hear our prayers.
Who gave you birth, my child?
Was she one of the Nymphs who dallies with Pan
In the mountains?
Or was she bedmate to Apollo,
Lover of high meadows?
Or Hermes of Cyllene?
Or Dionysus, mountain-dweller—
Were you his lucky find?
For he loves to toy with Nymphs,
And his delight is in their darting eyes.
(Enter the elderly Herdsman accompanied by Oedipus’ men from the stage right wing.)
Elders, though I never knew him,
I believe that this could be the herdsman
We’ve so long sought to see.
He’s just as old as this Corinthian,
And those are my men bringing him in.
Have you ever seen this shepherd?
For you may know far more than I.
Yes, of course I know the man. Laius
Was his master. No shepherd could be more loyal.
First of all, tell me, Corinthian, is this the man?
Yes, he is the man you see.
OEDIPUS: (Addressing the Herdsman.)
You there! Old man, come here and look at me.
Answer me this: Did you once belong to Laius?
Aye, but not a boughten slave; I grew up in this house.
What was your job, your livelihood?
Tending flocks, most of my life.
Where did you usually work?
Mount Cithaeron—that general area.
Was this man ever there—did you know him?
What has he done? Which man do you mean?
This man. Have you met him before?
Couldn’t say, offhand. Can’t call him to mind.
That’s not surprising, sir. But I am sure,
Though he’s forgotten, I can bring his memory back.
I knew him well in those days on Mount Cithaeron,
When he had two flocks and I had one.
We were neighbors for three full seasons,
Six months each, from spring to fall.
Come winter, I’d drive my herds home,
And he’d take his to Laius’ barns.
(To the Herdsman.) Am I not right?
It’s true, but so long past!
Then tell me this: Do you know a child
You gave to me to bring up as my own?
What about it? Why look into this?
Because, my friend, this is the man who was that boy.
Damn you! Can’t you keep your mouth shut?
Don’t scold him, old man,
It is you that deserves the scorn.
Master, when have I ever done wrong?
When you refused to answer him about the child.
He doesn’t know what he’s saying; he’s wasting our time.
If you won’t speak willingly, you’ll speak through pain.
No, by all the gods! I’m too old for torture!
OEDIPUS: (To his attendants.)
Lock his arms behind his back!
(Oedipus’ men take hold of the Herdsman’s arms and force him to his knees.)
Gods, no! What more do you need to know?
Did you give him a child as he said?
Yes. I should have died that day.
It may come to that, unless you start telling the truth.
I’m more likely to die if I do.
I think he’s trying to play for time.
Not me. I said, ages ago, that I gave the child to him.
Where did you get it—your own home, or from someone else?
It wasn’t mine. From someone else.
Which citizen was it? Whose house?
No, by all the gods, master. No more questions!
If I have to ask you again, you’ll die.
Laius. It was born in his house.
A slave child, or one of his own?
No! I’m on the edge of saying terrible things.
And I of hearing them. But hear them I must!
I heard the child was his—but she’s inside:
Your wife’s the one who’d answer best.
She gave it to you?
She did, sir.
For what reason?
So I would destroy it.
Her own baby? So callous.
She feared an oracle.
That said what?
That it would kill its parents.
Then why did you give him to this old man?
I took pity on him, sir. I meant to deliver him abroad,
To the place where this man came from, but his rescue
Was a disaster. If you are the same as the man
He speaks of, then truly you were born for a hideous fate.
Oh! Oh! It all comes clear!
Light, let me look at you one last time.
I am exposed—born to forbidden parents, joined
In forbidden marriage, I brought forbidden death.
Fifth Chorus (Fourth Stasimon)
Oh, what a wretched breed
We mortals are:
Our lives add up to nothing.
Does anyone, anyone at all
Harvest more of happiness
Than a vacant image,
And from that image fall away?
You are my pattern,
Your fortune is mine,
You, Oedipus, your misery teaches me
To call no mortal blessed.
You aimed your arrow high, and struck happiness,
You self-made lord of joy.
Zeus knows, when you killed
The snag-clawed maiden, the riddling Sphinx—
Then between death and my land
There rose a fortress, and it was you.
For that, we call you king,
Our king of highest glory,
Lord of mighty Thebes.
Now is there a sadder story to be heard?
Madness so cruel? Pain so deep?
You have shared your home with catastrophe.
One harbor served you as a child
And as a father sailing into marriage.
How, oh how, could the field your father plowed
Bear you so long in silence?
Time found you out, all seeing,
And brought you to the judgment you can’t bear:
This marriage is not a marriage,
This breed of children is the brood.
Oh, child of Laius,
I wish, I wish
I’d never seen you.
I mourn you above all others, crying out
Truly, you gave me breath,
And now through you I close my eyes in sleep.
(Enter a Messenger through the great doors.)
Most honored elders of this land,
The things you will hear! The things you will see!
The burden you will carry! It is grief.
That is, if you care for this family as kin.
No river is great enough, not the Danube,
Not the Phasis, to wash this house clean.
So deep is the stain of evil hidden here.
Soon it will come to light:
The worst pain is self-chosen, deliberate.
Nothing could be heavier than what we know
Already. How can you add anything to that?
As brief a message as you could hear:
She is dead. The queen, Jocasta, is dead.
Poor, poor woman. What happened?
She killed herself.
It’s horrible, but you weren’t there.
You won’t see the worst of it.
Listen, you’ll find out how much she suffered,
If I have any power to tell a tale.
Well, then. She was in a terrible state.
She went inside and ran straight to the bedroom,
To her marriage bed. She was tearing at her hair
With both hands, and she slammed the doors
As soon as she was inside, then called a dead man’s name—
“Laius! Do you remember making love, making the child
That later killed you, that left me to give birth
To the children of your child, children of the curse?”
And she was wailing at the bed where she had conceived,
A double misery: a husband from her husband,
And children from her child. Then she died.
I don’t know more, because Oedipus plunged in,
Shouting so loud we could not think about her troubles.
We kept our eyes on him dashing up and down,
Raving about, roaring, “Bring my sword.
And where’s my wife—no, not my wife,
Mother of two crops, myself and my children.”
He was in a frenzy, and some spirit led him—
It wasn’t any one of us servants—
He went charging at the doors and bent them inward
With a terrible shout, as if someone guided him,
Plunged through the doors, fell inside the room.
She was hanging there, his wife. We saw her
Hanging in a noose of braided rope.
Then he saw her. He howled in misery,
Loosened the hanging rope, and laid her down
On the ground, poor woman.
Then a horrible sight: he tore out the long pins
Of beaten gold that had adorned her clothes,
Lifted them up, and plunged them into his eyes,
Crying out, “Now you may not see the evil,
Not the evil I have done—or suffered.
From now on, you must gaze in darkness
On forbidden faces, while the ones you should have seen
You’ll never know.” That was his litany.
Again and again he chanted it and struck his eyes.
Blood was running down from the sockets,
Staining his cheeks red, an unstoppable flood
Dashing down, a dense hail of gore.
And so the storm has broken on them both—
Husband and wife, their suffering commingled.
It used to be happiness that they shared,
Happiness indeed, but now, today:
Grief, unseeing madness, death, disgrace,
Every horror that we know how to name.
Poor man. Is there no relief for him?
He shouts for someone to unlock the gates
And show all Thebes the father-killer,
The mother- (I cannot say what is unholy),
And then he’ll cast himself out from this land
And not stay on to be a curse at home,
For he bears the curse that he called down.
He begs for strength, and for someone to lead him,
For he is sick beyond what he can bear.
He’ll show you, himself. The doors are opening now.
What you will see is loathsome; pity him.
(Exit Messenger through the stage right wing. Enter Oedipus through the great doors. The gruesome effects of his blinding can be seen clearly.)
Nothing worse can come upon a man.
Was it madness that struck your mind?
Or was it a god great bounds away,
Who leapt upon your life,
Cry, cry misfortune! I cannot bear to look.
Many things I wish to ask
I wish to learn, I wish to see,
But you are blinding me with horror.
Ai! Ai! My suffering!
Where on this earth am I going, led by misery?
My voice? It is scattered on the wings of the wind.
How far Destiny has leapt.
To terrors beyond what we can hear or see.
Hideous clouds engulf me, swept in
By ill wind! Inescapable, unspeakable!
Again and again, so much agony!
Memories stabbing, piercing me with pain!
Do not be amazed: Your agony’s so great,
You feel it twice, first in body, then in soul.
A friend? Here?
You’d stay, for me? Solid in support.
You’d help a blind man, care for me?
This I see, despite the darkness.
I hear you, I know your voice.
Ah, what a dreadful thing you’ve done! How could you bear
To put out your sight? Which god spurred you on?
Apollo! It was Apollo, my friends.
Agony after agony, he brought them on.
But I did this . . .
By my own hand.
Why should I have eyes
When there is nothing sweet to see?
I cannot disagree with what you say . . .
What can I ever see to love?
What greeting can ever please me to hear?
Cast me out of this place, my friends,
Quickly, cast me out:
I am the destroyer, the curse,
The man the gods loathe most of all.
Now your mind is just as wretched as your fate;
I wish I’d never known you.
Damn that man, whoever he was,
Who freed my feet from the shackles
And rescued me from death.
Call it cruelty, not kindness!
I should have died there and then
And spared them all this pain.
It would have been for the best.
Then, I would have never killed my father,
Nor been known as the man
Who married his mother.
Now, I am the godless son of shame,
Who slept in the same bed where he was bred.
What evil could there ever be
That could surpass the fate of Oedipus?
I can’t agree with what you did:
Better to die than to be blind.
Don’t tell me that what I did was not for the best.
I do not want opinions, I do not need advice.
If I had eyes, how could I bear to see my father
When I die and go down to the depths of Hades,
Or face my wretched mother? My crimes
Against them could not be cured by suicide.
Could I ever long to see my children, born
As they were born, and enjoy that sweet sight?
My eyes could not bear to look at them!
The finest man raised by Thebes
Has deprived himself of his city, her walls
The sacred idols of the gods. Wretch!
I gave the order: Cast out the curse!
The gods have exposed the impiety,
And so stand I, the son of Laius, defiled.
Now that my vile stain glares out,
Could I ever meet the eyes of my people?
Never! If only I could stem the stream of sound,
Then I’d shut away my broken body
Hearing silence, seeing nothing:
Sweet oblivion, where the mind
Exists beyond the bounds of grief.
Cithaeron, why did you accept me?
Why did you not let me die, there and then?
Why show the world my birth? Why?
Polybus! Corinth! You were my home.
You raised me, covered me in kindness.
But evil festered beneath my skin,
Erupting in me, evil born of evil.
The three ways at that hidden gully,
The narrow track through the woods
Where I spilled my father’s blood,
My own blood! Do you remember?
The triple path witnessed what I did.
Do you see where you have led me?
Marriage! The marriage bond bred me,
Brought me up to wed my own blood.
Kin created kin: fathers, brothers, sons
Mixed with mothers, brides, and wives.
Humanity’s foulest deeds!
I cannot speak of such abhorrent acts.
By all the gods, you must let me hide away,
Cast me into the sea, kill me, shun me from sight.
(Oedipus moves toward the chorus; they shrink back in fear.)
Come closer, I am not untouchable,
You should not fear the wretched.
My affliction cannot cause you any harm;
No one but me is able to endure my pain.
(Enter Creon and attendants from stage right wing.)
The man you need for what you ask is here:
Creon. Ready for action or decision,
He alone remains our guardian in your place.
What could I ever say to him?
Why would he believe a word I say,
Now I’ve been shown to be so very wrong?
Oedipus, I have not come to jeer at you
Or cast any blame for past wrongs.
(To the attendants, who are afraid to go near Oedipus.)
Now, perhaps you’ve no respect for human
Beings, but at least show reverence
To the fiery sun that feeds us all:
Do not openly display this cursed thing
That earth and rain and light can’t bear to touch.
Take him quickly inside our house.
Close relatives alone may see and hear,
With all due holiness, such evil in the family.
O gods! My fears dispelled,
You are the best of men and I the worst.
Just one thing, for your sake, not for mine.
What do you want, that you ask so earnestly?
Cast me out, quick as you can, to a place
Where I will never speak to another human.
I would have already done so, without fail, but first
I had to discover what the god wished me to do.
But that is clear, it was ordained:
The father-killer is defiled and so must die.
Yes, so we all heard. But in a time of great need
We should know for sure what we must do.
You would seek divine guidance for my sake?
Yes, and this time you should believe the god.
I only ask this of you, I beg you:
Do right by her, your sister. Give her
A proper burial, a final place to rest.
But do not sentence my father’s city
To the curse of caring for me while I live.
I will go to the mountains, to Cithaeron,
My mountain, where my mother and father
Long ago marked out my tomb.
There they wanted me dead. There I will die.
Now I know that no ordinary end waits
For me. There was a reason I was spared
From death, some other daunting destiny.
Let fate guide where I go, and what will be will be.
My children? Creon, don’t spare a thought
For the boys. They are grown men now;
Wherever they go, they will survive.
But my poor unhappy girls,
They’ve never known another table.
Everything I touched was theirs to share.
Take care of them, Creon—please.
If only I could hold them one last time,
Let our tears fall together . . .
O lord, my lord . . .
Noble Creon . . . could I hold them in my arms?
I can imagine them . . . as I used to see them.
(Enter Ismene and Antigone from the stage right wing.)
I can hear them, yes, by all the gods, my darlings!
They’re crying, crying . . . Creon, you took pity,
You sent me what I love more than anything . . . anything.
Tell me that I’m right.
You’re right. I brought them here.
I knew how much they’d gladden you now, as always.
Oh, bless you. May the gods guard your way.
May your journey be so much better than mine.
My children, where are you? Come here,
Take my hands, the hands of your brother.
Do you see what they did to your father,
Who once looked at you with gleaming eyes?
But, children, I saw nothing, I knew nothing,
I fathered you in the soil where I was sown.
I grieve for you, though I cannot see your faces.
I can imagine how this cruel world
Will make you lead the rest of your lives.
What people will share their city with you?
What festivals will you ever enjoy?
Shut away Out of sight, no more celebrations, only tears.
And when the time comes for you to marry,
Who can he be? Who, my daughters,
Would ever dare to take on the disgrace
That blights the children of this family?
They won’t spare a single insult:
Your father killed his father!
Your father is your brother!
Your brother is your father!
Your father ploughed his mother!
You’ll hear it all. Who would marry you?
No such man exists. No, you’ll waste away
Dry wombed, sterile, barren,
Unmarried and all alone.
Creon, son of Menoeceus, you are now
Their only father; they are orphans,
Their parents lost in one cruel stroke.
Don’t let them become impoverished
Spinsters, wandering vagrants, outcasts.
Take pity on them. Look at these lost
Children; they have nothing else but you.
Swear it, noble Creon. Give me your hand!
(Creon reels back, and Oedipus turns to his children.)
Oh, children, there was so much I wanted
To say to you, but now I can only ask this:
Pray that you always lead measured lives,
Better lives than lived by your own father.
Enough tears! It’s time to go inside.
If I must, though it gives me no comfort.
For good measure it is best.
Then I’ll go, but know my terms.
I’ll know them when I hear them.
Exile. Banish me from this land.
That is for the god to decide.
The gods have come to hate me more than anyone.
Then perhaps you’ll get what you want.
So do I have your word?
I’m always as good as my word; I don’t speak before I think.
Then lead me away from here.
Come, then, but leave your children.
No! You cannot take them away from me!
Still you try to take control of everything.
Go; your power has not followed you through life.
(Exit Creon and children through the great doors. Exit Oedipus, alone, through the stage left wing.)
Behold, all you who dwell in Thebes: This is Oedipus.
He knew the riddle’s answer, he held great power,
And we all looked on his success with envy.
Now a terrible wave of trouble sweeps over him.
Therefore, always look to the last day,
And never say a man is happy
Until he’s crossed life’s boundary free from grief
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